Breath Summary

A New York TimesBestseller

A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2020

Named a Best Book of 2020 by NPR
“A fascinating scientific, cultural, spiritual and evolutionary history of the way humans breathe—and how we’ve all been doing it wrong for a long, long time.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magicand Eat Pray Love

No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how skinny or young or wise you are, none of it matters if you’re not breathing properly.

There is nothing more essential to our health and well-being than breathing: take air in, let it out, repeat twenty-five thousand times a day. Yet, as a species, humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, with grave consequences.

Journalist James Nestor 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 jump-start 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, Breathturns 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.

Book Reviews


Breath5 star

This book has changed my life for the better!55

Nathan Woosley

Incredible5 star

One of my favorite non-fiction books. Every page is fascinating and filled with life changing information. Highly recommended.55


Educational and Inspiring5 star

This book motivated me to identify my breathing issues and fix them. Since reading it, I have learned to breathe correctly, but have also had surgery to correct my crooked septum and reduce my enlarged turbinates. And now I’m in the maintenance phase of my allergy shots, all factors that used to make getting a decent amount of air in my lungs a constant battle. If you struggle with breathing issues, this book can help you to identify the underlying factors, holding you back from effectively obtaining the most important basic physical need - oxygen.55

Ian F S

James Nestor does it again5 star

I read Deep a couple of months before reading Breath, however as a former biologist and a freediver I had to learn more about our breathing processes. This book is great to orient yourself on historical practices, but also allows you to identify what you don’t know so that you can dive deeper there. I don’t know what his next book will be about but I’ll sure buy it.55


Amazing and insightful.5 star

Always life-changing content from this author.55


Life Changing5 star

I have focused on exercise and diet for thirty years, and these things are certainly critically important, but I never realized that how we breathe is also so fundamental and so crucial to our health. This is a brilliant and engaging read that has literally changed how I breathe.55

Anne Janzer

An inspiring book (pun intended)5 star

Wow. I picked this book up because my voice teacher recommended it. And of course it’s the kind of journalistic exploration of scientific information that I really enjoy. But I didn’t expect the impact it would have on me. I’ve made changes since reading this. I am adding deep, slow breathing to my day, and being careful to “shut my mouth” when I’m working and not paying attention. It’s a fascinating read.55


Fascinating. Well written. Instructive.5 star

Will refer to it often and have been recommending to all.55

Ryan & Jackie

Incredible insights5 star

James takes us on his own journey to improve his own health and in doing so, he’s helping all of us improve our own.55


Breath of Fresh Air4 star

BREATH is a nonfiction book which explores the vital but largely ignored act of breathing. The author has a profound experience at a breathing class in San Francisco and spends the next several years researching all aspect of breath, from physiology, to psychology, to anthropology, to mysticism. I enjoyed this book and it gave me some different perspectives on breathing that I never considered. The science in this book is easy to understand. The author argues the importance of breathing through our noses, chewing harder foods more often, not breathing too much, and other concepts. He works with doctors, scientists, and other curious “pulmonauts,” as he calls them. From the breath work of Qi Gong to the catacombs of Paris, this book is a trip around the world and through time. I found it interesting that humans are the only animal species that can die of choking on food. I don’t know if I’ll pursue most of these techniques but I am noticing how I breathe more often.45

Other Books by James Nestor





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