Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art Audiolibro Audible – Edizione integrale
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A New York Times Best Seller
A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2020
Named a Best Book of 2020 by NPR
“A fascinating scientific, cultural, spiritual and evolutionary history of the way humans breathe - and how we’ve all been doing it wrong for a long, long time.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic and Eat Pray Love)
No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how skinny or young or wise you are, none of it matters if you’re not breathing properly.
There is nothing more essential to our health and well-being than breathing: Take air in, let it out, repeat 25,000 times a day. Yet, as a species, humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, with grave consequences. Journalist James Nestor travels the world to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. The answers aren’t found in pulmonology labs, as we might expect, but in the muddy digs of ancient burial sites, secret Soviet facilities, New Jersey choir schools, and the smoggy streets of São Paulo. Nestor tracks down men and women exploring the hidden science behind ancient breathing practices like Pranayama, Sudarshan Kriya, and Tummo and teams up with pulmonary tinkerers to scientifically test long-held beliefs about how we breathe.
Modern research is showing us that making even slight adjustments to the way we inhale and exhale can jump-start athletic performance; rejuvenate internal organs; halt snoring, asthma, and autoimmune disease; and even straighten scoliotic spines. None of this should be possible, and yet it is. Drawing on thousands of years of medical texts and recent cutting-edge studies in pulmonology, psychology, biochemistry, and human physiology, Breath turns the conventional wisdom of what we thought we knew about our most basic biological function on its head. You will never breathe the same again.
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Triggers for me were a combination of enforced passive smoking for some decades, before it got banned in public places, and, finally prolonged exposure to a chemical in the workplace, which had a disastrous respiratory effect on all of us, so exposed
Unwilling initially to take medication I tried to explore various ways to improve lung capacity, some of which have been more or less successful, though I had to surrender eventually to medical management, and am generally well maintained
Covid has of course made us all intensely aware of lung health, and there has been an explosion in awareness of how we breathe, how this activity we might not even think about until we can’t, might impact, positively or negatively, health and wellbeing. Not to mention, how we might best recover long term if the virus takes hold and diminishes lung capacity long term.
Decades ago, before it was more widely known, I had attempted to self-admiinister Buteyko, from a book. And not got on very well with it.
James Nestor, a self-styled ‘aeronaut’ as he calls those who have deeply studied breathwork, and sought to educate and help others to breathe well, explores, clearly, so clearly, a whole range of extraordinary breathing techniques. I should probably rephrase that – they are not necessarily THAT extraordinary, they are representative of more natural, healthful ways of breathing – which almost all of us ‘grew out of’ – posture, diet , environment changes our breathing.
Nestor goes well into the science of all this, and his book is absolutely fascinating. But what makes it outstanding for me is that he is a WRITER. Most of the other books I’ve read, share the passion, share the authors’ own journey and exploration of the field, but those writers don’t have the skill to convey the dryer stuff of the science so engagingly and absorbingly, or the light touch immediacy of writing which is like someone talking to you.
For those who might be looking towards trying the various techniques, Nestor gives clear guidance within the book, - and yes, I found Buteyko so much easier to work, from this. He also promotes and explores several ‘aeronauts’ – Patrick McKeown (very much the approachable Buteyko international voice now) Anders Olsson, Wim Hof and others – and gives details and links to the wealth of video material out there. Indeed Nestor’s own website is full of wonderful, free resources.
I also really like his pragmatic and generous approach. One of the biggest changes I’ve made – with excellent results – since reading this book, is to simply control how I breathe when sleeping. Nose breathing, not mouth breathing, is what we need to be doing, and though I have consciously tried to work with this, over many years, I certainly wasn’t doing this at night. Various complex devices are out on the market for this one – Nestor does talk them through, but also says he himself just uses simple micropore tape, to keep his mouth shut. It certainly looks a bit weird and startling but, I must say, since my first night with a small vertical strip from just above top lip to just below bottom lip, I not only had no trouble or discomfort with this, but no longer have a stuffy or runny nose on waking, and am more likely to sleep through the night, not needing to wake for a pee – and he explains the science behind this, a connection between a neurotransmitter, the autonomic nervous system, and depth of sleep. The nose is a wonderful thing, and the biochemistry of nose breathing and mouth breathing are different. Button that lip!
These range from insubstantial; a man in the 1930's met another man who'd benefited from visiting Tibetan monks who breath through their noses. To plausible; anxiety can be controlled with breathing, strengthening the chest muscles and diaphram can help with breathing (eg. physiotherapy is good for people with emphysema). To mystical; breathing can infuse the body with a magical 'energy' called Prana.
Any conclusions seem to be contradictory: breath in little sips, take big breaths, reduce the amount of oxygen in our bodies, increase the amount etc.
A lot is written concerning a study he and a friend took part in where they taped their noses shut for 10 days to force them to breath through their mouths. Apparently this will make you feel rotten, snore more and grow bacteria in your unused nasal cavity. Hardly surprising.
I confess that I am kicking myself for not taking the intricacies of breathing seriously until the last few years and I wonder if I would have been as dismissive if I had read a 'grounded' a book as this, rather than texts that relied on 'New Age-y' type language that provoked my prejudices and closed my mind to the undoubted benefits of 'breathwork'.
In a concluding chapter, Mr Nestor forcefully states the benefits of Western medicine - and rightly so; the book is NOT opposed to the scientific method. What he does argue for, however, is that the Western model has ignored an elusive obvious: self-regulation of the breath as a means of stress reduction with a host of attendant benefits.
In presenting his case, Mr Nestor takes the reader on a journey from the dawn of aerobic metabolism, through biological anthropology, into psychology, psychiatry, and dentistry, tying it all together with his own history of breath exploration as a means to control his own health issues.
It is a dazzling read regardless of some passages that describe horrible animal experiments. There are appendices that describe some breathing techniques, along with bibliography and expanded notes. Mr Nestor's website, with its dedicated 'Breath' page, is worth a look for new updates.
Anecdotally, I 'cured' long-standing exercise-induced asthma through one of the methods outlined in the book (Buteyko) and I continue to dive into it to control a life-long anxiety disorder. From what I gather, my experience is commonplace, although the benefits have been quite startling on a personal level. Whether or not I experiment with the Wim Hof method discussed in the book is another matter; it may be the next step for me.
All in all, this is a persuasive, well-researched, passionate, and inspiring book and I heartily recommend it.