kortina.nyc / notes
17 Apr 2024 | by kortina

Nestor // Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

I recently met and did some Voice Acting courses with a vocal coach I met via my friend Leigh, and Katya (the coach) recommended I check out the book Breath by James Nestor.

I’ve done a bunch of breathing / resonance breathing / etc exercises in various yoga classes (Schuyler Grant at Kula Yoga for example loves them), and they have never been my favorite part of yoga, but in the interest of developing a bit more range for reading longer sentences with a single breath, I checked out the book.

I’m very glad I did – it’s been fascinating – and timely, given some other health / fitness stuff I’m working on right now.

The main takeaways (at the end) are:

  1. Breath through your nose (not your mouth)
  2. Exhale more completely / for a longer time
  3. Chew more (hard food)
  4. Practice breath work like Tummo
  1. Hold your breath periodically for as long as possible
  2. “The perfect breath is this: Breathe in for about 5.5 seconds, then exhale for 5.5 seconds. That’s 5.5 breaths a minute for a total of about 5.5 liters of air.” Google “breathing exercise” for a practice app.

Other techniques:

  1. Sudarshan Kriya

    This is the most powerful technique I’ve learned, and one of the most involved and difficult to get through. Sudarshan Kriya consists of four phases:Om chants, breath restriction, paced breathing (inhaling for 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds, exhaling for 6, then holding for 2), and, finally, 40 minutes of very heavy breathing.

  2. 4-7-8 Breathing
    • 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.

Notes and quotes…

These free divers have stories about women putting cancer into remission – but I’m curious how you can verify this (vs curing a breathing problem or curing sclerosis – which somehow seem more “provable” to me than putting cancer into remission):

173 They told crazy stories, about how they’d breathed in ways that expanded the size of their lungs by 30 percent or more. They told me about an Indian doctor who lost several pounds by simply changing the way he inhaled, and about another man who was injected with the bacterial endotoxin E. coli, then breathed in a rhythmic pattern to stimulate his immune system and destroy the toxins within minutes. They told me about women who put their cancers into remission and monks who could melt circles in the snow around their bare bodies over a period of several hours. It all sounded nuts.

Many prayers of many different religious land you in a breathing pattern of

Is this the ideal pattern for vigorous exercise like running?

1371 In 2001, researchers at the University of Pavia in Italy gathered two dozen subjects, covered them with sensors to measure blood flow, heart rate, and nervous system feedback, then had them recite a Buddhist mantra as well as the original Latin version of the rosary, the Catholic prayer cycle of the Ave Maria, which is repeated half by a priest and half by the congregation. They were stunned to find that the average number of breaths for each cycle was “almost exactly” identical, just a bit quicker than the pace of the Hindu, Taoist, and Native American prayers: 5.5 breaths a minute.

But what was even more stunning was what breathing like this did to the subjects. Whenever they followed this slow breathing pattern, blood flow to the brain increased and the systems in the body entered a state of coherence, when the functions of heart, circulation, and nervous system are coordinated to peak efficiency. The moment the subjects returned to spontaneous breathing or talking, their hearts would beat a little more erratically, and the integration of these systems would slowly fall apart. A few more slow and relaxed breaths, and it would return again.

A decade after the Pavia tests, two renowned professors and doctors in New York, Patricia Gerbarg and Richard Brown, used the same breathing pattern on patients with anxiety and depression, minus the praying. Some of these patients had trouble breathing slowly, so Gerbarg and Brown recommended they start with an easier rhythm of three-second inhales with at least the same length exhale. As the patients got more comfortable, they breathed in and breathed out longer.

It turned out that the most efficient breathing rhythm occurred when both the length of respirations and total breaths per minute were locked in to a spooky symmetry: 5.5-second inhales followed by 5.5-second exhales, which works out almost exactly to 5.5 breaths a minute. This was the same pattern of the rosary.

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