Book Review: Breath by James Nestor

April 10, 2021
Breath james nestor

Breathing, more specifically, nasal breathing has become an increasingly popular health topic. From the adorable viral video of a young boy showing his even younger brother how to calm himself with breathing techniques to witnessing my mother give similar advice to my 100 year old grandmother it has become obvious that people are finally recognizing the benefits of proper breathing and breathing exercises. If those weren’t enough to indicate people’s growing interest then the fact that a book solely about breathing making the New York Times Best Seller list is surely a sign. It was time I finally read the book I had saved in my Kindle library, Breath by James Nestor.

This is what I learned. Shut your mouth. Yep, that’s it. Shut it. Approximately 40% of the population has problems with chronic nasal obstruction and about half of us are habitual mouth breathers. Prolonged mouth breathing brings along with it an abundance of problems. In children, it can lead to dental malocclusion (large overbite and crowded teeth), poor growth, poor posture and an ability to concentrate. As mouth breathers grow into adulthood they are susceptible to low oxygen concentration in blood which is associated with high blood pressure and heart failure. It can also lead to obstructive sleep apnea disorder which can lead to many more health risks.

The very straightforward lesson of shut your mouth is not a new one. Nestor retells the story of George Catlin who travelled the world learning from Native Americans and other indigenous cultures of the Americas about their breathing habits and why, despite no proper dental care, they ad perfect teeth and few chronic health problems. Catlin wrote about his adventures in his book The Breath of Life published in 1862. Over 150 years and we still haven’t learned the importance of keeping our mouths shut.

Chew your food, preferably with your mouth shut. The lack of dental problems noted in the indegenous cultures encountered during Catlin’s travels may not solely be due to their breathing habits. Just as nasal breathing prevents face narrowing and elongation, chewing firmer foods decreases problems with teeth crowding and malocclusion that can lead to nasal pathway narrowing. It is believed that our modern dental and orthodontic problems began 12000 years ago when we changed from a hunter gatherer diet to one based on agriculture. It has worsened over the years as our modern diet becomes more processed and softer.

Nestor’s book is full of interesting facts about breathing from many different cultures and scientific areas. He takes the reader through his own journey toward improved breathing trying a multitude of breathing techniques and some gruesome testing. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good read or for those who want to learn more about breathing including instruction in some specific breathing techniques. I learned a lot from reading his book but I realize now that the most important lesson I learned about breathing came unwittingly from my mother when I was a child, “keep your mouth shut and chew your food.”

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