Book Review – ‘Breath, The New Science of a Lost Art’ by James Nestor

Breath by James Nestor

‘Breath – The New Science of a Lost Art’ by James Nestor

As part of my ‘Breathwork Facilitator’ Course, I have to write three book reviews – this is my first one, and one that I loved.


I’m going to start by saying I LOVE this book. Listening to James on the Russell Brand podcast made me buy this book, then this book led me to explore my own breathing more; this then led to me becoming passionate about the power of the breath and telling more people about it.

So, I have this book to thank because it has led me to train to become a breathwork facilitator.

I love evolutionary biology; I’m so interested in why we do things in specific ways and how we’re basically apes in fancy clothes driving fancy cars – when I was a child, ‘Planet of the Apes’ was my favourite TV show.

This book charts both James’ journey with his breath and the evolutionary pathway of the development of our breathing apparatus. Did you know that due to our increasing brain size, it shrunk the part of our skull designated for breathing – so we’re the bulldogs of the ape world?

This is why humans have so many breathing problems, including sleep problems – he states that most sleep problems are breathing problems. It makes sense, right?

The bit I particularly love in the book are the self-experiments that James does. Specifically taking part in a scientific experiment to have his nose blocked off entirely for ten days (or a quarter of a million breathes), the results of which are both fascinating and gruesome. You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out more about it.

The book conveys the message that there is no one way to breathe, or any method that is superior to any others. The author does in-depth research into all the types of breathing ‘methods’ that are available from yogic, to Wim-Hof, to nasal breathing. One thing he gets across is that breathing is powerful, healing and a way of tapping into your deep psyche, something that has been practised for millennia.

Here are three things I learned from the book;

  1. There are monks in the Himalayas that can melt the snow around them through the power of their breath, they can raise their own body temperature (similar to what Wim-Hof does nowadays).
  2. Nasal breathing can change the shape of your face and mouth, and indeed that our face shapes have changed significantly over the past 100 years, how many children do you see now needing braces and orthodontics.
  3. There’s a series of underground catacombs in Paris that house hundreds of remains of plague victims.

Some surprising things crop up in the book; for example, he talks about how many modern maladies like asthma, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and even psoriasis could be reduced or reversed simply by changing how we inhale and exhale. I sometimes think that he contradicts himself in a few places, but on the whole, it’s an eye-opening book about the power of the breath.

I enjoyed reading this book and mainly that he tried out many of the techniques on himself. In the end, there’s a helpful summary of all the different methods – I’ll be trying some of my experiments using those, and I’ll be using them in any breathwork classes I hold in the future.

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