When we think about improving our health, we typically think about altering our diet, trying to exercise more, and taking vitamins and supplements. But my guest today argues that none of that stuff really matters if we haven’t improved something even more foundational: our breathing.

His name is James Nestor and his latest book is Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. At the beginning of our conversation, James explains why he paid thousands of dollars to have his nose plugged up, and what happened to his body when he could only breathe out of his mouth. We unpack the dangers of the common problem of being a habitual mouth breather, including the fact that it can even change the shape of our faces, and why modern humans started breathing through the mouth rather than the nose. James then reveals what happened when he switched his experiment around and breathed only through his nose, and explains why simply switching the passageway of your breathing from oral to nasal can have such significant health benefits. He also shares his weird trick to switch from mouth to nose breathing at night, which I’ve tried myself and found effective. We then discuss the importance of getting better at exhaling, and why you counterintuitively probably need to be thinking more about getting carbon dioxide into your body rather than oxygen. In the latter part of our conversation, we discuss more advanced breathing techniques, including hypoventilation training, where you double your exhales to inhales to acclimate yourself to higher levels of CO2, as well as other experimental breathing techniques that may allow people to take conscious control of the supposedly involuntary autonomic nervous system in order to boost immunity and heal diseases. 

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Show Highlights

How James got interested in the science of breathingThe crazy experiment James did with mouth-breathingWhy are modern people mouth-breathers?Why have our mouths gotten smaller?What happened when James went back to nose-breathingWhy mouth-breathing at night is so bad for you (and how to stop doing it) The importance of the exhale Hypoventilation training The important role of carbon dioxide in our breathing Can we reverse damage that’s already been done?Toning the tongue to increase airway health The extraordinary fringes of breath science Why does breathing have so much control over our automatic bodily functions/systems?James’ experience with these wild breath practices How breathing can help anxiety and depression 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

The Science of Freediving and Breath-HoldingHow to Hold Your Breath Like a Deep-Sea FreediverHow to BreatheHow to Breathe When Lifting WeightsHow to Beat Bad BreathImprove Your Breathing, Improve Your HealthHow to Stop Your SnoringThe Physical Keys to Human ResilienceHow Your Climate-Controlled Comfort Is Killing YouWim Hof methodThe Meaning, Manifestations, and Treatments for Anxiety

breath by james nestor book cover.

Connect With James

James’ website

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