How To Stop Mouth Breathing And Biohack Your Breath

I first interviewed today’s guest, immersive journalist James Nestor, about freediving in the episode “The Extreme Sport You’ve Probably Never Heard Of, And How You Can Use Its Renegade Techniques To Become Superhuman.” It was such an exciting and intriguing show that afterward, I wound up traveling all the way to Ft. Lauderdale to take a freediving course, which absolutely changed my life (you can learn more about that in my episode with Ted Harty, “The Ultimate Guide To Freediving, Legal Blood Doping, Wim Hof Breathing, Increasing Your Breathhold Time, Underwater Ear Equalizing, Spearfishing & Much More!“.

Today James is back to talk about something we all do 25,000 times a day, yet most of us do it incorrectly or haven’t even begun to tap into its lost art. That’s right. I’m talking about breathing.

In his new book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, James 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 jumpstart 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, James 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 after hearing this podcast.

During this discussion, you’ll discover:

-The breathwork protocol James begins his day with…7:41

  • Static tables
    • Long exhales and inhales
    • Great for parasympathetic response
    • Increases circulation
    • Increasing tolerance for CO2

-Why James views breath as the “missing pillar” of health…9:55

  • Gives a better measurement of fitness and health
  • Doctors view breath as binary
  • Breath is a nuanced function of the body
  • “How we breathe is just as important as what we eat, how much we exercise, genetics, etc.”
  • James’ discoveries are not new; they’re simply forgotten over and over
  • COVID-19 will hopefully cause people to rethink the importance of breath

-What James views as the “dis-evolution” of breathing…14:15

  • “Dis-evolution” was coined by Harvard biologist Daniel Lieberman
  • Humans are the worst breathers in the animal kingdom
  • Old skulls at the Morton Collection at the University of Pennsylvania compared to modern skulls:
    • 90% of us have small mouths
    • Sinuses are smaller
    • Chronic sinusitis, snoring, sleep apnea
  • Industrialization of the food chain is a factor
  • Evolution is not “survival of the fittest”; it’s about change, and humans have changed for the worse
  • The lifestyle changes in the last 400 years have been too rapid for the human body to properly adapt

-The truly awful effects of mouth breathing…18:38

  • We breathe in unfiltered, dry, irritating air through the mouth
  • Ran a little experiment with Dr. Jayakar Nayak of Stanford Univ.
  • Anders Olsson, author of the book Conscious Breathing
  • James Nestor and Anders Olsson completed an experiment where they breathed only through their mouth for 20 days:
    • Snoring increased 1300% the first night
    • Blood pressure shot up
    • Stage 2 hypertension
  • Follow up study on breathing only through the nose:
    • Snoring disappeared completely
    • Zero sleep apnea events
    • Blood pressure normalized
    • HRV increased

-The unusual connection between the clitoris and the nose…24:11

  • Nose and clitoris are made of erectile tissue
  • The nose gets “erections” all throughout the day
  • Nostrils open and close throughout the day
    • Helps heat or cool the body
    • Activates various hormones
    • Similar to an HVAC system for the body
  • Alterations to the nose were performed to repress sexual urges

-How the left and right nostrils activate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems…27:44

  • Right nostril is linked more to the left brain; vice versa with the left nostril
  • Woman with serious schizophrenia became relatively normalized with alterations in nostril breathing

-Healthy breathing practices of Native American and indigenous South American populations…30:50

  • George Catlin left “civilized society” in the 1830s to live with over 50 Native American tribes
  • They all used nose breathing as a form of therapy
  • “Great secret of life” is to breathe through the nose
  • Key to facial symmetry
  • Went to S. America to study indigenous cultures and found similar results

-How to stop mouth breathing, increase circulation, and get better sleep…37:06

  • Sleep with sleep tape every night
  • Incline bed therapy increases circulation
  • Side or stomach sleeping is far preferable to back sleeping (if you’re healthy)
  • BGF podcast with Peter Martone (an advocate for back sleeping)
    • Neck Nest, invented by Peter Martone (use code GREENFIELD2019 to get a custom pillowcase and Dr. Sleep Right’s 30 Day Sleep Quest)
  • Mouth taping:
  • OptiO2 to prevent breathing through the mouth while exercising (website is not yet open, check back)
  • Relaxator device
  • Individual anatomy is a big factor in the ability to practice nose breathing while sleeping

-What other cultures and religions can teach us regarding the ideal pace of breathing…47:08

  • Italian researchers observed consistent patterns in subjects engaged in prayer from various religions
  • Spontaneous dialogue caused the breathing patterns to vary widely
  • Focus on breathing in ~5-6 seconds; exhale slightly longer than the inhale
  • Rapid breathing tactics (Wim Hof) are profoundly therapeutic
  • Rapid breathing brought on by anxiety or panic is involuntary
  • Voluntary rapid breathing enables you to gain control over your breath
  • Holotropic breathwork
  • Breathing off CO2 results in alkalizing the blood
  • Key point: Controlled rapid breathing (exercise or rapid breathing techniques) results in overall health and control over the body and mind
  • A man’s life is not measured by his years, it’s measured by his breaths

-Tibetan “rites” that help expand the lungs and diaphragm…56:47

-How hypoventilation can improve breath…1:00:02

-The Tummo method of breathing…1:06:30

-How to biohack your breathwork…1:09:55

-And much more!

Click here for the full written transcript of this podcast episode.

Resources from this episode:

– Podcasts mentioned in this episode:

– Previous podcasts about breathing:

– Books:

– Gear and Equipment:

– Other resources:

Episode sponsors:

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Do you have questions, thoughts, or feedback for James or me? Leave your comments below and one of us will reply!

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