Book Review: "Breath; The New Science of a Lost Art"
Author: James Nestor
Having watched podcasts featuring James Nestor aplenty, it took me some time to pick up the book and actually read it, and then only because I wanted to more information on something he had said in one interview about breathing through one nostril or the other at a time. You see, I had supposed that the book would just be chapter after chapter of popular science summaries of the various strands of research he had looked into, and since I had consumed all the featured appearances on podcasts of his I could find, I didn't think there was much more to gain from actually reading the book.
To my surprise, the book wasn't like that at all, and I was quite wrong.
I soon found myself lost in a nested set of narrative stories, a thrilling adventure within a detective story within a hero's journey within a comedy of errors within a tragedy within a horror story, complete with unexpected turns, cliff-hangers and flashbacks. The author adeptly uses this nested-set of narratives to bring the various threads to life, and keeps the reader engaged right to the end.
It is his own hero story, of going into the wildness, having adventures and bringing back transformational knowledge to the community. It follow his journey through the research landscape, his sojourns at the feet of various modern experts and breath-workers, and his self-experiments with the various breathing techniques.
It is also a travelogue of how oxygen navigates our bodies from the air to our cells, and the sequel of how carbon dioxide escapes, nested in a story of the evolution of our bodies through history, and the calamitous changes which happened when we stepped outside of being evolved hunter-gatherers, into man-made civilization, and forgot our own nature.
It is a book of short of stories about the individual maverick doctors and healers, who each re-discover some aspect of the power of the breath throughout history, only for the tragedy of the knowledge to be lost again and again. It is a parable, a morality tale, about the hubris of modern medical science.
The author intertwines these stories, and weaves them all together with a running thread of the now infamous nose-plugging experiment he and friend Anders Olsson, perhaps unwisely, took upon themselves. Tying the story strands together this way, creates not just a popular science book, but also a ripping yarn.
But the one thing this book is not is science fiction. The moral of the story is the way we are breathing as a culture is a disaster for health and wellbeing, and so much pain and suffering could be alleviated by restoring the natural breath and remembering our own evolved natures. It is a story I feel we need to start to tell all our children again as soon as possible.
I sincerely hope, this time, the story of Breath never becomes a Lost Tale ever again.
I have also added pragmatic and actionable bonus modules to my online course “The Nervous System in Chronic Illness” covering everything I’ve learned in my own research, and from studying the works of James Nestor, Anders Olsson and many others, about the role of breathing regulation and dysregulation in the symptoms of chronic conditions and trauma:
Also now available as a stand-alone short course, “Breathing Dysregulation and Regulation in Chronic Illness”:
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