Joe Rogan Experience #1506 – James Nestor


  • James Nestor (@MrJamesNestor) is a journalist who has written for Outside magazine, Men’s Journal, Scientific American, Dwell magazine, National Public Radio, The New York Times, The Atlantic, the San Francisco Chronicle magazine, and others. He is the author of a new book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art available now.

Key takeaways

  • Breathing is essential to recovery, endurance, and performance  
  • “If you’re not breathing right, you’re never really going to be healthy” – James Nestor
  • Breathing allows levers into systems we can’t otherwise control
  • Breathing needs to move from something mystical to everyday practice
  • Nasal breathing is the most efficient and beneficial way of breathing with beneficial effects for asthma, anxiety, blood pressure, and much more
  • For breathwork newbies: Start with a 6-second inhale and a 6-second exhale

Mouth Breathing vs Nose Breathing

  • It’s injurious to constantly breathe through your mouth
  • About 25-50% of the population habitually breathes through their mouth
  • Damage of mouth breathing comes on quickly – contributing to neurological and respiratory problems, snoring, sleep apnea, metabolic disorders – among others
  • We’re treating separate issues but not addressing the core issue of breathing and how we breathe
  • The less you use your nose, the less you’ll be able to use your nose
    • Not using nose for breathing causes tissues to close up
  • Like most things, breathing takes practice to get better
  • Can control autonomic nervous system through breathing and influence organ functions
  • “If we can measure it, we can study it and if we can study it, we can prove whether it’s right or wrong.” – James Nestor
  • You can breathe in certain ways and instantly see what it does to your body if you have a pulse oximeter or heart rate variability measuring device
  • Earliest archeological evidence of breathing practices is form Northern India about 4,000 years ago
  • Look at animals running – horses, cheetahs are not breathing through their mouth when sprinting – dogs do it for thermoregulation

Anatomy & Physiology of the Nose

  • The volume of the nose and sinus cavity is about the volume of your fist or billiard ball
  • Air coming in through the nose is slowed down, filtered, and humidified so by the time it gets to lungs, they can absorb oxygen easier
  • The nose is the first line of defense
  • Nose produces nitric oxide – vasodilator which plays an essential role in oxygen delivery and helps battle off viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens
  • You get 20% more oxygen when breathing through the nose and not through the mouth

Tummo Breathwork

  • Breathing practice used to build inner heat in the body
  • First documentation about 1100 years ago
  • Inhale, then focus on fire within the body and breathe out
  • Wim Hof method: 30 huge breaths, taking one big breath in and holding for 15 seconds, then big breath out

Holotropic Breathwork

  • Created in the 1970s to mimic the experience of LSD
  • Experiences are highly subjective but science is questionable
  • You sit in a room with loud music and breathe as hard and as fast as you can for a few hours
    • Guidelines are minimal beyond that
  • Supposedly, you enter into a psychedelic experience because so much oxygen is entering the body but in reality, you are inhibiting blood flow to brain so brain processes experience as a threat
  • In extreme cases, you are inhibiting blood flow to the brain so much it’s interpreting the experience like you’re dying so people feel like they’re reborn

Kriya Breathwork

  • Ravi Shankar is the true practitioner of this style
  • A method developed in the 1980s, similar to holotropic breathwork but much more controlled
  • Bursts of heavy breathing then bursts of slow breathing
  • Stimulates sympathetic stress
  • Studies have shown beneficial impacts for asthma, anxiety, high blood pressure
  • Rhythm: slow breathing to start (about 2-3 seconds) for 7-8 minutes, then medium breathing for a few minutes, then as hard and fast as you can, finishing with a long cleansing breath for about 40 minutes
  • Additional tenants of breathing:
    • For slower breathing, place hands on hips
    • For medium breathing, raise hands higher – on ribs
    • For hardest breathing, extend hands overhead

Benefits of Breathing Exercises for Asthma

  • Noticeable benefits of breathing depending on the level of fitness – athletes who use nose breathing regularly will need more intensive practice than someone with chronic asthma who will notice improvements almost immediately
  • Studies have shown that teaching asthmatics to take control of breathing can reduce the number of asthma attacks within one month
  • Recommended breathing techniques for asthmatics (under therapist supervision): Papworth, Buteyko
  • For more information on breathing for asthma and guided practice, see: Patrick McKeown, Dr. Richard Brown, Dr. Patricia Gerbarg, and Chuck McGee, a Wim Hof instructor who leads a weekly guided practice, found here

Breathing Techniques for Exercise

  • Athletes and people who train hard would benefit by slowly taking in air from nose
  • Benefits of nose breath training are similar to training at altitude: increased red blood cells and VO2 max
  • Individuals vary so it’s best to find a therapist to worth with on specific breathing techniques

Breathe Less to Gain More

  • It’s a common myth that the more we breathe, the more air we get
  • In reality, most of us breathe too much – 75% of the oxygen we take in, we breathe back out
  • When we breathe too much we’re not gaining oxygen, but actually making it harder for the body to offload oxygen into the tissues, muscles, and organs
  • Breathing less and more deeply allows us to optimize each breath as much as possible
  • You’re slowing breath when you breathe in through the nose
  • Can’t discredit that surgical intervention is sometimes necessary – 75% of the population has a deviated septum visible to naked eye
  • The need to breathe during exercise is not dictated by the need for oxygen but actually increased carbon dioxide

Carbon Dioxide’s Importance for Life

  • Carbon dioxide is not just a waste product – you need a balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen
  • A lot of fitness is dictated by the level of carbon dioxide you can withstand
  • Oxygen bars are a huge placebo effect  
  • Asthmatics and people with anxiety have an extremely low threshold for carbon dioxide
  • It’s possible to increase tolerance for carbon dioxide through breath training
  • You can acclimate the body to accept a higher level of carbon dioxide, allowing chemoreceptors to adjust and not trigger fear response cascade

Evolutionary Effects of Industrialization

  • Anthropological studies show that food industrialization coincides with smaller mouths, jaws, and narrowed airways  
  • In ancient skulls (older than 500 years old), teeth are perfectly straight because the mouth was wider and jaws were more powerful
  • In the modern era with industrialized food, the shape of our mouth has become smaller, teeth are crooked, and airways are more narrowed
  • Think about animals in nature, you don’t see any with crooked teeth (aside from pit bulls who have been bred with flat faces)
  • Today, 50% of people with orthodontics will have more breathing problems than before
    • We’re basically forcing teeth into a smaller space to make them straight
  • There are devices like Homeoblock we can use in adulthood to change the volume of our jaw
    • Stimulates good, beneficial chewing stress 
    • We don’t grow bone as we age but you can add more bone inside your face

Techniques to Try

  • For breathing: start with inhaling for 6 seconds then exhaling for 6 seconds
  • For sleep: If you sleep with your mouth open, try taping your mouth shut using tape with light and easy adhesive, about the size of a stamp and attaching to lips
Joe Rogan Experience :
Notes By Maryann

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