A BREATH Of Fresh Air: “The New Science Of A Lost Art”

Science journalist James Nestor begins his brilliant best-selling book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art with a simple evolutionary observation and two profound questions: 

We Humans breathe between 20,000 and 25,000 times daily.

1)    Why are most Humans so BAD at breathing?

2)    And how might we Humans learn to breathe better?

 These two questions animate one of the most important books of our time.

Nestor’s Breath, which weaves together his own personal journey to better breathing with historical and contemporary insights re: respiration from around the world, demands a close read – whether you are an elite athlete, an organizational leader, or, like most of us in this strange Civilizational moment, simply interested in living a more fulfilled life, breath by breath.


“We are the worst breathers in the Animal Kingdom,” explains Nestor. “No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how skinny or young or strong you are, none of it matters if you’re not breathing properly.”  

Bad breathing? Meaning?

90% of us, Nestor claims, are mistakenly habituated to chronic shallow mouth/chest breathing, which triggers a cascade of illnesses and disease – ranging from sleep apnea and snoring, to chronic anxiety, panic attacks, and a host of other mental and physical ailments, helping to explain, Nestor writes, “why our backs ache, our feet hurt, and our bones are becoming more brittle.” And did we mention ubiquitous dental work? Yes, even expensive braces on our teeth and costly mouth/jaw surgeries can be traced to poor breathing habits. 


Moving seamlessly from present to past and back again, Nestor takes the reader around the world – from Himalayan monasteries (where monks still practice the ancient art of “tummo” – “inner fire” breathing from which the Wim Hof Method is derived), to France’s underground catacombs (full of anonymous skulls with respiratory secrets), to dentists’ offices, science labs and medical clinics – Nestor highlights the results of his research in breezily written and scientifically grounded chapters with one word titles – Nose, Exhale, Chew, Less.

 His book’s conclusions are profound, beginning with the importance of individual LSD breathing (Light, and Slow, and Deep)  and ending with a species-wide call to breathe better.


 Fundamentally, here are ten takeaways from Breath, all of which inform our Peak Flow breathwork ecosystem protocols.

1.     BREATH IS ELEMENTAL: Breathing is elemental, and we Humans can learn to recultivate – literally, to rediscover and practice – optimal breathing, allowing us to not just strengthen our respiratory systems, but positively influence through various breathing protocols our circulatory, nervous, and immune systems, as well. 

2.     HUMAN DYS’EVOLUTION: Post-modern humans are “dys’evolving” (see Harvard biologist Daniel Lieberman’s pioneering work) – literally growing more weak, less adaptive, and more dis’eased. Our inventive evolutionary success as homo sapiens  – first as farmers (10,000 years ago), then as industrialists (500 years ago), and now as a mostly sedentary species moving too little, eating too much (food that is too mushy), and subjected to chronic stress day in and day out (Welcome to the new viral millennium) – has literally taken our breath away. 

3.     LIGHT BREATHING: LIGHT breathing (not heavy breathing) is essential to breathing better. The L in LSD breathing, first discovered in the West by Russian researcher Konstantin Buteyko, and more recently popularized by Oxygen Advantage founder Patrick McKeown of Ireland, teaches the biochemical importance of maintaining an optimal balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body by breathing light. 

4.     BREATH AND CO2: CO2 is our Friend, a Gas critical to healthy breathing. Despite all the bad “climate change” PR, carbon dioxide, Nestor explains, is the body’s “trigger” to breathe. We have 100 times more CO2 in our bodies than O2, and Co2’s presence activates Danish scientist Christian Bohr’s famed “Bohr Effect,” catalyzing the 270 million hemoglobin “busses” (each transporting 4 O2 molecules in each one of our 25 trillion red blood cells – mind blowing math!) to release their O2 payload into the muscles and tissues throughout our bodies. Astonishing, for a gas so demonized these days. 

5.     SLOW BREATHING: SLOW breathing is essential to breathing better. The S in LSD breathing, the cadence or tempo of our breathing matters moment to moment. Most Humans are breathing too quickly – shallow, through the mouth, and into the chest – giving up with every breath access to the full lower third of our lungs – full of millions of alveoli (tiny air sacs) just itching for more air. Making the switch to LSD breathing is critical. 

6.     BREATHWORK: THE NOSE KNOWS!: The Nose, not the Mouth, is our body’s essential breathing organ. How do we slow down our breath? Two answers: 1) Shut your Mouth. 2) The Nose knows! Evolutionarily speaking, nasal breathing delivers a multitude of breath-related health benefits – cleaning, warming, and humidifying the millions of O2 molecules flowing into our bodies, as well as sifting out potentially harmful viruses (viruses!), bacteria, and other harmful environmental toxins, and generating the “magic molecule” known as nitric oxide (NO). More on NO below.

7.     DEEP BREATHING: DEEP breathing (as opposed to “shallow”) is essential to breathing better. Place your ten fingers lengthwise along your breast bone, and then, using medium pressure, palpate each hand’s five fingers down along the left and right underside of your rib cage – meet your diaphragm! – and then bring your fingers up between each of your ribs to massage your intercostal muscles. Synching up the body’s most vital respiratory muscle – the diaphragm (also known as our “second heart””) with nasal breathing – is vital to breathwork success, and your diaphragm and intercostals are, in fact, muscles, ones that can be strengthened through regular breathwork exercises. 

8.     BREATHWORK AND HORMESIS: Hormetic breathing (like the Wim Hof Method) brings manifold benefits. Flip LSD breathing on its head, and breathe aggressively and hypoxically (depriving the body of oxygen) over several rounds (please practice this protocol lying down in a safe, comfortable environment with friends – “no force,” and listen to your body) and notice how this form of “hormesis” – defined by biologists as “voluntary stress to the body, titrated regularly” – builds resilience of Mind, Body, and Spirit over time.

9.     BREATHING AND OUR DIAPHRAGM: The Diaphragm, our most important respiratory muscle (also known as “our second heart”) can be strengthened through breathing “exercises” like any other muscle. I know we said this already – but it is SO important, we’re gonna say it again. 

10.  BREATH PROTOCOLS: IT’S A GAS: Strategic breathwork allows Humans to optimize mixed gases – oxygen, CO2, and nitric oxide – for a variety of health benefits over time. Nitric Oxide (NO) is a powerful anti-viral and anti-bacterial molecule, and is generated in the nasal cavity through LSD breathing, and can be amplified through humming, singing, and other forms of nasal vocalization. NO is also a powerful vasodilator, opening up the body’s respiratory and circulatory systems as NO circulates through the body. No pills. No drugs. The nose knows!

These ten important breathwork takeaways aside, Breath is a beautiful book – a tribute to #TeamHuman’s capacity to understand our evolutionary challenges, and how to “course correct” and “optimize Human experience, one breath at a time.” Highly recommended, and we commend @MrJamesNestor (follow him on his Instagram channel) for enlightening us with this critical book at this crucial time. 

Grab and read a copy of Breath, and then – breathe!

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Patrick McKeown

“My mission is to empower people to take control of their own health, well-being and fitness using simple breathing exercises proven to improve body oxygenation” – Patrick McKeown.

World- renowned author and breathing practitioner Patrick McKeown was educated at Trinity College in Dublin, before completing his clinical training in the Buteyko Breathing Method at the Buteyko Clinic, Moscow, Russia. This training was accredited by Professor Konstantin Buteyko. Patrick continues to have a tremendous impact on breath and educating millions around the world..