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Take A Breath, Idaho. Here's A Better Way To Start Your Morning

Photo of James Nestor and his book Breath
Julie Floersch
Penguin Random House, Julie Floersch
James Nestor is the featured speaker at the 2021 Sun Valley Wellness Festival and Conference.

Journalist and author James Nestor took his own deep dive into the human respiratory system after exploring the extraordinary techniques of deep divers, leading to his national bestseller, "Deep."

“I think the real jumping off point for me was to learn about freediving,” said Nestor. “I thought, ‘Wow, if we can do that with our breathing, where else can our respiration take us.’”

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, a book that The New York times said came at “no better time to consider our lungs,” would become another huge success.

Nestor, who will be the featured speaker at the 2021 Sun Valley Wellness Festival and Conference, visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about his exploration of inhaling, and shares a lung-filling morning exercise.

“So, inhale through the nose... two, three, four, five, six. Exhale... two, three, four, five, six. And as you keep breathing this way, your heart and your lungs in different systems of the body will reach a state called coherence.”
James Nestor

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. James Nestor is here. Author and journalist… reporting for, among other places, The Atlantic, the BBC, The New York Times and NPR. I should also note that he has surfed the breaks in the Arctic Circle, penned a bestseller on freediving, and reminds more of us that we should be running our cars on used vegetable oil. But then last year, he gave us the book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art… just in time for all of us to take a serious deep breath. And James Nestor is with us this morning.

JAMES NESTOR: Thanks a lot for having me.

PRENTICE: What personal or professional confluence of events led you to your exploration of the respiratory system?

NESTOR: Well, it wasn't one thing in particular, it was several things that kept happening over several years. But I think the real jumping off point for me was to learn about freediving and to be able to report on these people called free divers who have learned this art of breathing so well that they can hold their breath for five, six, seven, eight minutes at a time and dove to depths of 200 or 300 feet and below. And I thought, “Wow, if we can do that with our breathing, where else can our respiration take us?’”

PRENTICE: Wow is right. Eight minutes or more?

NESTOR: The longest breath hold is 12 and a half minutes..

PRENTICE: I'm stunned. Understanding that we are on public radio and it's a delicate topic…that said, I think a fair amount of people would be surprised to learn that your book reveals a unique connection between the nose and the genitals.

NESTOR: I was surprised about this. Just as many other people would be surprised. But I learned from various researchers that there is no other organ more closely connected to our genitalia than our nose. So much so that some people have such a close connection that when they get stimulated in one area, they start sneezing uncontrollably. It's called “Honeymoon Rhinitis.” Luckily, most of us don't have that close of a connection. But the tissues that line the nether regions of our bodies and our noses are the same exact tissues and they act in the same way.

PRENTICE: Wow. Well, here we are on Morning Edition, so nearly everyone listening will have just awakened. I'm going to ask a favor: Could you lead us through a breathing tip, or maybe an exercise that might be a particularly good way to start today?

NESTOR: Well, I'm a science journalist. I'm not a breathing therapist. Having said that, I picked up a few tricks along the way and they're really quite easy. So, one that I use quite often is just to breathe at a rate of about five to six seconds in and five to six seconds out through the nose.

PRENTICE: Can we just try that?

Photo of James Nestor
Julie Floersch
Julie Floersch
James Nestor, author of Breath

NESTOR: We can…we can do that right now. So, inhale through the nose. Two, three, four, five, six. Exhale. Two, three, four, five, six. And as you keep breathing this way, your heart and your lungs in different systems of the body will reach a state called coherence, which is why scientists call this coherent breathing. And this actually starts organizing different neurons in the brain to function better. So, you could think better. You will feel better. Your blood pressure often goes down and you are able to operate at a state of peak efficiency, which is exactly what you want in the morning. It's a great way of starting the day.

PRENTICE: I don't want to delve into your medical history, but I am curious if your caregivers have noticed an improvement in your health as you have taken this…..well dive…this dive into better breathing.

NESTOR: Yeah, I try to keep myself out of my books because my experience is very limited. What I want to do is to find things that work for everybody. What does the science say? How is it measured? Having said that, I will say that I measured things throughout several years. I took CAT scans. I was in a study at Stanford University for 21 days looking at how different breathing patterns affect the body, looking at how different pathways affect us. And it absolutely transformed me. But my personal opinions don't matter. It's what the data says, and this is proven by the data as well. And this is no surprise to the people who study this stuff. We get most of our energy through our breath, not through food… and how we taken that breath and exhale. It determines so much of our health.

PRENTICE: Well, in that spirit and in the spirit of the Sun Valley Wellness Festival, let me ask what wellness might mean to you professionally or personally… and maybe they intersect.

NESTOR: I think wellness to me means happiness, which is why I think it's important to keep wellness in check. And what I mean by that is some people become so neurotic about wellness. Checking this box…Why did I eat this supplement? Did I breathe this way? Did I walk this way? And the whole point of being healthy is to be happy. So just like what breathing does for you, just like what meditation does, it's a way of centering back into your body and reminding yourself that so much of our health, we are in control of not everything, but a lot of it we are. And that's very empowering for a lot of people. It's been empowering for me, and so many…dozens and dozens of other people that I've talked to.

PRENTICE: Have you had the opportunity to spend time in Sun Valley?

NESTOR: I have not. This will be my first time

PRENTICE: Sun Valley in late June is as pretty close to heaven as we have in North America. The Sun Valley Wellness Festival gets underway on June 25th. And indeed, James Néstor is the featured speaker this year. James Néstor, thank you. Thank you for the tip. And for those who haven't picked up the book Breath, it is a life changer, quite literally. So, thanks for that and thanks for giving us some time this morning.

NESTOR: Thanks for having me.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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