James Nestor explores the lost art of breathing properly.
It’s automatic, essential for life, and happens 25,000 times a day. Yet James Nestor discovered that 90 percent of us aren’t breathing correctly. The good news is that researchers have found that many modern maladies, including asthma, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and more can be improved by altering the way we breathe.
‘Yes, breathing in different patterns really can influence our body weight and overall health. Yes, how we breathe really does affect the size and function of our lungs. Yes, breathing allows us to hack into our own nervous system, control our immune response, and restore our health. Yes, changing how we breathe will help us live longer,’ writes Nestor in Breath.
In the passage below Nestor offers exercises to start you off on the path to better health.
Below are several breathing practices that didn’t make the cut in the main text of this book for one reason or another. I regularly practice them, as do millions of others. Each is useful and powerful in its own way.
Yogic Breathing (Three-Part)
A standard technique for any aspiring pranayama student.
Sit in a chair or cross-legged and upright on the floor and relax the shoulders.
Place one hand over the navel and slowly breathe into the belly. You should feel the belly expand with each breath in, deflate with each breath out. Practice this a few times.
Next, move the hand up a few inches so that it’s covering the bottom of the rib cage. Focus the breath into the location of the hand, expanding the ribs with each inhale, retracting them with each exhale. Practice this for about three to five breaths.
Move the hand to just below the collarbone. Breathe deeply into this area and imagine the chest spreading out and withdrawing with each exhale. Do this for a few breaths.
Connect all these motions into one breath, inhaling into the stomach, lower rib cage, then chest.
Exhale in the opposite direction, first emptying the chest, then the rib cage, then the stomach. Feel free to use a hand and feel each area as you breathe in and out of it.
Continue this same sequence for about a dozen rounds.
These motions will feel very awkward at first, but after a few breaths they get easier.
Navy SEALs use this technique to stay calm and focused in tense situations. It’s simple.
Inhale to a count of 4; hold 4; exhale 4; hold 4. Repeat.
Longer exhalations will elicit a stronger parasympathetic response. A variation of Box Breathing to more deeply relax the body that’s especially effective before sleeping is as follows:
Inhale to a count of 4; hold 4; exhale 6; hold 2. Repeat.
Try at least six rounds, more if necessary.
Anders Olsson uses this technique to increase carbon dioxide and, thus, increase circulation in his body. It’s not much fun, but the benefits, Olsson told me, are many.
Go to a grassy park, beach, or anywhere else where the ground is soft.
Exhale all the breath, then walk slowly, counting each step.
Once you feel a powerful sense of air hunger, stop counting and take a few very calm breaths through the nose while still walking. Breathe normally for at least a minute, then repeat the sequence.
The more you practice this technique, the higher the count. Olsson’s record is 130 steps; mine is about a third of that.
This technique, made famous by Dr. Andrew Weil, places the body into a state of deep relaxation. I use it on long flights to help fall asleep.
Take a breath in, then exhale through your mouth with a whoosh sound.
Close the mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
Hold for a count of seven.
Exhale completely through your mouth, with a whoosh, to the count of eight.
Repeat this cycle for at least four breaths.
Weil offers a step-by-step instructional on YouTube, which has been viewed more than four million times.