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Episode 520
The Doctor's Farmacy

The Power Of Breath As Medicine

Open the Podcasts app and search for The Doctor’s Farmacy. If you’re viewing this site on your phone, you can just tap on the

Tap the subscribe button and new shows will be added to your library.

If you’re using a different device, our show is available on the following platforms.

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The way we breathe impacts everything from how well we sleep to our metabolism, cognitive function, immunity, and more. 

That’s why it’s so alarming that most of us are doing it wrong. 

Today on The Doctor’s Farmacy, I talk all about the science and evolution of how we breathe, and how to get better at it, with James Nestor. 

Breathing predominantly through the nose has a much different impact on our health than breathing through the mouth; we get 25% more oxygen by breathing in through the nose. Yet, most of us have become mouth breathers. We learn why that is and how evolution has changed the structure of our jaws and airways, relating to the epidemic of crooked teeth, respiratory issues, sleep disturbances, and blood pressure imbalances that we see so much of today.

James was part of a Stanford University experiment where his nasal cavities were plugged and he was forced to breathe only through his mouth for 10 days. He immediately experienced many of the health issues mentioned above, which reversed when he could begin nasal breathing again. 

You might be surprised to learn how lung function is related to longevity. James shares that larger lungs equal a longer lifespan. The really exciting part is that this is something we can affect. Exercise and breathwork are two powerful tools at our disposal to “work out” our lungs and enhance our healthspan in the process. 

We also get into the topic of stress. Breathing is foundational for reducing stress and regulating the parasympathetic nervous system. James shares one of the easiest variations of breathwork we can all do throughout the day to slow down and feel better.

Breathing is one of the most basic of functions yet most of us aren’t doing it right.

This episode is brought to you by Rupa Health, BiOptimizers, and InsideTracker.

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I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

Here are more details from our interview (audio version / Apple Subscriber version):

  1. Why breathing is so important to our overall health
    (4:34)
  2. Using breath to boost your immune system and break stress
    (9:03)
  3. James’ personal health issues that led him to study breath
    (14:26)
  4. Why breathing through your nose is better than breathing through your mouth
    (16:38)
  5. The benefits of mouth taping at night
    (23:07)
  6. Nasal breathing tips and techniques
    (29:19)
  7. Ancient lost arts of breathing
    (30:36)
  8. Lung capacity and aging
    (37:51)
  9. Breathe like your ancestors
    (43:13)
  10. What is kundalini?
    (53:19)

Guest

 
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

 
James Nestor

James Nestor is an author and journalist who has written for Scientific American, Outside, The New York Times, and more. His latest book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, was an instant New York Times bestseller. Breath explores how the human species has lost the ability to breathe properly—and how to get it back. James has appeared on dozens of national television shows, including ABC’s Nightline and CBS’s Morning News, and on NPR. He lives and breathes in San Francisco.

Learn more about James’ work and get his book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art at https://www.mrjamesnestor.com/order-now.

Transcript

Introduction:
Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.

James Nestor:
Breathing is the quickest way of breaking that stress feedback loop. So you can change your breathing and break your stress, and you can measure what happens to your body when you do that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. That’s Farmacy with an F, a place for conversations that matter, and if you care about your health, one of the neglected aspects of our health is our breath, and it just happens that we breathe. We don’t think about it. It’s something that is critically important, and most of us are crappy breathers, which can explain a lot of health issues.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So today, I’m really pleased to have as our guest an expert in breath, James Nestor. He’s an author, he’s a journalist, he’s written for many, many important publications, including the Scientific American, Outside Magazine, New York Times. His book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, was an instant New York Times bestseller, and he explores how the human species has lost the ability to breathe properly and how to get it back.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Breath spent 18 weeks on New York Times bestseller list. It’s awesome, translated in 30 languages, and it’s a real wonderful explication of how we’ve missed the mark on one of the most important aspects of our health, which is our breath. He’s presented at Stanford Medical School, Yale School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, UN, many other places. He’s been on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Joe Rogan, and so on and so forth. So welcome, James.

James Nestor:
Thanks a lot for having me.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So our breath is taking center stage in this new era of COVID because one of the major symptoms is shortness of breath and lung damage, and we take breath for granted. How is breath so important in our health? Because we all breathe and we don’t think about it. We’re just breathing every day. In fact, I think we breathe 25,000 times a day without really thinking about it, but it turns out that how we breathe is critically important to our overall health, and it’s not something I learned in medical school, but I’d love you to break it down for our audience why is breath important, why has it been so neglected, and what do we know scientifically about the importance of breath and health.

James Nestor:
Well, I think humans are very reactionary species. Only when we lose something do we become aware of it, and that’s exactly what happened during COVID. We lost the ability to breathe and we’re like, “Oh, my God! Maybe breathing’s important,” because this is just something that’s been it’s an unconscious activity, it’s in the back of our minds. So once you establish, I think once you lose the ability to breathe, you appreciate it, and once you appreciate it, you can start focusing your breath to really significantly impact your health, mental health, physical health, bolster immune function, athletic performance, and more.

James Nestor:
The reason why breathing is so important is because we get most of our energy from air, from our breath. A lot of people think that we get most of our energy from what we eat and drink. Not true. We get most of our energy from air, and I can prove this to you by why don’t you hold your breath for about four minutes and see how much energy you have.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, not so much.

James Nestor:
Don’t do that at home, everybody.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. Well, I think you’re right. I think we don’t connect to our breath. When I was younger, I took yoga teacher training course. I was 23 and became a yoga teacher and learned the science, the ancient science of pranayama, which is a whole series of breathing techniques to activate different aspects of our health and wellbeing. Whether you’re calming breasts, activating breasts, it’s such a powerful thing that we have pretty much ignored as a vehicle toward health in this culture. Yet, in ancient cultures, it’s pretty amazing, and you guys got like Wim Hof, who’s this crazy dude who they’re calling the Iceman, but he’s mastered techniques of breathing that allow him to climb Mount Everest in his underwear, basically, and with no shoes on and not freeze to death or to sit in an ice bath for whatever bazillion minutes he sits in an ice bath for, and he’s being able to train other people who are just regular humans how to do the same thing.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So it is a doorway to accessing all sorts of our physiology that we just ignore. So can you break down for us what is going on with our breath, why does it affect us so importantly, and how do we start to develop a better relationship with our breathing?

James Nestor:
Well, breathing practices have been around for at least 5,000 years. Ancient Hindu studied it. Ancient Chinese study it. Native Americans studied it, and more, and they understood our breathing as a medicine. This wasn’t just something we did unconsciously. It was something that you could control. So this knowledge has been around for a long time, but lo and behold in the 1900s and in this century, we have instruments that can actually measure objectively what happens when you breathe in different ways.

James Nestor:
So no longer is this subjective. It’s objective. It’s a science. You can collect data. That’s what I think is so exciting that a lot of people can access wearables that can tell them what happens to their heart rate, what happens to their heart rate variability, what happens to their stress levels, what happens to their blood pressure, their blood oxygen more and more and more by just shifting their breathing.

James Nestor:
I think that this is one of the things that has really made this stuff so convincing. It’s one thing to read scientific papers and hear people talk about it. It’s another thing to change your breathing for two minutes and watch your blood pressure go down 10 to 15 points and watch your heart variabilities go up.

James Nestor:
I think that’s why so many people have personally experienced the benefits of this from not a lot of effort and work and said, “Wow! It actually does what it’s supposed to do,” and the science just confirms that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s amazing. One of the things that we’re all focused on today is our immune system, and most of us don’t think that our breath has anything to do with our immune system, but you’ve discovered that it has. So can you explain how our breath connects to our immune system and why we need to learn how to breathe better in order to boost our immune system, which everybody should be doing now because of COVID and in general?

James Nestor:
If you look at the vast majority of modern diseases, so many of them are tied to this chronic low-grade inflammation. So that chronic inflammation over years and years, this is something you’ve you’ve written about and talk about all the time, it will destroy your health and your breathing plays a big role in this because if you are constantly overbreathing, if you are breathing into your chest, if you are tense, if you are sitting in a chair and you can’t even take a deep, fulfilling, easy breath, then you are stressing your body out, and you are sustaining that chronic inflammation in your body, and you’re releasing cortisol and adrenaline and all that good stuff.

James Nestor:
So on occasion, it’s great to be stressed out, but not for 24 hours a day. Maybe for 20 minutes or half an hour that’s fantastic. So when people are disconnected from their breathing, when their mouth breathing at night, when they’re overbreathing in the day, when they’re hunched over and their posture is bad, they are perpetuating this feedback loop of constant stress, and breathing is the quickest way of breaking that stress feedback loop. So you can change your breathing and break your stress, and you can measure what happens to your body when you do that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
As a doctor, it’s really clear when you look at the biology of breathing that there, I mean, there’s a lot going on. Often, people are shallow breathers or they’re mouth breathers. There’s all kinds of challenges that happen biologically when you do that, but one of the things that people don’t realize is that their diaphragm, which is basically the muscle that moves when you breathe, expands and contracts in order to actually fill up and empty your lungs. The main nerve that relaxes your body goes through there, and that’s why when you take a deep breath, you relax and it’s called the vagus nerve.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What’s fascinating is there’s all this incredible science around how we have to do injections around the vagus nerve or we do certain kinds of magnetic therapies with the vagus nerve, all these different things, but we always have access to be able to activate the vagus nerve through our breath. So can you explain how that all works and why the diaphragm is so important and why we need to understand how to breathe differently and what it does to our biology?

James Nestor:
Sure. That vagus nerve travels right along our throats as well. So this is one of the reasons why yoga practices have a lot of humming and singing and om that allows for better vagal tone. It calms you down, but the vagus nerve is also, I mean, it spreads throughout the whole abdomen. It’s the longest nerve of in the body, vagus like a Vagrant. It’s a wandering nerve.

James Nestor:
So when you are breathing in a shallow way, you are sending messages through the vagus nerve and the phrenic nerve to your brain that you are stressed. So 80% of the messages between the body and the brain are coming from the body. So you can send your brain, if you want to do this, constant stress signals by breathing too much and by breathing in a shallow way.

James Nestor:
The lungs don’t inflate themselves, right? They need something to do that, and that’s what the diaphragm does. So most people understand the role of the diaphragm in expanding the lungs and deflating the lungs, but what I didn’t know, and I’m learning more recently is that the diaphragm is also essential, that diaphragmatic movement is essential in the circulation of lymph fluid and in the circulation of blood. This is a pump. You can think of your body as there’s a piston in your body. Okay? It’s the diaphragm, and you need those fluids constantly moving in an efficient way. You can get by by breathing in this very short and stilted way, a lot of people do, but compensation’s different than being healthy.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. Well, that’s a very important point because the body we think exhales carbon dioxide as a way of detoxifying something that can actually be harmful to us in excess, right? That’s what the breath does. You breathe out carbon monoxide, you breathe in oxygen, but also what you’re saying is that it detoxifies us in way more complicated ways through the lymph system, which actually clears out all the waste and metabolites from your tissues and your cells, and brings it back to the heart to filter and do all that stuff that has to do and go through the liver and clean it up.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So if you don’t have your lymph circulating, you’re going to get sick. I actually had a podcast with Dr. Mehmet Oz and his father-in-law, Gerry Lemole talking about the importance of lymph and lymph function to health, and breath, like you said, is one of the most powerful doorways to actually activate lymph circulation. So very, very important.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Tell me how you got into breath because I think you had a particular story that was quite interesting, and it really led you down this rabbit hole researching what actually was causing some of your issues.

James Nestor:
Yeah. As a science journalist, you don’t think that you’re going to one day write a book about breathing, which seems like such a simple and mundane and completely boring subject, but I had, this was a long time ago, about 10 years ago plus, I had constant respiratory problems. I was eating the right food. I was exercising all the time. I was sleeping eight hours a night. I was tuned into my health, but I kept getting bronchitis. I kept getting mild pneumonia. I was wheezing when I was working out. Every time I went to my doctor, I was told it was normal, and whenever I got mild pneumonia, I’d get a Z-Pak and be sent on my way, and it worked, but it didn’t fix the core problem.

James Nestor:
Every year, I kept coming back, and they would just be like, “Oh, you’re back. You have pneumonia?”

James Nestor:
“Yeah. I have pneumonia again.”

James Nestor:
So just something seemed a little off. That went on for years until one doctor friend said, “Oh, you should explore breathing class.”

James Nestor:
I said, “What does breathing have to do with immune function or my chances of getting pneumonia or bronchitis?”

James Nestor:
She said she had had experience with yoga. She said, “You’d be surprised.”

James Nestor:
So in San Francisco, it’s hard to throw a tennis ball and not hit four different breathing classes. So I just spun the roulette wheel, found one, and had an extremely powerful experience, but as a journalist, I’m not going to write a memoir about breathing. So I didn’t know what to do with this experience, and years went by before I found a way to tell a larger story, and it was specifically learning from free divers, people who were doing things that are supposed to be medically impossible with their body, and they do it every day.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Impossible. Impossible. 10 minutes underneath, it’s a whole doorway to health that we hadn’t really thought about. A lot of us, we don’t think about our breath, but we often don’t breathe very well. My mother had a lung issues and she was a mouth breather. I was always trying to get her breathe through her nose, and she just couldn’t do it, but tell us about the distinction between nose breathing and mouth breathing. Why is mouth breathing not good for you and why is nose breathing good for you?

James Nestor:
So when we breathe through our mouths, we’re exposing ourselves to everything in the environment. If you live in a city like me, that means pollen, that means pollutants, it means smog, it means mold. There’s nothing filtering that air all day long. If you breathe through the nose and I so happen to have a special guest here, it’s a cross-section of a human head, and if you see what happens when you breathe through the nose here, you’re forcing this air through all of these very ornate structures, and as that air goes through these structures, it’s heated up, it’s moist, and it’s filtered, and you get this huge perfusion of nitric oxide as well, which guess what? Nitric oxide helps kill viruses and bacteria, and it’s a vasodilator.

James Nestor:
So when you’re breathing through the mouth, you get none of those advantages. You can survive mouth breathing, but it’s going to wear you down and make you sick, and that’s just how things work. You can very clearly see this by just looking at our physiology and looking at our anatomy.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s quite amazing. What you just brought up is really important because we had Louis Ignarro on the podcast, who won the Nobel prize for his discovery of nitric oxide and this cute little 80-year-old Italian guy who would think he’d be your uncle or something, and he’s so sweet, and he just really explained how important it is to breathe through your nose and how nitric oxide is produced, which is, like you said, it’s antimicrobial and also increases your ability to fight inflammation, it’s an antioxidant. It’s the main thing that happens when you take Viagra, which is you increase nitric oxide, which increases dilation of blood vessels and so forth.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So it’s fascinating, and he even said, this was fascinating, they were doing some preliminary studies around COVID where they were giving nitric oxide gas to COVID patients and seeing remarkable changes in their biology and improvement in their lung function and their overall health. So it’s interesting that our knows what to do, but we often have laughed in these habits around mouth breathing.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Actually, there’s this new trend out there, I’d love to hear what you think about it, using mouth tape at night for people to breathe through their nose at night instead of through their mouth. What do you think about that?

James Nestor:
Well, what I learned about nitric oxide was from Ignarro. So he won the Nobel in the ’90s, and I think last time, last interview I heard with him he said there were 11 clinical trials looking at patients who had severe COVID and giving them nitric oxide. Some of those trials have come out. They’re official published studies, and it works incredibly well because, of course, it does. It’s just we’re supplementing what our natural body in its natural form would be doing otherwise.

James Nestor:
It’s important to note, too, if you hum, you increase that nitric oxide fifteenfold. So I think that this would be an interesting thing to explore, and a lot of yoga practices have you hum. I wish someone would do this study. It’s never going to get funded, but he’s an amazing guy. I’ve learned so much from him.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s so great. You did an interesting study where you were at Stanford when you were researching the breath for your book where your nose was completely plugged for 10 days and you had to breathe just through your mouth. So what was that study and what did you find out?

James Nestor:
So I had been working with the chief of rhinology research at Stanford, a guy named Dr. Jayakar Nayak, who probably knows more about the nose and nasal breathing than anyone on the planet. So we had had several interviews, and there had been animal studies looking at what happens when you make an animal, a monkey specifically, a mouth breather and all the awful things that happen to their health and their facial structure. Don’t read those studies. They’re horrendous, but I asked Nayak, I said, “Has there ever been a human study of this?”

James Nestor:
He said, “No.”

James Nestor:
I said, “Well, why don’t you do it? You’re at Stanford. You study this stuff all the time.”

James Nestor:
He said, “Doing so would be unethical,” because he knew of all the damage it could do.

James Nestor:
So I said, “Well, why don’t I volunteer for an experiment? I’ll try to make it-”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
An informed consent, right?

James Nestor:
Yeah. I wish it were a hundred. We had to pay for the study ourselves, which at Stanford was not cheap, and the longest we were allowed to do this was for 10 days, 10 days just mouth breathing, 10 days nasal breathing. As advertised, it completely destroyed us, and we have all the data to show that. There was extreme fatigue. My blood pressure went through the roof. I got home after about three hours of mouth breathing. My blood pressure was 158/100, which was about 30 higher than I had ever seen it.

James Nestor:
I said, “Oh, I’m stressed out. I need to go to sleep.”

James Nestor:
For the first time that I’m aware of, I started snoring, then started getting sleep apnea. It got worse and worse the longer we have this. The other subject in the study had the exact same thing at the same time. We had trouble focusing. Our mouths were completely dry. We were miserable. Athletic performance plummeted. I mean, to be clear, two people in an experiment means nothing. What I was doing was personally experiencing what science has known for literally decades and decades.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, there are N of one studies. So I don’t think it’s meaningless. There is a whole science and the NIH is actually advancing this, which is looking at changes in an individual and that being relevant, and if you measure changes before and after, it’s actually not insignificant. So I wouldn’t discount what you were saying as being more widely available to think about.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think that you actually have a lot of different things that you talk about as a way of fixing your breathing pattern. Maybe you could share a little bit of what are the tips. How should we breathing? How do we get enough quality breath? How do we stop mouth breathing? What do we have to do?

James Nestor:
Luckily in that Stanford study, we did 10 days of mouth breathing followed by 10 days of just nasal breathing. This is where the sleep tape comes in. So it’s easy to nasal breath in the day. You just shut your mouth, but at night more than 60% of us breathe through our mouth. So how do you keep your mouth shut at night? About 100 years ago, they used to have chin straps. So they knew how damaging mouth breathing was 100 years ago. We seem to have lost that knowledge.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh, wow.

James Nestor:
Nowadays, we have tape. So I learned from a breathing therapist at Stanford, she prescribes tape for her patients, for every one of her patients, to tape their mouth at night. This is not full on hostage situation stuff. This is the teeny-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s not duct tape, and there’s a little hole in it. There’s a little hole in it.

James Nestor:
There’s a specific tape. It’s a surgical tape. It’s called micropore tape, and it’s very light adhesive. You want to take this stuff off with your tongue. Never pull it off of your lips. That’s where people go wrong, but what this tape does is it’s just a gentle reminder. At any time in the night, you can go, if you’re uncomfortable, and it pops off, but all of that snoring that I was doing mouth breathing immediately went away by just with one hack, closing my mouth, and this is the one thing. I’ve literally heard this from thousands of people have written and they said that this was the most profound health hack that they’ve experienced. It’s for a lot of people.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I’ve heard the same thing.

James Nestor:
I’m not saying it’s going to work for everyone, especially with advanced, severe sleep apnea. You’re going to need more treatments, but it’s free, and breathing through your nose is only going to help you. So you may benefit a little or you may benefit a lot. I cannot sleep. I mean, technically I can sleep, but I can’t sleep well without sleep tape now. It’s a real-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s amazing. All right, James. So tell us what tape you use and what are the options out there for people because it sounds like after this conversation a of people are going to round and want to buy tape. I don’t want them to get Scotch tape or something, masking tape or something that is not the right tape.

James Nestor:
Well, there’s so many different types of tape that work, and it really depends on the person and their preference. I went through about 30 different types of tape before I found one that I really liked and that worked for me. I’m not getting paid to say this. It is a micropore tape, the surgical tape by 3M. It has a really light adhesive for sensitive skin. That’s the best stuff I’ve found. Other people like different brands. There’s specific brands now that are just sleep tape that you can buy on Amazon or wherever else. They work great. So I would say play around, find something you like. You want something with a very light adhesive.

James Nestor:
Most importantly, as I mentioned, you don’t need a very fat strip of this stuff. All you need is something about the size of a posted stamp. This is the whole technology here. That’s sleep tape, okay?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s it?

James Nestor:
I can even talk to you when I have this stuff on. When I take it off, you take it off with your tongue. Don’t rip it off. Take it off with your tongue and you won’t get any irritation to your mouth that way.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I love that. That’s amazing. Okay. That’s a wonderful act. You think everybody should do that or how many people breathe through their mouth at night? Is it a common thing or why would we if it’s not supposed to? Is it just because we’re unhealthy or because we’re stressed or what?

James Nestor:
I think that about 60%. This is the percentage I heard. More than 60% of us breathe through our mouth at night. If you were like me, you would go to sleep with a huge mug of water because you would wake up throughout the night and be hitting on this water because your mouth was so dry. Breathing through the mouth at night, especially for eight hours at a time will also change the pH in your mouth and make you much more susceptible to having cavities and periodontal disease.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh, wow!

James Nestor:
So everyone should be breathing through their noses at night. You need find a way of doing this.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So that’s one technique. What are the other techniques around breathing that you could do when you’re not sleeping?

James Nestor:
Well, breathe through your nose as often as you can. That includes while working out that includes while sitting in front of your desk. There are so many different breathing techniques to practice, nasal breathing techniques. It doesn’t me matter if for 15-20 minutes a day you’re doing Wim Hof method or Tummo or kundalini, and you’re breathing through your mouth during these practices. Perfectly fine. Ocean breath, totally fine. I’m talking about habitual chronic breathing needs to be through the nose. So we’ve got that.

James Nestor:
When you’re breathing through your nose, you will also be breathing more slowly, lightly, and deeply, and that’s the other part of this. Most of us breathe way too much air. We think that by breathing more, we are getting more oxygen, but the opposite is happening, and I can prove this to you by if you took 30 really big breaths right now, you’re going to feel some tingling in your fingers, lightness in your head. That’s from a decrease of circulation, and that’s what happens when you breathe too much. So you want to be breathing, such simple stuff, through the nose slowly, lightly, and deeply. Just doing that can be really transformative for people.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Powerful. You also talk a lot in the book about these ancient lost arts of breathing. What are those things that you rediscovered and what should we be doing with them today? Are they relevant?

James Nestor:
Well, it’s interesting. You start looking at ancient cultures and the different techniques they used, and you find that they were all basically saying the same thing in slightly different ways with different terms, especially if you look at qigong and yoga, and you find that so many of their practices are breathing through the nose, almost all of them. Many of their practices include breath holds. That’s huge in pranayama, and it’s huge in qigong.

James Nestor:
A lot of their practices also have temporary, for a very short amount of time, you over breathe. If anyone’s done, anyone listening has done kundalini or pranayama or Wim Hof, part of that is to purposely breathe too much. What that does is it purposely stresses your body out. You may be thinking, “Why the heck do I want to do that? I’m stressed out enough,” but that allows you to control stress, to turn it on, and specifically to turn it off. If you look at the science and the studies behind Sudarshan Kriya, even Wim Hof method, pranayama, these are such powerful techniques and they’ve been around for thousands of years.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. It’s pretty interesting. I did some of the Wim Hof breathing. I know him and it’s amazing. You do the breathing practice, then you can hold your breath for two, three minutes without even a bother, which is impossible if I told you to hold your breath right now for three minutes. You’d pass out, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So we really have an access to ancient technologies that actually will allow us to revitalize our health and have what seems like sometimes superpowers. I mean, think about it. I mean, to regulate your breathing, you can sit on an ice bath for half an hour. It’s a big deal. You can climb up Mount Mount Kilimanjaro in your shorts and be fine. That’s wild, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
You mentioned something just briefly called Tummo, which is a Tibetan technique for those listening that is used by monks to master their biology. Essentially, they have this practice called drying of the sheets and they’ll take these Buddhist monks up in the high Himalayas and they’ll put these sheets in ice water and then they’ll wrap them in the sheets in ice water, and they literally have to dry the sheets with the heat of their body and activate their own heat. Then once they master that, they go out in a loin cloth into the Himalayas up in the mountains at night and have to literally sit there all night naked, heating their body using the power of breath.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So we really have not even begun to tap the power of breath for health or for healing. It’s one of those simple doorways that we all have access to that we don’t need any equipment for, and it’s always available to us if we learn the techniques.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So you’ve got the pranayama techniques from yoga. You’ve got the kundalini techniques, which is a little different. You’ve got the Tibetan techniques, the Tummo breathing and Wim Hof, which it derived a lot from that, qigong and so forth, Chinese medicine techniques. There’s a whole science around this, and we really begun to understand the biology of it, but these ancient cultures really knew a lot about how to activate the breath to heal.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I find that one of the most powerful things you can do and we do breathwork, we do various kinds of calming breaths or activating breaths or breaths that actually help you to shift your nervous system, and I think we all have the ability at any time to change our mental state and our emotional state through the power of the breath.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s like we have a superpower we haven’t even accessed. I think that’s what’s so great about your book. It teaches us about how we can start to use those superpowers to regulate our health and our wellbeing and our mental health. It’s amazing, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So what I think I want to, so I love you to talk a little bit more about that you had your research was this guy called Maurice Daubard, who was really a teenager in a French village, living in a hospital with tuberculosis and lung inflammation, and he was able to cure his body even though his doctors gave up on him. So what did you find and what does that story have to teach us?

James Nestor:
Well, his story was so similar to so many other stories that I dug up. I wasn’t looking for these stories, but all these people all seem to share the same arc, where I think misery is this mother of invention. You get really curious about how to cure your body of chronic problems after you’ve been so miserable for so long. Maurice Daubard certainly fits into that. He spent years in a hospital as a kid. They were going to start to remove his lungs because he was so sick for so long, and a missionary came in. This was in the 1940s and 1950s.

James Nestor:
Missionary came in and said, “Hey, I just heard about this thing called yoga. Maybe you should check it out.”

James Nestor:
So Daubard was scheduled for surgery to have part of his lungs removed, and he started practicing this breathing technique. Not only was he able to leave the hospital, but he got this almost superhuman ability.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Wow.

James Nestor:
So he was the Wim Hof before Wim Hof. So he was sitting in ice baths for 40 minutes at a time on French TV. He was hiking up snowy mountains at the age of 72. He went on a bike ride for I think it was two months in the Himalayas minus 20 degrees. So he is just an example of this amazing machine we have called our body that if we feed it the right inputs, it can do all of these incredible things.

James Nestor:
I just want to mention what you were saying about the Tummo monks. Nobody would believe that this is possible, and nobody did for hundreds of years when travelers came back from Tibet and they said, “There’s these guys. They sit nude in the snow for eight hours in Malta.” No one would believe it until Herbert Benson from Harvard Medical School went up and measured these guys and published it in Nature. So I think that we’re just-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
He made those, it was a documentary, and I’ve seen it. It’s very impressive.

James Nestor:
Yeah. I mean, there it is. Still, I get letters from people saying this stuff’s impossible, that there’s no way people can do that. All I can do as a journalist is present the data, present the information, but I’m not saying breathing is going to cure everything for everyone just like food is not going to cure everything for everyone, but it’s only going to help. I think the more you access it and the more you acknowledge it, the more you can benefit from it.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. It can make you high, too. I mean, if you do breathing techniques from some of these practices, it’s like you feel so energized, so juiced up. Just to loop back to what you said before about energy, the way our bodies make energy, which is called ATP, adenosine triphosphate, it’s really the source of energy for our body. It’s made in our mitochondria. It really is produced by the input of two ingredients, oxygen, which is from your breath and food.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Actually, one of the things you talk about in the book was the Framingham study that has been going on for 70 years, and they found the most accurate marker of health and longevity isn’t your genes or cardiovascular health. It was lung capacity and respiratory health. So how does that connect and how can you connect the dots for us on why that’s so because it seems so counterintuitive?

James Nestor:
So what happens as we age is we lose lung capacity. So between the ages of about 30 and 50, we’ll lose about 12% to 15% of our lung capacity, and as we age more, that lung capacity continues to decrease. If we make it to 80, we’ll have 30% of our lung capacity that we had when we were 15 or 16 years old. This is right at the time when we need it the most.

James Nestor:
When you have smaller lungs, when you struggle 25,000 times a day to breathe or to do anything, it’s going to wear you down. So by having larger lungs, you can take fewer breaths, and by taking fewer breaths, you are breathing more efficiently and you’re allowing your heart rate to come down and your blood pressure to go down as well.

James Nestor:
So the Framingham study, that’s what they found, and someone was apprehensive about their data. So 30 years after they released that, they did another study looking at new numbers and they found that it’s 100% right. Then some surgeons were apprehensive about that data, and so they said, “The only real way of doing this is to look at people who had lung transplants.” So they looked at I think it was 800 people with lung transplants. Those transplanted with larger lungs lived way longer than those with smaller lungs. To me, it makes perfect sense.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Wow. So if you got lucky enough to have a lungs from somebody who had big lungs, wow, that’s amazing.

James Nestor:
The good news is the lungs, we can expand them at any age. So we have control of it. We can’t expand the size of our brains or our livers. We can our stomachs, I suppose, but with our lungs, by doing stretches, by making the intercostals more flexible, the ribcage more flexible, we can increase our lung capacity. If you look at the data, larger lungs, longer life.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Amazing. It is not related to the data on what we call VO2 max, which is your ability to consume oxygen, how efficient your oxygen consumption is. It’s not related to that, is it?

James Nestor:
It’s not, and I wish they would do more-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s also a predictor.

James Nestor:
Oh, huge, but I mean, that’s more looking at mitochondrial function, how efficient are you at turning around that oxygen and creating ATP out of it, but VO2 max is a great predictor of performance and of longevity.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Amazing. How do you use the techniques and what techniques you use to actually increase your lung capacity, increase lung volume because not everybody’s going to intuitively understand how to do that, and I’m sure this is all in your book, which I encourage people to get. It’s called Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, and it’s available where you get books. So it’s all in there, but I really want you to explain that for us.

James Nestor:
So luckily, getting larger lungs is pretty easy. It’s doing all the things that you talk about every week. It’s exercising, just moderate exercise. A light to moderate exercise can increase your lung capacity by about 15% if you do it regularly. There’s something called yoga. Guess what yoga does? It has you stretch your lungs and breathe, and then stretch over here and breathe. So yoga is a science of increasing and maintaining lung capacity. That’s its main role.

James Nestor:
Qigong does the exact same thing, more standing poses, breathing in, twisting, remaining flexible. So luckily, you don’t need to buy special new tech gizmo to do this. You just need to do what our ancestors did. Hunter-gatherer populations, a few that are still left, they don’t need these sizes because they live in a natural environment in which they’re breathing in a natural way and keeping themselves flexible.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. So we don’t need to reinvent something. These ancient technologies of yoga and other things like qigong and Tai Chi are technologies that have been around forever. I joke and I say we, in the West, have been so focused on the outer technologies, and in the East, they’ve been focused on the inner technologies and they’ve been able to access realms of human experience and healing and insights into how to optimize for not just spiritual health, but physical health.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s important that we realize that. Your book, talking about some of these lost arts, is so important because it actually helps us be able to bring these in without a lot of the woo weirdness, but just understand the technology of it and be able to start to use these in our own lives to optimize our health and feel better and deal with stress and sleep and anxiety and depression. It’s very powerful, and energy, and even COVID. So it’s pretty amazing.

James Nestor:
I think that if you look at what’s happening in our understanding of health right now, we’re finding that the further we as a species have moved away from nature, the sicker we’re getting. That’s very clear. The further we move back into nature, the better we’re getting. It’s no coincidence why your diet and so many other diets that are really effective, what are they doing is they’re stripping out all of the industrialized foods and they’re replacing it with foods that we would eat if we were in the wild, exercise is the same thing. Our ancestors didn’t need to lift barbells. I mean, if they would see us now from 500 years ago lifting something up to put it down in the same place inside of our houses, this is nuts.

James Nestor:
So I think any way you can incorporate more elements of the natural world, light exposure at night, we have blue blocking glasses to mimic what it would be like to sit in front of candles or campfire, and breathing is a part of that, to breathe the way your ancestors did. They also had different faces than we did. They had larger mouths and significantly different airways, which is one of the reasons why so many of us are breathing so poorly now.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, that’s a whole interesting conversation. I love your thoughts on that because there was a scientist, a dentist back at the turn of the 1900s who went around to all these indigenous cultures and took pictures and imaging some of these indigenous cultures when they were still a fair bit of them around and saw that their teeth were perfect. Their airways were perfect, and they didn’t have all the issues that we have.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It was so related to their diet, and this is part of where the whole idea of a paleolithic diet came from was that if we actually eat more in alignment with our ancestors that we actually will change the structure and the function of our mouth and our face and our airways, which impacts our health hugely.

James Nestor:
Yeah. Weston Price did 10 years of research into this, collected something like 20,000 samples, meticulous research. Anyone can see this for themselves. All you have to do is look at an ancient human skull and look at its teeth. I’ve looked at hundreds of these. They all have perfectly straight teeth. Doesn’t matter if the skull’s from Asia, Africa, South America, Polynesia. It doesn’t matter. I went to a lab, one of the largest collections of pre-industrial skulls in the world. They’re all perfectly straight, and then I looked in the mirror-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
They must have some great orthodontists back then, right?

James Nestor:
Oh, yeah, yeah. The Invisalign back then-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The Invisalign, yeah.

James Nestor:
The head gear made out of deer bones and tendons was really good. So they didn’t need braces. So that got me. This was early in my research. It got me thinking. It’s like, “Why are we the only species that need our wisdom teeth yanked out? Why doesn’t my dog need that?” It turns out our ancestors didn’t need their wisdom teeth yanked out because their mouths were huge, and they were huge all the way up until the industrial revolution. That’s what Weston Price found, cultures, that half of village was eating industrialized food, other half was sticking with traditional diet. I think you know the rest of this story.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting because he took pictures. So it’s just so obvious when you look at the pictures of their mouths and their teeth. It’s like, “Holy mackerel!” We veered away from our natural way of living and being in ways that have actually undermined our health and caused all sorts of chronic diseases. I think your understanding of the breath and it’s is a doorway to health is a beautiful gift because most of us don’t think about that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
If all your book does is help people think about it, breathe through their nose, maybe a little mouth tape, maybe explore some of the pranayama practices, Tai Chi, qigong, and incorporate those daily, I mean, I encourage people to just take deep breaths. I call it take five. Take five deep breaths five times a day when you wake up, before each meal, and when you go to bed. In out, just through nose and just breathe and let your diaphragm fill up. It’s amazing how quickly your biology changes.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
You can go from a state of stress and activation to a state of peace and calm, and particularly around food it’s so important because when you eat under a stressed state, you actually are not going to burn the calories. You’re going to store them, and you gain weight, and stress actually through the vagus nerve and other innovations in the gut actually affects your absorption of nutrients and it affects your metabolism. It affects the fat cells’ ability to suck up food, and it makes them more likely to gain weight. Whereas the breath, if you just activate the breath in the middle of all that, it actually is a powerful antidote to the stress we just are experiencing all the time.

James Nestor:
If you think about what many of our ancestors used to do before a meal, what did they do? They’d stop for a moment. They’d pray, whether that’s a Christian prayer or a Hindu prayer. What are you doing when you are quietly praying for a moment? You are slowing down your breathing. You’re relaxing your body. You are preparing yourself to better digest food. So you don’t have to pray to get those benefits. You can just breathe. You can take a moment to be appreciative of of the food you’re about to eat and breathe in this slow, deep, light way.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Absolutely. It’s just quite remarkable and it’s there all the time. It reminds me of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. She’s got a red slippers, and seeing how many times she wants but she never knows how to use them. So tell us what is the timeline on this. I mean, people start changing their breathing, they read your book, they practice some of the techniques of deep breathing. How soon do you see results?

James Nestor:
Everybody’s different.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What can people expect?

James Nestor:
So yeah, you can’t offer a blanket prescription and say, “This is what’s going to happen after three days. This is what’s going to happen after six days,” because different people are contending with different respiratory problems. Someone with severe asthma is going to take a lot longer to get to normal, right? A lot of us have structural issues in our noses because of this disevolution that’s happened to the human face and the human mouth.

James Nestor:
So some people will need some kind of therapy. There’s various things. Sometimes surgery is helpful. Oftentimes, it’s not needed. I just want to throw that out for some people with severely deviated septums and polyps. That could be one of the problems that you’re having. For people who don’t have that, then I think once you start adopting, it doesn’t have to be sitting in a quiet room and you putting on your yoga pants and focusing. We’re breathing all the time. So you can improve your breathing at any time of the day or night.

James Nestor:
I’ve found the habits are more effective than the “I’m just going to do six minutes a day” and then go back to hyperventilating. Creating a habit of nasal breathing. Wear a little piece of tape while you’re answering emails for an hour, while you’re doing something that doesn’t require you talking. Get used to nasal breathing. When you’re walking, nasal breathe and practice breathing slower, sometimes holding your breath for four steps and then breathing for six steps.

James Nestor:
So there’s dozens of different ways of doing this, but they’re all variations on the same thing. That theme is breathe through the nose, breathe slowly, try to breathe less, and try to breathe very light and deeply.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. I don’t know about you all listening, but as James is talking, I’m definitely way more aware of my breath. I’m breathing through my nose, and I’m breathing and I’m changing my breathing just by being aware of it. So the first step is just being aware of it, right?

James Nestor:
Don’t write a book about this stuff for five years, everyone. It will make you a complete neurotic. Trust me on that. Luckily, it takes a while to establish habits, so this isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s going to happen gradually. If you’ve been a mouth breather for five decades, four decades, three decades, it’s going to take a long time to convert to nasal breathing, but you will only be benefiting as you’re practicing this stuff. There’s only a net gain, and sometimes that gain is transformative in a very short amount of time. Sometimes it isn’t.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. That’s true. You also mentioned, and I’m getting older, and you mentioned that lung capacity and pulmonary function are the most important predictors of your mortality, even more than heart disease or the cardiovascular risk factors, which is surprising, right? How do we enhance, improve, expand our lung capacity as we get older because I’m asking for selfish reasons, but I think that probably people want to know, too? What do I have to do?

James Nestor:
I think keep doing what you’re doing. My understanding of your daily protocol is you’re a healthy dude, right? You exercise.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. Well, I try it. Yeah.

James Nestor:
You are nasal breathing. You hopefully do some yoga or some stretching. This is how you stave off those deleterious effects of aging as far as the lungs and lung capacity is concerned is you just keep, I mean, think about these people who are 90 years old and 100 years. They share the same habits, right? They exercise. It doesn’t have to be turbo exercise, but they’re walking a lot, right? Just doing that will help stave off that decrease of lung size that happens with age.

James Nestor:
If you want to go turbo into this, you can start doing kundalini. It’s fantastic. You can do more vigorous pranayamas. You can do more stretching, but this is not rocket science. It’s so surprising how simple this stuff is, but what a profound change it can make to your health.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So when you say kundalini, I don’t know if people know what that is. What is that? Pranayama is a science of breath in yoga, and kundalini is a specific type of breathing within the yoga sphere. So tell us more about that.

James Nestor:
Yes. Kundalini is specifically creating energy through your breath with very rhythmic, very intense breathing practices. Almost all kundalini practices … You got it. That’s it. You’re going to look like a dedicated pervert doing this. So do it alone, but it’s about moving the stomach in and out. So when you’re breathing, a lot of people are so concerned about their abs. They want these killer flat abs. They want to be looking good. What you really want is flexibility in your stomach and with those muscles. Some people who go to a gym too often have something called this. That’s been called a corset of muscles that really inhibits healthy breathing, and it’s not healthy.

James Nestor:
So kundalini is activating that energy, moving your stomach in and out very fast. I can attest this is extremely powerful stuff. It feels incredible. It’s not easy. If you’re someone who wants to do a lighter version of this, stick with some soft and easy yoga, but kundalini, especially for respiratory health, for energy, I have found to be very powerful, not only me, but millions of people around the world have found that as well.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, no, I agree. I mean, and breathwork is now a thing. You can go to breathwork classes and it’s a thing. So I encourage people to explore it and think about where they’re at in terms of their breath because it’s one of those easy and available pathways to health that we’ve pretty much ignored. I mean, I don’t even think I learned anything about, I mean, we learned almost nothing about nutrition. We learned less about breath, and I really didn’t really learn anything about it until I actually did my yoga teacher training and it was just so powerful to not only learn these techniques, but actually to experience the changes in your biology and your wellbeing, your mental clarity, your focus, and your overall health simply by practicing some of these techniques.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think the other thing you mentioned briefly is stretching. I think just for people to put in their heads, a lot of our life is spent over computers, phones with a curving in of our chest and collapsing of our upper body and bending over as opposed to opening and stretching. So we really constricted our ribs and our lungs, and people can lay on their back with foam rollers and do all kinds of stuff to open that up.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I started learning surfing and it’s like you got to have your back way up. It’s the opposite of being on your phone. You got to really stretch that out so you can actually lift your torso and stretch your back. It’s pretty awesome. So it’s one more thing to think about with your health, but I think it’s really an important piece of work you’ve done to map this out, to look at the science of it, to actually explain what to do, to help people navigate to an easy set of tools and resources that help them actually enhance some help through their breath.

James Nestor:
Oh, well, thank you very much for saying that. It definitely impacted me, and I would suggest that people, if they are apprehensive, there are no negative side effects to being more efficient throughout life, to doing something better. I think that you’ll be amazed that these seemingly simple things can really provoke some profound changes. The scientist is very clear on that, but nothing is better than personal experience.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s great. So what would you leave listeners with and summing up the main thesis of your book and what people should do? What actions should they take as a result?

James Nestor:
I would just say don’t take your breathing for granted, especially if you have chronic underlying issues. If you have snoring and sleep apnea, you need to find a way of fixing that immediately. It is going to destroy your health. I am convinced that you will never ever be healthy. Doesn’t matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how much you sleep, unless you get a chronic respiratory issues out of the way. People with allergies, other mouth breathing, other things that cause mouth breathing and asthma, these modern drugs can work incredibly well for acute problems for attacks, but what can really work well for the core issue of so many of these issues is to figure out your breathing, to increase your airway health, to breathe in that slow and easy way.

James Nestor:
I’ve seen this with hundreds of people, and I’ve looked at thousands of studies and talked with dozens and dozens of researchers who have seen the same exact thing happen over and over. So it’s all legit stuff. Some of this stuff seems too good to be true until you go and spend years and find that these impossible stories are indeed true and everyone can benefit from this

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Thank you so much. Tell us, James, where can people find your work, where can they find you on social media. How do they get to know more about what you’re doing?

James Nestor:
My publisher allowed me to put up my entire bibliography because I realized so much of what I’m saying sounds absolutely nuts. So you can feel free to go to my website, mrjamesnestor.com. That’s M-R James Nestor with an O-R at the end dot com. The bibliography is up there. I have interviews with breathing experts from Harvard, from all over the world. Everything is free. There are breathing methods as well. So all of that, that whole website is open access and free to everyone.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s great.

James Nestor:
Then of course, there’s the book.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Fantastic. I just really appreciate your work. I encourage everybody to get a copy of Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art and put into practice some of the things we’re talking about because I think it can really upgrade your health. If you love this podcast, share with your friends and family, on social media, leave a comment, however you work with your breath to gain back your health. Subscribe wherever you get your podcast, and we’ll see you next week on The Doctor’s Farmacy

Closing:
Hi, everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their Find a Practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner, and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

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