Breath – The new science of a lost art (James Nestor)

Breath – The new science of a lost art (James Nestor)

by | 24. Oct. 2021 | -English Blog-Post, Book reviews, Pranayama

The fact how little attention people pay to how they breathe in their daily lives repeatedly surprises me. So, it was a surprise in the other direction when a book with the title “Breath“ made it onto the bestseller lists of the Sunday Times, the New York Times, and of the German SPIEGEL magazine. 

At the same time, this confirms my prejudice that we often prefer to read about something (or watch something) than actively change it. You have probably also heard about the Amazon statistics which demonstrate that those people who will probably buy a book about self-help have already bought one (or more 😊) in the past few months.

Let’s return to discussing the book. Well, it is all about the breath. The author is a journalist and an amateur diver. He writes  for the New York Times among other publications. His writing style is dynamic, even though it is sometimes too sensational for my taste.

For over a decade, James Nestor has interviewed experts on breathing (he calls them “pulmonauts “), about the power of breathing and its ability to maintain or restore health and increase physical fitness. Not only has he interviewed them, in many cases he has personally experienced their approach and taken part in scientific experiments validating some of these findings. 

His travels have brought him to Palo Alto, New York, Philadelphia, Stockholm, São Paulo, and many other places. They have also led him into the past – to those early pulmonauts who, thousands of years ago in Asia and centuries ago in the West, found numerous methods to use the breath to remain healthy and fight off diseases.

He also mentions prāṇāyāma, i.e., yogic breathing techniques – as well as  age-old approaches of other cultures for using the breath for therapeutic and spiritual purposes. For him, the concept of prāṇā – no matter how you call it in the end – is the common denominator for all the techniques that he came across.

The book is well suited for everyone – as everyone has some form of experience with breathing. It is not necessary to be interested in yoga to be fascinated by his colorful descriptions. He is also not dogmatic – he describes what is reported to him and his personal experiences with the different techniques.

The book even contains a section with short instructions for a few special breathing techniques – some very basic and others quite challenging.

I would like to share his creative way by taking a closer look at the introduction of the book:

He writes that reading the entire book would take the average reader 10,000 breaths (I did not count for myself). On the 1,000th breath, the reader would understand why it makes a gigantic difference whether one breathes through the nose (yes, please!) or the mouth (no, no, no!). On the 3,000th breath, one is introduced to the healing breath that can lower blood pressure, increase performance in sports and mitigate stress. On the 6,000th breath, one would better understand the special power of  exhaling. On the 8,000th breath, one would be at the level of the pulmonauts who use the breath to heal scoliosis, keep autoimmune diseases under control, and stay warm at very low temperatures.

Finally, after 10,000 breaths, the reader is supposed to know how to utilize the full potential of breathing up to his final exhalation.

Hopefully, you will enjoy reading the book – should you decide to invest the respective amount of breaths. But, please do not forget: nothing is any good unless it results in action. Therefore, the book offers some practical advice. So, try it out –  some of these basic techniques can be of a lot of help. 

Still, if you feel that the step from reading to applying is too large, feel free to get in touch. It would be my pleasure to support the transition from theory to practice, for the field of prāṇāyāma.

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Breath – The new science of a lost art (James Nestor)