Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Breathe-Why You’re Probably Doing It Wrong
James Nestor says that learning to breathe helped his recurring pneumonia and bronchitis.
Sunday, June 27, 2021


We take 25,000 breaths a day if we’re normal. But, chances are, we’re not doing it right.

“We have become the worst breathers in the animal kingdom and that’s having grave consequences for our health,” James Nestor told those attending the Sun Valley Wellness Festival and Conference Friday night.

Nestor is the author of “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art,” which Festival President Andria Friesen called “a page turner and a life changer.” Published just as the COVID pandemic started, it has gotten a lot of attention during the past year, given the focus on breathing problems during the pandemic. But Friday’s was his first in-person presentation.

“After 14 months of delivering talks on the little green light on my laptop in the basement of my home in San Francisco, this feels so good,” Nestor told an audience at The Argyros, as well as those tuning in virtually.

A science journalist, Nestor’s quest to learn about breathing began with researching how deep humans could dive on a single breath for “Outside Magazine.” As he did a deep dive into the subject, he learned that breathing could be used not only for free diving but to heal oneself of chronic conditions, such as E. coli.

We breathe in 30 pounds of air molecules a day. And, with every breath, more molecules move through our lungs than all the grains of sand on all the beaches in the world, he said.  

How we inhale and exhale affects our longevity. Poor breathing is linked to things like diabetes and heart disease.

“Our breathing has gotten significantly worse in the past 200 to 300 years and that’s not good for our long-term survival,” he said, noting that it flies in the face of survival of the fittest.

On the other hand, one woman employed breathing to expand her lungs, curing her scoliosis and that of others. Those with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis have found their condition improves with good breathing techniques. And taping the mouth of those of ADHD, forcing them to breathe through their noses, has been documented to help that condition.

Peruse a collection of human skulls before the Industrial Revolution and you’ll find that they have a huge nasal apparatus and huge jaw, Nestor said. As you go forward in time, the mouth shrinks so the teeth grow in crooked. And, when the mouth shrinks, it affects the nasal area.

The roof of the mouth has taken on a V-shaped arch and, when the mouth grows up instead of out, it impedes air flow in your nose, he added.

“Nasal breathing far superior to mouth breathing yet 20 percent to 50 percent of the population breathes through their mouth,” he added.

There are some simple remedies that don’t cost anything, he added:  

  1. Breathe through your nose as much as you can. The nose performs 30 different functions, acting as a filter, humidifier and moisturizer. It removes pollutants and helps kill viruses. Breathe through your nose and you’ll get 20 percent more oxygen than you would get through your mouth.

    Nestor described an experiment he did with one other person at Stanford University, in which he used  nose plugs to force mouth breathing for 10 days and then underwent pulmonary function tests and blood draws. His blood pressure spiked, he began to snore and he began suffering from sleep apnea.

    After he returned to breathing through nose, his snoring and sleep apnea disappeared and his blood pressure normalized.

    To improve your nose breathing, exhale, then inhale through the nose. Exhale again and at the bottom of the exhale hold your nostril, move your head up and down and side to side. Whenever you feel a palpable sense of breath hunger, open your nostril and breathe about 50 percent of what would normally breathe.

  2. Breathe slow and steady. Inhale while counting to five or six, then exhale while counting to five or six. Dr. Richard Brown has used this method to help those with PTSD and 9-11 survivors, as breathing in this pattern changes the way we think, allows us to think more logically.
  3. Breathe less. There is such a thing as too much breathing. People with anxiety typically breathe too much, causing them to hyperventilate. In fact, one researcher says he could see a panic attack long before it happened by observing a person’s breathing.

    When we breathe too much, we feel lightheaded and we have decreased circulation, leading to cold fingers and cold toes. We can breathe fewer breaths and get more oxygen by inhaling for four counts, holding for four counts, then exhaling. Slowing breathing allows more air into the lungs, switching the body to a relaxed state.

  4. Chew to breathe better. Three hundred years ago, we began suffering from chronically crooked teeth. That’s when we began to eat a diet that was soft, canned and processed, which required us to use our jaw less, Nestor said.

    Chewing exercises significantly reduce snoring and some forms of sleep apnea.

  5. Become aware of your breathing. A New Jersey choral director Carl Stough found his choir knew how to inhale well but not exhale. He taught them to exhale, strengthening their diaphragm and singing. Then he taught patients with emphysema how to exhale, which improved their health considerably. But, when he left the hospital seven years later, his system of breathing was forgotten.

In response to questions from the audience, Nestor said that wearing a pandemic facemask makes no difference in breathing. If you don’t believe it, put a pulse oximeter on your finger and you’ll see no change in O2.

Yawns are prompted by an increase of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.  When it starts to rise, our bodies want to rese. We start breathing more slowly and…we yawn.

Nestor said that he travels with a tiny piece of tape the size of postage stamp that he sticks on the middle of the lips to keep his mouth closed while sleeping. “Very little cost and zero side effects.”


The Sun Valley Wellness Festival continues today and Monday. For information about in-person and virtual passes, visit https://www.sunvalleywellness.org






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