Lillian Wilson

Breath: The Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor

The bestselling book ‘Breath’ by James Nestor explains the nature of breathing and how to improve your life by optimising it.

Breath The Science of a Lost Art
“Our breath is a beautiful, healing, mysterious gift, and so is this book. I already feel like it’s going to change my life.”
–  Elizabeth Gilbert

When stepping on the path of restoring health and adopting healthy habits, we usually care about our nutrition, physical activity, sleep schedule, and many others. But almost none of us take breathing into account.

Different studies state that from 30 to 70% of people are breathing incorrectly. Changing the way you breathe can make a big difference in your life, from better sleep to better results in the gym and on exams.

The book ‘Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art’ by James Nestor is The New York Times best-seller, with more than two million copies being purchased, that can serve as a perfect beginner-friendly guide for anyone interested in improving their life via breathing.

Author’s background

James Nestor is an accomplished writer and journalist who has contributed to reputable publications such as Scientific American, Outside Magazine, The New York Times, and The Atlantic.

He has a diverse background and has also worked with National Public Radio, The San Francisco Chronicle, Surfer’s Journal, and more.

Breath’ was published in May 2020 and achieved great success, winning the prize for Best General Nonfiction Book of 2020 by the American Society of Journalists and Authors and being a finalist for the Royal Society Best Science Book of 2020.

What is the book about?

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art’ by James Nestor is a captivating exploration of the history, science, and significance of breath in our lives. Nestor begins by shedding light on the decline in the quality of our breathing caused by our modern lifestyle. He emphasizes that the way we breathe has a profound impact on our overall health and well-being.

Delving into the science of breath, Nestor reveals how it influences every system in our bodies. From the respiratory system to the immune system, our breath plays a vital role. Nestor highlights the alarming reality that many of us are not breathing correctly, deviating from the natural patterns our bodies were designed for. This misalignment in our breathing habits can lead to a wide range of health problems, including anxiety, sleep disorders, and chronic diseases.

Throughout the book, Nestor uncovers the transformative power of various breathing techniques. He explores the renowned Wim Hof Method, which combines specific breathing exercises with exposure to cold temperatures. Nestor dives into the science behind this method, demonstrating its potential to enhance immune function and reduce inflammation.

Nestor also emphasizes the benefits of nasal breathing, unveiling its ability to optimize oxygenation, reduce stress levels, and even aid in weight loss. By uncovering the science and benefits behind these breathing techniques, Nestor empowers readers to harness the power of their breath for improved health and well-being.

What sets ‘Breath’ apart is Nestor’s personal journey and experiences with different breathing techniques. He shares his participation in a study on the effects of mouth taping on sleep quality, providing a firsthand account of how altering our breathing patterns can have a tangible impact on our daily lives. Additionally, Nestor embarks on a fascinating expedition to India to study the ancient practice of pranayama, adding depth and cultural context to his exploration of breath.

The list of contents

  • Introduction
  • Part One – The Experiment
  • Chapter One The Worst Breathers in the Animal Kingdo
  • Chapter Two Mouthbreathing
  • Part Two – The Lost Art and Science of Breathing
  • Chapter Three Nose
  • Chapter Four Exhale
  • Chapter Five Slow
  • Chapter Six Less
  • Chapter Seven Chew
  • Part Three – Breathing+
  • Chapter Eight More, on Occasion
  • Chapter Nine Hold It
  • Chapter Ten Fast, Slow, and Not at All
  • Epilogue A Last Gasp
  • Acknowledgements
  • Appendix: Breathing Methods
  • Notes
  • Index

Key takeaways from the book

1Start nasal breathing to get all the innate health benefits of this process

Breathing through the nose, which filters, warms, and humidifies the air while also releasing substances that regulate heart rate and reduce blood pressure. On the other hand, mouth breathing can have adverse health effects, impact facial structure, promote ADHD development in children and exacerbate symptoms of chronic diseases like asthma.

2You can achieve ultimate health benefits by simply slowing your breath

Slow breathing which looks as if you are not breathing, is the right way of exhaling and inhaling. Nestor brings forward a theory that The perfect breath is this: Breathe in for about 5.5 seconds, then exhale for 5.5 seconds. That’s 5.5 breaths a minute for a total of about 5.5 liters of air.’

This breathing pattern helps to regulate blood pressure levels as it leads to efficient oxygen transportation and improved blood flow.

Contrary to common belief, deep breathing is not necessary as the lungs are highly efficient and do not require maximum capacity during each breath.

3The simplicity of breathwork led to it being overlooked, even though it has been used for years in ancient Eastern cultures

Last but not least, the book sheds light on the long-standing practices in ancient Eastern cultures, such as yoga and acupuncture, that recognise the crucial role of breath in overall well-being and the flow of energy known as prana or ch’i.

Despite advancements in modern healthcare, the significance of breathing techniques has been largely disregarded in Western culture. Due to breath work being such an easy and innate way to improve one’s health, we tend to overlook its effectiveness. Keeping breathing exercises consistent will significantly improve your life and overall health.

Overall rating & strengths and weaknesses according to readers’ reviews

The book has gotten 4.38 ⭐️ on GoodReads.


  • An engaging and accessible writing style.

  • The use of real-life examples and anecdotes makes the book more appealing and relatable.


  • Light on scientific backing.

  • Reliance on the author’s personal experience and expertise.

  • Lack of breathing exercises with descriptions to practice right away during/after reading.

Best quotes from ‘Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art’

“The fix is easy: breathe less. But that’s harder than it sounds. We’ve become conditioned to breathe too much, just as we’ve been conditioned to eat too much. With some effort and training, however, breathing less can become an unconscious habit.“ 
“Mouthbreathing, it turns out, changes the physical body and transforms airways, all for the worse. Inhaling air through the mouth decreases pressure, which causes the soft tissues in the back of the mouth to become loose and flex inward, creating less space and making breathing more difficult. Mouthbreathing begets more mouthbreathing.“ 
“…the greatest indicator of life span wasn’t genetics, diet, or the amount of daily exercise, as many had suspected. It was lung capacity.“

Final takeaway

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art’ by James Nestor is a popular and accessible exploration of the importance of breath in our lives. Nestor’s blend of historical insights, scientific research, and personal experiences offers readers a compelling perspective on the significance of proper breathing techniques.

While the book may have limitations in terms of scientific rigour and extensive research, its ability to simplify complex concepts and inspire readers to reevaluate their breathing habits makes it a valuable resource for those seeking to enhance their overall well-being through the transformative power of breathwork.

Where to buy

You may purchase ‘Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art’ on Amazon at the best price. It is available in Kindle, paperback, and audio versions, so you are free to choose the format that suits you best.

Healthypedia FAQ

Proper breathing is important for many reasons. It can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve athletic performance, reduce chronic pain, and enhance overall health and well-being.

Improper breathing can be caused by a breathing pattern disorder, physical injuries or abnormalities in the respiratory muscles, and mental or emotional stress.

Yes, improper breathing can lead to a wide range of health problems, from stress and anxiety to chronic pain and fatigue. It can also contribute to respiratory issues like asthma and COPD. By improving your breathing, you can enhance your overall health and well-being.

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