Books and the Art of Catching Your Breath
Nothing is more vital to our health and well-being than breathing — breath in, breath out —a pattern that science experts tell us we do twenty-five thousand times a day. This is especially true here in Denver, at an altitude of 5280 feet, where catching your breath at times can be a real challenge.
In recent years, there has been a flurry of books released on the importance of breathing. And for good reason given the evolution and scientific advancements in this area related to lifestyle and good health. Here are three books that immediately come to mind.
As a journalist, James Nestor travels the globe in search of new discoveries about the evolution and science of breathing. He unearths fascinating insights through his encounters at ancient burial sites, secret Soviet facilities, New Jersey choir schools, and the smoggy streets of São Paulo.
Through his adventures, he crosses paths with women and men exploring the hidden pathways behind ancient breathing practices like Pranayama, and Sudarshan Kriya. Further, he found himself shoulder to shoulder with experts aiming to scientifically test what we have long known about breathing.
Nestor’s book captures years of backgrounder materials and cutting-edge studies in pulmonology, psychology, biochemistry, and human physiology. In it, he challenges what we thought we knew about breathing on its head. You’ll finish reading this book with a new perspective and appreciation for the esoteric world of breathing.
The Oxygen Advantage: The Simple, Scientifically Proven Breathing Techniques for a Healthier, Slimmer, Faster, and Fitter by Patrick McKeown
This book delivers a pragmatic approach to breathing and improving one’s oxygen use for enhanced health and sports performance. In it, the author asserts that one of the greatest impediments to health and fitness is chronic over breathing. This habit of taking more breaths than we need, he says, is often a contributor to poor health and fitness including cores of disorders ranging from anxiety and asthma to insomnia and heart problems. A great read that I highly recommend for deeper insights into this area.
In this cutting-edge book, pre-eminent breathwork thought leader Dan Brulé shares his insights on Breath Mastery, a tool that has helped individuals in more than fifty countries reduce anxiety, enhance their health, and tap into infinite stores of energy.
With insights from elite athletes, champion martial artists, Navy SEAL warriors, first responders, and spiritual yogis, this book will guide you on how to better leverage your breath as a tool for reducing stress, boosting productivity, balancing your health, and unlocking new tools of spiritual awakening.
I would now like to turn to a recent interview I had with
Lisa Wimberger, founder of the Denver-based Neurosculpting® Institute and co-founder of the NeuroPraxis App to take a deeper look at the science of breathing. A New York native who is the author of seven books, Lisa holds a Masters's Degree in Education from the University of Stony Brook, NY, and a Foundation’s Certification in NeuroLeadership.
Through the use of the Neurosculpting® modality, Lisa runs a private meditation practice in Colorado teaching clients who suffer from stress disorders.
Here is a summary of my conversation with Lisa about the art of breathing
What are some of the more popular practices that are currently emerging in the world of breathing?
There are so many different breathing techniques and modalities available to us all without necessarily subscribing to one. So what I would say is that the nervous system is the interface between the inner and the outer world. Our inner everything, sensory experience, inner thoughts, inner emotions, inner spirit, and the outside world which is the world we live in. That interface is there so that we can adapt to the needs of the environment. The environment can direct us to how to do that, and the breath is the pace of that interface.
Can you elaborate a bit on this point?
Think of it like this — without the breath, the interface doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. First of all, without breath we don’t work, we’re done. But without the breath doing its full job, meaning without our capacity to breathe deeply into the low belly, without our capacity to oxygenate the brain, without our robust capacity for optimal breathing, that interface is not going to work as it was intended to. It’s going to start becoming maladaptive or misfiring, and then what we get is a dysregulated nervous system that then also perpetuates poor breathing habits, which then dysregulates the nervous system further.
So how do we avoid this?
To say that we need to learn how to breathe seems a bit ridiculous because we already know how to breathe by following a repetition pattern generator for in and out. That being said, we actually don’t know how to breathe. Some of us breathe through our mouths which is a bad idea. Some of us breathe shallowly and tight into the top of the chest, another bad idea. Some of us hold our breath, definitely a bad idea. Yet these are not things we’re consciously doing or thinking of.
What’s behind the development of these patterns?
These are just ways in which we have learned to cope with various stimuli from the environment by making them into a pattern. Often we don’t even realize that with tight, shallow breathing or mouth breathing, we’re actually creating resistance and contraction and certain types of arousal on the nervous system along with inflammation in the body and the brain. So I feel like it would do all humans a great service if we learned how to better use the operating systems we have.
Can you describe for us that operating system?
The operating system we have is a nervous system that is fueled by breathing and food and locomotion. So it is in our best interest to learn how to use all those things so that we can optimize the operating system. Otherwise, we’re going to get a system that short circuits or gets overloaded and needs to be defragged. Because we don’t know how to do that, we often run at a really suboptimal level and perpetuate suboptimal living.
A concluding thought?
I feel like there are so many schools of thought on breathing and so many different approaches, but the bottom line is all of them teach you how to use your breath for a certain effect and that’s power.