Our obsession with productivity is a defining characteristic of modern society. Smart watches streamline and gamify our workouts and sleep cycles. Smartphones make us permanently available. And of course, social media drives us to put our most personal moments online. In some ways, James Nestor’s Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art points out the obvious: This productivity obsession is killing us. Yet, not all hope is lost. Nestor’s work reveals the importance of our breath and promises us a changed life if only we’ll take a moment to stop, slow down and breathe.
Nestor’s obsession with breathing started with a sort of spiritual experience—a conversion moment during a breath workshop that led to lifelong change. “I wasn’t conscious of any transformation taking place,” he writes, but after a long evening of intentional breathing, “it was as if I’d been taken from one place and deposited somewhere else.” However, skeptical of encounters that might be fake or gimmicky, Nestor decided that the experience alone wasn’t enough. So he dug deeper.
Breath is the result of Nestor’s digging, and it offers more than a simple guide to meditation. He details the history of breathing, from ancient cultures to modern innovations that have changed our facial structures and thus our breathing patterns. Over time, these changes resulted in the loss of much of the breath work practiced by early humans—but it’s being rediscovered now, just in time.
From yogis to monks, from voice teachers to athletic trainers, from people with scoliosis to those with asthma, Breath details how these rediscovered breath practices are providing the promise of a better, longer, healthier life. If this all sounds too good to be true, Nestor assures us that breath isn’t a golden ticket. It’s not a magic cure for everything that ails us, but it is “a way to retain balance in the body.” And if that still sounds like a bunch of baloney, go ahead and give it a try. Stop. Slow down. Breathe.