This post is somewhat of a book review as well as my lived experience while reading Breath, by James Nestor, a book made popular by Joe Rogan’s interview with the author (which is how I heard of it, via my husband) and as the title might suggest is a good resource for any yoga student or teacher.
The very broad gist – Nestor is an author who has written about breathing in another book of his about Free Diving, so he’s no breathing amateur which sounds like an oxymoron since we’ve all been breathing our whole lives, so we must all be experts, right? Wrong. As you know as someone reading a yoga blog, there’s the breathing that your body does in line at the grocery store and then there’s the breathing that your mind consciously trains your body to take and practices hour after hour over the course of any given week depending on the dedication of your yoga and pranayama practice.
While reading Breath I haughtily assumed that I knew a thing or two about breathing and did it pretty well, although admittedly my pranayama practice is limited specifically to ujjayi and in fact I often struggle with other forms of pranayama as they make me feel short of breath.
What I learned first from the interview with Rogan and then in the book is how important it is to breathe through the nose all of the time. Research has proven that people who habitually breathe through the mouth suffer health issues such as sleep apnea. In order to increase my nose breathing in the past, my husband and I used first aid tape to tape our mouths shut at night as we slept. As I read “Breath” I caught myself mouth-breathing now and again in the day (usually with my mask on) and have told myself to switch my breath to move in and out through my nose. The same is true at night time when I often become congested, instead of relying on the tape, I have simply reminded myself to keep my mouth shut, and it has worked. Since reading “Breath” and concentrating daily and nightly on the way that I breathe I no longer wake up in the middle of the night in need of water because my mouth has been made dry from breathing. I now sleep through the night (I find sleeping my back makes nose breathing easier and is better for spinal alignment, as well.)
The book outlines the author’s ten year journey through varying breathing techniques many, if not arguably all, have roots in ancient, yogic breathing. Towards the end of the book Nestor discusses prana and it’s prevalence in eastern cultures and practices of medicine. The yogis call it prana, the Chinese call it chi, however it is relatively new to western minds. Prana for those of you who are unfamiliar is life force, or energy that is mindfully worked in practices such as pranayama in yoga, or breathing techniques.
“Yoga practices were never designed to cure problems, … they were created for healthy people to climb the next rung of potential, … control their nervous systems and hearts, and live longer and more vibrant lives”DeRosa
My very favorite excerpt from the book is, “Yoga practices were never designed to cure problems, … they were created for healthy people to climb the next rung of potential, … control their nervous systems and hearts, and live longer and more vibrant lives” a quote from DeRosa, a breath and yoga instructor and author based in Sao Paolo.
The book ends by declaring that eastern practices such as yoga and breath work are aimed at maintaining a healthy lifestyle whereas western medicine is meant to fix major emergencies rather than milder chronic maladies. For these sorts of issues a practice such as pranayama and physical asana might be a better route.
The very last section of the book is an appendix that outlines breathing methods from nadi shodahana to basic yogic breathing (three part breath.) In his interview with Joe Rogan, Nestor says that just as diet and exercise, breathing should be a focus of a healthy lifestyle.
In the time of a respiratory pandemic, I’d say that bring more focus and awareness to the way that we breathe is a pretty good idea. If you’d like to read Nestor’s book, please consider buying a copy from your local independent bookstore instead of Amazon.
How are you breathing?