The Melanie Avalon Podcast Episode #66 - James Nestor
James Nestor has written for Outside, Scientific American, The Atlantic, Dwell, The New York Times, and many other publications. His book Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves was a finalist for the 2015 PEN/ESPN Award For Literary Sports Writing, an Amazon Best Science Book of 2014, and more. Nestor has appeared on dozens of national television shows, including ABC's Nightline and CBS Morning News, and on NPR. He lives and breathes in San Francisco.
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1:35 - IF Biohackers: Intermittent Fasting + Real Foods + Life: Join Melanie's Facebook Group For A Weekly Episode GIVEAWAY, And To Discuss And Learn About All Things Biohacking! All Conversations Welcome!
2:05 - Komuso Shift Necklace: Slow Breathing At Your Fingertips! Get Your Breathing Necklace Today At Www.Komusodesign.Com And Use The Code IFPODCAST To Get 20% Off!!
3:00 - INSIDE TRACKER: Go To MelanieAvalon.com/GetInsideTracker And Use The Coupon Code MELANIE30 For 30% Off All Tests Sitewide!
8:15 - James' Background: Breathing Problems And Free Divers
10:30 - The Magic Of The Breath: Holding Your Breath, E. Coli Resistance, And Healing Inflammation
12:40 - The Work Of Wim Hof
15:45 - What Is Breathing?
17:20 - Face changes, small mouths, crooked teeth, And Sleep issues
18:10 - The Problem With Braces
20:25 - Wisdom Teeth Removal Problems
22:55 - Regrowing Bone In The Mouth, Chewing, Gaining Space In The Airway
25:30 - Osteoporosis: The Melanie Avalon Podcast Episode #65 - Mira And Jayson Calton
25:45 - The Problems With Mouth Breathing
27:40 - Nasal Vs Mouth Breathing
28:45 - Breathing Lower
29:20 - Lumen Lovers: Biohack Your Carb And Fat Burning (With Melanie Avalon): Join Melanie's Facebook Group If You're Interested In The Lumen Breath Analyzer, Which Tells Your Body If You're Burning Carbs Or Fat! You Can Learn More In Melanie's Episode With The Founder (The Melanie Avalon Podcast Episode #43 - Daniel Tal) And Get $25 Off A Lumen Device At MelanieAvalon.com/Lumen With The Code melanieavalon25
30:45 - Informal Study Of Mouth Vs Nasal: Blood Pressure, Sleep Apnea
32:55 - Deviated Septum
35:05 - Phantom Nasal Blockages And Nasal Passage Erectile Tissue
37:20 - Breathing Through Your Nose At Night
39:00 - mouth taping
41:20 - The Left Vs Right Nostril
46:45 - Komuso Shift Necklace: Slow Breathing At Your Fingertips! Get Your Breathing Necklace Today At Www.Komusodesign.Com And Use The Code IFPODCAST To Get 20% Off!!
47:05 - Long Vs Slow Vs More Vs Less Breathing, Oxygen Vs CO2, And CO2 Deficiency
49:05 - Conscious Breathing Practices
50:40 - The Role of CO2 In The Body, treating Conditions with cO2
52:45 - Bag Breathing Vs Slow Breathing
53:45 - Phobias, Suffocation, And CO2
58:00 - BEAUTYCOUNTER: Non-Toxic Beauty Products Tested For Heavy Metals, Which Support Skin Health And Look Amazing! Shop At Beautycounter.Com/MelanieAvalon For Something Magical! For Exclusive Offers And Discounts, And More On The Science Of Skincare, Get On Melanie's Private Beautycounter Email List At MelanieAvalon.Com/CleanBeauty! Find Your Perfect Beautycounter Products With Melanie's Quiz: Melanieavalon.Com/Beautycounterquiz
59:55 - Lost Science And Studies, And The Need For A Health Revolution
1:03:30 - Intermittent Fasting And The Waves Of Science, Politics, And Cultural Shifts
1:05:15 - Economic Incentives For Breathing, The Problem With Pills
1:07:00 - How Much Can You Realistically Change With Breathing
1:08:30 - CO2 Suffocation Experiments For Phobias
1:13:30 - Viewing The World With Left Or Right Side
1:13:35 - Left And Right Brain Studies
1:15:50 - CO2 for schizophrenics and the switch to Tranquilizers
1:18:15 - The Framingham Heart Study And Lung Capacity
1:19:10 - How To Breathe?
Melanie Avalon: Hi friends, welcome back to the show. Oh, my goodness, everybody take a breath. I am so excited about the conversation that I'm about to have. I read a book that came out this year. And you guys know I read a lot of books. And every now and then you read a book, and it just has such a profound impact on your life. I didn't anticipate it having this much of an impact, but it really did. The things that I learned in it, they come to my mind almost daily. Well, I guess we'll get into what the topic was. I even had surgery based on reading this book. That's how much of an impact it had on me. And you guys have been dying to have an interview on this topic with this amazing, incredible author.
I am here with James Nestor. He is the author of a new book called Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. But you might have seen him he's all over the place. Besides that, he's written for Outside, Scientific American, The Atlantic, The New York Times, many other publications. He also has another book called Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and what the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves. So, yes, really, really an incredible force. And I cannot thank you enough, James, for writing this book because you dived, no pun intended, dived so deep into a topic that I think is so profound, and we just don't realize it, because we're all breathing, but I don't think we think about it very much. So, thank you so much for being here.
James Nestor: Well, thanks for that intro. I'm afraid this is going to be terribly disappointing after that very huge intro you just gave me, but I'll do my best to keep up here.
Melanie Avalon: No, I'm sure you will. I'm just so excited. Yeah. So, what I said just a second ago, I read Breath. And I got surgery to fix my deviated septum. So, you've had a big impact in my life. But in any case, to start things off, would you like to tell listeners just a little bit about your own personal story and what brought you ultimately to write this book because you talk about it a lot in Breath and you have some really interesting reasons for what brought you here, so, would you like to tell us a little bit about that?
James Nestor: Sure. It wasn't one thing in particular. It was a bunch of things that kept accumulating year after year after year. I think the first thing was, when I-- this was like 10 or 11 years ago, when I was suffering from chronic respiratory problems. I was eating right, was working out all the time, I was sleeping right. I thought I had everything tuned in, but I was having chronic bouts of bronchitis and mild pneumonia and some wheezing when I was working out, and my doctor suggested I check out a breathing class. I said, okay, I'm in San Francisco, so those things are a dime a dozen around here. So, I just picked one randomly. And after doing an introductory course, I went back for a follow-up session and had this absolutely bizarre experience where I was just sitting cross-legged in this room, breathing in this rhythmic pattern and I just started sweating, unlike any sweat I've ever had. My hair was sopping wet. My t-shirt was wringing wet. I mean, it was absolutely bizarre. So, I went back to my doctor, “Wow, I had this really crazy experience. What happened to me? You're a doctor, you know.” She had no idea. She said, “Oh, you must have had a fever,” or, “The room was too hot.” And none of those things were true.
But as a science journalist, I didn't know what to do with that story because I wasn't going to write a memoir about breathing. That's not the sort of thing that that I write about. But it wasn't until I met free divers and these are people who have managed to hone the art of breathing so well that they can hold their breath for eight or nine minutes at a time and dive down to 300 or 400 feet, like far below what scientists thought possible. I thought, “My God, if you can do that with breathing, what else can you do?” But I just kept filing away stories until I had enough stories that I thought I could make an interesting book.
Melanie Avalon: I love it. It's so fascinating. Actually, just speaking, we're just talking about with the free divers. So, something like that-- because that's something you talk about in the book is how breath affects our bodies and our ability to hold our breath, the implications of all of that. So, with the free divers, for example, is it the breathwork that is creating their ability to do something like freediving or they do freediving and so they have to learn how to do breathwork properly for it? Is there some magic in breathing or holding your breath?
James Nestor: Absolutely, there is. The only way that you can hold your breath for so long and dive so deep is to fully master breathing. You can't do it without having a true understanding of how your breath works within your body. So, these people are, I would consider them some of the best breathers on the planet. They have these extremely elastic rib cages. They have these enormous lungs. Lung capacity of some free divers is double that of the average adult male. And these people weren't born this way. They did this by a force of will and they showed me the real potential of breathing, where it could take us so. I learned about that while free diving, while learning to freedive, while hanging out with these people during my book Deep.
But there were so many other weirdos stories on the side, they had told me about this guy who could breathe in this way and be shot up with E. coli and not suffer any of the symptoms of E. coli, because of the way in which he breathed, which sounded insane. They told me about this 85-year-old who was able to heal his body of chronic lung inflammation, chronic lung problems, and then develop this almost superhuman skill to sit in ice and snow for hours at a time and not suffer from hypothermia. So, as a reporter, this really piqued my interest. But the first thing I did was to go to the labs, to talk to scientists, to talk to experts. And what I found was so many of these crazy stories these freedivers were telling me were absolutely true and there was science to back it all up.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, the stuff that you actually just talked about, so the ice, was that related to the work with Wim Hof? Or is that different? I just had him on the show. So, I was just wondering about that.
James Nestor: Isn't he amazing?
Melanie Avalon: He's like the most inspiring person I think I've ever talked to literally in my entire life.
James Nestor: Yeah, he'd be very dangerous if he were selling something else beyond breathing. And that breathing was free because whenever he talks, I'm just like, “I'm in it, Messiah! Whatever you say, brother, I am there!” So, yeah, we're going to be doing a bunch of interviews together sort of this joint promo thing for his upcoming book, which is amazing as well, I was able to read an early copy of it. But, yeah, this was before I even heard about Wim. So, I didn't know anything about freediving when I went out to write about them, which is the point why Outside magazine wanted to send me out there. And they were telling me about Wim, they weren't mentioning him by name, and that all of these other people-- Wim wasn't the first to do this. Maurice Daubard had been doing this since the 60s, had been doing all the things that Wim is doing now. This technology of breathing has been around for 2,000 years to heat your body up. And we know that it absolutely works. Wim’s very clear about this, he did not invent any of this. He took things that worked for him and put them together and got them out into the world. I think that he's done more to bring awareness to the true potential of breathing than anybody else today by far. And I love what he's doing.
Melanie Avalon: Do you do this breathwork out of curiosity, his method?
James Nestor: I do. It's interesting that it's known as the Wim Hof Method, when it's actually just Tummo which has been around, documented for so long. And, again, he's very clear about this. He's not trying to hide it, like he invented this stuff. But I do it all the time. I did it last night with a big group. And absolutely, I've seen some huge benefits from it in blood pressure and clarity, I sleep better. And it feels great while you're doing it. But it's so similar to Sudarshan Kriya and other pranayamas. And so, there's a reason why they all work in the same way for the same people who need the same things, is because they're doing the same thing. They're having you breathe really heavy, then they're having you breathe really light or hold your breath, then you breathe really heavy again. So, no matter what you call it, this is breathwork, it's been around for a long time, the science is very clear that it can have a profound effect on our health.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, I love it. You touched on so many things I want to dive deep into as well. I know when I first did the Wim Hof the first time, the thing that shocked me which obviously this is nowhere near like deep diving, freediving, holding your breath. But the first time I did it, I was able to hold my breath like two and a half minutes and I was like, “What is happening?” And that sounds like there's clearly something going on here, the oxygen and the carbon dioxide and all of that. Actually, stepping back a little bit because we jumped in pretty fast. A foundational question about all of this. What is breathing? You do talk in the book all about the evolution of why we started breathing, why we developed lungs. So, what is going on there? From an evolutionary perspective, why did that happen and how did it go awry today?
James Nestor: Breathing is energy. That's all it really is. This is the way to fuel your cells. Your cells need glucose, or they need ketones, as you well know, and they need oxygen. Some cells can work anaerobically and that's fine, but it's a really inefficient way of burning fuel. Anaerobically means without oxygen where they're just using glucose, but you get 15 times more energy if you're burning with oxygen, if you're burning aerobically. And this was why early lifeforms 3.7 5 billion years ago didn't really do anything for a billion years, because they were all anaerobic. And then, new lifeforms that were aerobic sprouted up about two and a half billion years ago, and life just took off relatively quickly, complex life took off because it had more energy. So, everything was going great, and especially for our early human ancestors until really a few hundred years ago-- And this gets complicated, I'm doing a quick flyover of this stuff. But what essentially happened is the human jaw, the human mouth, the human face started growing smaller and smaller and smaller. And if you don't believe me, you can go to a mirror and look at your teeth. If you haven't had braces, there's a good chance your teeth are going to be crooked.
Our ancestors’ teeth were straight on back from 500 years old ago to 5000 years old, and on back, they were all straight. Every animal in the wild have straight teeth. But modern humans have crooked teeth, and we have crooked teeth because our mouths have grown so small. When you have a mouth that's that small, you have a smaller airway. That's one of the main reasons so many of us suffer from chronic respiratory problems, sleep apnea, snoring, and other issues. Our mouths are so small. And this sounds outrageous, it sounded insane to me till I went out in the field and talked to the people and started looking at skulls and anyone can do this online. Look at an ancient skull, look at a modern skull and tell me what you see.
Melanie Avalon: So, something like getting braces, like fixing the teeth, does that fix anything? Or is our whole mouth so small that we can't really address anything by just straightening back up the teeth?
James Nestor: So, there is a huge revolution, a huge sea change happening in orthodontics right now, and it's very interesting to be right in the middle of this stuff right now. So, the way that they used to straighten teeth about 100 years ago was they would expand the mouth, they would expand the upper palate because by having a larger mouth, you gave more room for teeth to growing straight. When you do that, you also open up the airways. So, the very first functional orthodontics weren't even designed to straighten teeth. They were designed to open airways of these poor kids who had these clogged airways. And so, then they started using them to straighten teeth in open airways. But then, by the 1940s, production line orthodontics came out where they started extracting teeth, this became very common, and craning the existing teeth into a mouth, making a small mouth smaller. Yes, it's straightened teeth. But there's ample evidence showing that it has also decreased our airways' size.
So, starting off, we had smaller airways, and then we were making them-- I mean typical humans, right? Then, by straightening our teeth for vanity, we're making our airways even smaller. So, right now there's this huge change going on where they are going back to expand mouths to not only straighten teeth, but to open airways and it has a tremendous effect. People who had had sleep apnea, severe sleep apnea for years, snored for years, and allergies, asthma, they opened their airways, guess what? They can breathe more freely, and those problems go away. So, again, I'm a journalist here, I have no skin in either game in pro-braces or anti-braces. But all you need do is look at the science and all you need do is understand the very simple physics, smaller airway, breathing issues, wider airway, easier breath.
Melanie Avalon: My mind has been blown. It was blown when I read the book, and it's being blown again. So, it sounds like it's a good thing if you got your wisdom teeth out then or no?
James Nestor: Well, a lot of us don't really have a choice. So, I grew up in the 70s and 80s and if you were going to get braces, it's just when you're going to get braces? When you're going to get your wisdom teeth out? So, I had my wisdom teeth out. I had extractions, I had braces, I had headgear. I had all that crap for three years, I have straight teeth now, but I've seen ample evidence and we've taken CAT scans and researchers have looked at it and said it definitely messed up my face and made my mouth too small and it changes your profile as well. If you think about when a kid is developing, their jaw is developing, their face is developing. If you start taking out teeth and making that mouth even smaller, their face is going to develop differently. You can look at the work by Dr. Kevin Boyd. Look at the work by Dr. William Hang. Look at the work by Dr. Marianna Evans. And this is very clear, and from what they have told me, that orthodontists have known about this for a long time. But it's been this sort of a dirty secret. And Dr. Michael Gelb told me, he said, “This is the new tobacco. In 10 years, we are not going to be doing any of what we did in the past. It is so injurious to our airway.”
Melanie Avalon: This is crazy. Yeah, because I was thinking take out the teeth, more room, but that's right. If you take it out when you're developing, then the mouth is naturally-- there's not going to be the teeth there keeping your mouth larger.
James Nestor: You think about it, 100 years ago, were people getting their wisdom teeth removed? 500 years ago, were they getting their wisdom teeth removed? 5000 years ago? You can look at these ancient skulls. And there's this incredible picture of this skull, that's-- one of the oldest human skulls is like 300,000 years old, homo sapiens skulls, perfectly straight teeth, wisdom teeth aren't impacted. That doesn't happen in the natural world. These are modern problems and there's nothing normal about it. It's just so widespread that we just figure, “Oh, yeah, I'm going to have my wisdom teeth out, going to have extractions, going to have braces.” But dolphins don't need braces, chimpanzees don't need braces, our ancestor didn't need braces, either. And they had much larger airways and nasal apertures than we do.
Melanie Avalon: More questions about the mouth while we're in that area. You talked about the fact that we often lose bone in our mouth, but that we can actually regrow it, and you did?
James Nestor: Yeah. So, this was another thing that I learned from these orthodontists. And again, people are free to go check out any of those names I mentioned. They have a ton of studies, ton of science out there. There's a book that was released by Stanford University Press by Dr. Paul Ehrlich, who was a professor there, called Jaws, that gets into everything I'm talking about here. So, if you want the real scientific view, if you consider what you're hearing me-- from what I'm telling you to be a little sketchy, check out the stuff coming out of Stanford, because this is basically just a repeat of all that research that's already been done. So, I had been told, as I'm sure you have, that we only lose bone after the age of about 30. And for women, this gets really bad because if a woman lives to be in her 70s, or 80s, she has about the equivalent bone mass that she had when she was 15, like half of what she had at her optimum. Osteoporosis, increased risk of fractures. These, again, are things that are so common that we just accept them.
But there's an area in the body where we can actually grow new bone. And we can do this at virtually any age, and that's the front of our faces. Our front of our faces are relatively plastic. And by that, I mean that they're constantly adjusting. And by chewing more and by expanding that upper palate, you can model new bone, and it actually changes the way you look, and it improves your ability to breathe. This sounded so insane, but I saw dozens and dozens of case studies of these people with CAT scans showing their airways before and after, using this device that gently expands the upper part of the mouth. But most of the benefits come from chewing, just chewing alone will do this.
I took a CAT scan a year before and exactly a year after, and I gained about 15% to 20% more space in my airway, which is an insane amount. And strangely, I added about five pennies worth of bone to my face because the reason why our faces start drooping down, why we get those real hollow eyes and all that, is bone starts disappearing, so skin has nowhere to go but down. So, you can actually reverse some of that, which is utterly bizarre to me and you can do it without surgery. You can let your natural body do this.
Melanie Avalon: That is insane. For listeners, in the show notes, I'll put a link. I actually just did an episode on osteoporosis with the Caltons. They were talking about the ability to regrow bone after a certain age. So, that's really, really motivating. As far as actual breathing through the mouth, which apparently a lot of people are mouth-breathers and apparently this is a very, very bad thing. Would you like to talk a little bit about that, the mouth breathing versus nasal breathing?
James Nestor: Yeah, so I had always learned that it didn't really matter, the pathway through which you breathe air. We've got a mouth, why not use it? That seemed reasonable to me. And I think through much of my youth, I was breathing through my mouth and especially when I was doing athletics and I thought that this was completely normal. But it turns out, it's really not. I, again, live in San Francisco, Stanford is pretty close to me. And I was able to talk several times with the chief of rhinology research down there, Dr. Jayakar Nayak, big nose guy. And he said that the benefits of nasal breathing are innumerable. So, no one's really denying that, but so few of us do it. About 25% to 50% of the population chronically breathes through its mouth, and this is causing all kinds of damage. It can cause neurological problems. It can cause respiratory problems. It can put you in a state of stress where your body can't heal. For kids, who are breathing through their mouths, especially at night, if they have sleep apnea and snoring, which is becoming increasingly common now for kids, it actually stunts their growth because when you're in that sympathetic state, when there's cortisol in your bloodstream, you can't build bone. So, this was just blowing me away, but the thing is, no one really knew how quickly the damage came on. Did it come on after a couple years? After a decade? Or a couple months? No one knew. So, that's where we thought we would do an informal study at Stanford to really test the difference between mouth breathing and nasal breathing.
Melanie Avalon: What's the difference between air coming in through your mouth versus your nose? Why is it magical when it comes in through your nose, and not through your mouth?
James Nestor: If you look at a cross-section of the human skull, and I've done this plenty of times through CAT scans, provides like a deli slicer view of your head, you see this enormous area, it's a huge amount of real estate in the front of your face. So, it's equivalent to space of about a billiard ball. And it's filled with all these sinus passages, other nasal structures. So, when you breathe air through this structure, through this miraculous thing called the nose, you are pressurizing air, you're humidifying it, you are heating it, and you are conditioning it so that by the time it reaches the lungs, your lungs can absorb oxygen so much more easily. So, you'll gain about 20% more oxygen breathing through your nose than equivalent breaths through the mouth. And if you think that's not going to make a difference to you day in, day out, it definitely is.
When you breathe through the nose, you also tend to breathe lower and at the bottom of the lungs is the largest perfusion of blood. That's where gas exchange is much more efficient. So, again, there's not a lot of controversy about this. The science is very, very clear. And yet, from what I'd seen, nobody was talking about this, at all, except for the academics. I thought that that was somewhat criminal. This is something that anyone can do. The benefits can be tremendous, and yet here we are, a culture of mouth-breathers.
Melanie Avalon: What did you find in your informal study about how fast changes happened when switching between mouth versus nasal breathing?
James Nestor: Well, we knew this wasn't going to be pleasant, because I had known enough about the benefits of nasal breathing to know it wasn't going to be super fun. But at the same time, it wasn't really some crazy stunt we were doing, we're just lulling ourselves into a position so much of the population knew. The difference was we were just calculating it with just reams and reams of data. So, I had thought I was like, “Huh, maybe after week, I’ll start feeling something. Maybe after eight days.” Now, within about two hours, my blood pressure shot up to deep stage 2 hypertension, about 160 or 170 over 100, which is severe. And I'd never ever seen my blood pressure that high in my whole life.
And then I went to bed. We spent eight hours getting poked and prodded and bloodwork and PFTs and CAT scans at Stanford. I went to bed, I was exhausted. For the first time in my memory, I was snoring. That first night, though, within a few hours of plugging the nose, I was snoring an hour and a half. But the night, a few days later, I was snoring for four hours throughout the night, I also had sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is different from snoring. When you literally are choking on yourself throughout. [choking sounds] And it is so damaging to the body, to the brain, everything.
The other subject in the study, Anders Olsson, suffered the exact same problems but way worse than me. So, these things don't take a few years to kick in. It happens immediately. And it's no coincidence that when allergy season comes around, sleep apnea and snoring go through the roof and there's so many studies showing this, but it's something else entirely when you feel this happen in your own body, when you feel these changes happening immediately, and all of this damage being done right out of the gate.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, it's crazy. So, like I said, read your book, decide to get my deviated septum fixed, which-- quick tangent question about deviated septums. Do most people have that and does addressing that typically help with their breathing? Or how common is it, I guess?
James Nestor: Sure. I am not qualified to give anyone a prescription for anything. Luckily, I am even-- Well, I get about 50 emails a day of people asking for advice on their nasal surgery. I'm like, “Stop it.” But luckily, I hung out with experts in this field for years and years and I just gleaned from all of their wisdom. What they told me is about 70% of the population has a septum that is clearly deviated to the naked eye, and I saw this in myself. I took a CAT scan of my head, and I was a disaster. Nayak started laughing and that's not something you want your ENT to do, is to be laughing. So, I've had my nose broken like three times, four times. I was a complete mess, but at the same time, right down the hall from Nayak was Dr. Ann Kearney, who had been a mouth breather, who had chronic nasal issues, who had been slated for surgery. And she's like, “No, don't go and get surgery. What you need to do first is try to allow your nose to heal to open it up naturally.” She took me under her wing and showed me how to do it. And I've had zero problems since I've been following her advice. So, this isn't to say, I want to be super clear here, that some people absolutely need surgical interventions. Absolutely. And I'm not against that at all. But by any means, find a way of breathing through your nose. If that helps you, that's great. But just because someone has some sort of disfigurement in their nasal cavities, which is the majority of us, doesn't mean you can't breathe through your nose, doesn't mean you can't train yourself to do this and have those benefits.
Melanie Avalon: That's incredible. I was like, “I'm going to do it.” But then, I was like, “Uh,” the recovery, I know that I'm going to be like, 10 days not breathing through my nose. And I was like, “Oh, man, all of this mouth breathing.” And it was pretty bad. But that's okay because I can breathe now. But actually, it's something that the ENT, when I met with him-- and I don't think you talked about this in your book at all. I should have looked up the specifics, but he was saying that our awareness of our nose being blocked, oftentimes, it's not a physical blockage, like there can be something in your nose where the sensing I guess, I don't know, the signal to your brain is wrong and people think they have like a stuffed nose, but there's actually no obstruction. Have you heard of this? Does that ring a bell?
James Nestor: Yeah, so our nasal passages are coated with erectile tissue.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, I wanted to talk about this, so I'm glad we're going in this direction.
James Nestor: So, that erectile tissue functions the exact same way as the other erectile tissue you know where, so it engorges with blood, it becomes stiff, and then it disengorges with blood and becomes flaccid. Our noses do this all day. One side will become engorge with blood, which will make it harder to breathe through that one nostril while the other side opens. And this shifts back and forth again and again. So, this erectile tissue can be conditioned, just like any other muscle, and the less we use our noses, the less we are going to be able to use our noses because they're out of shape. So, one of the most effective things to start clearing your nose is to breathe through your nose all the time. And for a lot of people, they say, “Well, I'm constantly congested, how can I do that?” There's many different ways.
You can start slowly, you can use sprays, you can use Breathe Right strips, you can use Mute inserts, there's all these hacks to get you over that hurdle. But Ann Kearney was telling me that when she first went on her own journey, she looked at CAT scans of people who had laryngectomy. So, this is a hole drilled in their throat because of mouth cancer, various reasons. And she found that between two months to two years, their noses were 100% blocked, 100%, because they weren't being used. And a version of that blockage is happening throughout, I would consider, a majority of the population now because we're not using our noses a lot. And one of the quickest ways of overcoming that that I've found is to find a way breathing through your nose all night when you sleep. All night. Because that will just condition it and allow it to open, and I can talk about my own experience subjectively. Since I've been doing this, and the CAT scans prove it, I've had such a huge difference of the ability to breathe through my nose. I've had one stuffed nose in the last two years when I came down with a cold. And that's it. Will my personal experience be the same as yours? No, it won't. But if you look at the science, and if you look at how these structures in the nasal passages work, it makes perfect sense that the more you use something, the more it's going to be able to adjust and flex and benefit you.
Melanie Avalon: Well, I'm definitely excited to hear more about it and I think I know what you're going to say. So, I have a really crazy sleep routine because I am a self-proclaimed insomniac, so I do all the things. I do the blackout curtains, the earplugs, the blue light blocking glasses, the red light. I mean, I have an EMF canopy. That's how crazy, like my pajamas are EMF blocking. It's just everything. But I will tell people my routine and they'll be like, “You're insane.” But then when I throw in-- if I say mouth taping, then they're just like, “Okay, I'm done.” Was that what helped you with the night breathing?
James Nestor: Well, awareness was the main thing that helped me. Once I learned about this, once I talked to Ann Kearney, once I knew she was at Stanford, one of the top research institutions in the world, once I talked to Dr. Mark Burhenne about this, who is a sleep specialist. He's a dentist, he's been prescribing sleep taping for his patients for decades. And he has so many case studies showing huge improvements. This stuff isn't really crazy. We know the benefits of breathing through the nose. Just imagine what would happen if-- so two-thirds of your life you're trying to breathe through your nose and then for the other third, you're just breathing through your mouth anyway. You have to figure out your sleep and you have to breathe through your nose when you're sleeping.
So, Ann Kearney at Stanford told me that putting a teeny piece of tape on my lips can help train the jaw close. This is not a hostage situation. This is not duct tape-- and that's what immediately people think are like Pulp Fiction or something. I'm like, no, don't go on YouTube, people. Don't look up mouth taping on YouTube, you're going to go down a terrible hole of quackery. Listen Ann Kearney, listen to Dr. Mark. This is a teeny piece of tape that easily comes off. And the point is not to hermetically seal your mouth shut, it's to just train your jaw shut. This had such an incredible impact on my sleep, and I know because I was calculating it every night with a pulse oximeter. And I know because I did this as part of the Stanford experiment. Just putting a little piece tape on my mouth, changing the pathway through which I breathe air, zero snoring, from snoring four hours a night to zero. Zero sleep apnea.
Anders Olsson, the other person in the study, had the exact same effect. And now Stanford is in the midst of booting up a 200-person study of sleep tape and sleep apnea and snoring. So, this is legit stuff. I don't think a lot of people are arguing with it. It sounds insane. But if you look at the real pros in the field and you listen to them, and I put some of their interviews up on my website just to prove to people that this wasn't quackery, the science is very clear.
Melanie Avalon: I'll put links in the show notes to some things you can check out, so you don't have to Google like erectile tissue, mouth taping on YouTube, and see what comes up with that.
James Nestor: Do not google images for erectile tissue, everyone, bad idea.
Melanie Avalon: Just a disclaimer there. One more thing about the nose that I found really fascinating was you talked about the difference between the left and right nostril and how one is tied to our parasympathetic system and one is tied to the sympathetic system. Well, first of all, I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about that. And does that mean that we could possibly hack that? Like if you only breathe through one side of your nostril, would you be activating a different part of your brain, potentially?
James Nestor: Yes, you would. And this is another thing that's been widely studied. There are dozens and dozens of studies on this. So, there's a reason why in yoga classes they have you do your alternate nostril breathing, and it's called Nadi Shodhana. I've heard that pronounced in various ways, I'm sure I'm butchering it right there. But what this is, it's just hacking into this, it's taking a finger and a thumb and closing one nostril and breathing in through another nostril and then exhaling through the other nostril. And there's a zillion different ways to do this. But they all circle around the same theme. And that inhales and exhales through the left nostril are associated with a parasympathetic response. What I mean by that is, it helps to relax you, your blood pressure is going to go down. It cools you, your heart rate's going to go down. The left nostril, just like the eyes, are more closely connected with the right side of the brain. The right side of the brain is considered more of the creative side.
Inhaling through the right nostril-- I know there's a lot of right-left stuff going on here, it's confusing, but inhaling through the opposite nostril, that right nostril, will activate the body blood pressure, increases heat, it will stimulate the left “logical side of the brain.” So, there's been various EEG studies showing this, there's been various studies where they've taken subjects, put sensors all over themselves. What's interesting is, it's not a real subtle effect. It's pronounced and it's measurable. And it's interesting to me that yogis have been doing this for well over 1,000 years. They've known that this is how effective this is. And it's just fascinating that modern science is just catching up to what these people have known for so long.
Melanie Avalon: Have you ever tried, or have they ever studied if you plugged up one side of your nose and only breathed through all day through one side?
James Nestor: University of California, San Diego, some researchers were studying this woman with severe schizophrenia. She was having hallucinations all the time. And they noticed that she was predominantly left nostril breathing, there was something wrong with her right nostril. So, they hypothesized because she was breathing through this left nostril all the time, she was just stimulating the creative side of her brain. The left side balances the right creative-- you don't want to be creative all the time, you want to be able to like see a car coming for you. You want to be able to survive in the wilderness. That's what the left side of the brain helps to do. So, they had her adjust her breathing to have it more balanced and she suffered significantly fewer hallucinations. I wouldn't have really believed this if it didn't come out of UCSD and if the people studying this weren't experts in the field, but it just shows you how powerful these things can be. I would not suggest anyone put silicone in the right nostril and try to trip out, that's a bad thing. What you want to be throughout the day is balanced. And that's what the nostrils help you do, breathing through different nostrils and letting your body naturally do that.
Melanie Avalon: So fascinating. I'm glad you said that about the balance because I have a tendency to go extreme because literally, I read that and I was like, “Okay, I'm going to only breathe through one nostril during the day and one at night. I'm going to hack this.”
James Nestor: The sympathetic system just doesn't get too much love. Everyone's like, “Oh, you need to be parasympathetic all the time, you need to--” No, our bodies need a proper balance of it. What they don't want is to have this very low-grade stress, which leads to inflammation, which leads to the vast majority of modern diseases right now. So, you want to have that sympathetic nervous system balanced with the parasympathetic. Right now, if you take your hand and place it over your heart, you can inhale to account of about 5 [inhales] and then exhale to about 8 or 10 [exhales]. And do that same thing, you're going to notice when you inhale, your heart rate speeds up. You're going to notice when you exhale, heart rate slows down. When you're inhaling, that's associated with a sympathetic response. If you inhale more than you're exhaling, you're going to jack your sympathetic nervous system. If you exhale longer than you're inhaling, then you're going to relax yourself. And there are a zillion different methods to do this. But so much of pranayama revolves around that, around that theme of inhaling, extending inhales, extending exhale.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, it really is profound. It's like you've said a lot throughout this podcast that it's a really significant effect that you really, really experience. I think a lot of people just don't realize until they start doing it. Have you heard of the Komuso Shift necklace?
James Nestor: I have not heard of that?
Melanie Avalon: It's a necklace and it uses the concept of like breathing out through a straw to extend your exhale. You can wear it as a necklace, and then you breathe out through it, and it kind of forces you to have that longer exhale. And I found it really, really effective, especially because it can become a habit if you just have it around your neck and just pull it up. But that's actually something that you just touched on. So, it seems almost contradicting because it seems there are a lot of different ways to breathe. You talk about the benefits of long breathing, of slow breathing, of breathing more, of breathing less. You've said earlier in the show that we could get 20% more oxygen from certain types of breathing, but then in the book, you talk about oxygen versus carbon dioxide and how maybe it's actually all about the carbon dioxide. So, that was a lot of nebulous questions. But basically breathing, should we be breathing more? Or should we be breathing less? How should we be breathing?
James Nestor: These are different tools in the toolbox. And the reason why we're able to upload more oxygen when we're breathing slowly is because we're increasing our carbon dioxide. So, there's a yin and yang relationship between those two things. You have to have a healthy balance of those two gases in order for them to work. CO2 also gets this really bad rap because people say, "Oh, there's too much CO2 in the atmosphere. It's causing acidity in the oceans. It's causing climate change." All 100% correct, and if you think otherwise, you are totally wrong. Just look at the science, it's very clear. But in our bodies, many of us are deficient in CO2, and we become deficient in CO2, when we do this [gasps]. When we are breathing over our metabolic needs, and when we're deficient in CO2, it makes it harder for us to offload oxygen to our bodies are constantly compensating. They can do that, our bodies are so smart, they can compensate for such a long time, they do a wonderful job of doing that. But after a while, they'll start to wear down unless we're balanced. So, it's that balance of CO2 and O2.
So, that's how we should be through the vast majority of the time where things get very confusing and trust me, I was extremely confused about this as well when I was researching it. There's people saying slow, deep light breathing, this is the way we should always be breathing. And then you've got Wim Hof and then you've got pranayama, and then you've got Sudarshan Kriya, which show marked benefit of breathing [fast breathing] breathing way too fast, sometimes breathing out of your mouth. I said, "How can these two things be so different and also have different benefits?" The difference is, those very intensive breathing practices are conscious, and they're temporary. So, Wim Hof Method’s about 15, 20 minutes, the rest of the time that you're not doing that, and talk to Wim about this, I already did this. He says he's breathing very slowly through his nose, it's the thing is people only see him huffing and puffing away with his mouth open. But for the other 23 and a half hours of the day, he's breathing slow and properly. So, hacking these different systems by breathing too much and purposely stressing your body out, these have innumerable benefits. But it doesn't have to be exclusive. It doesn't have to be all slow breathing or all heavy breathing. These different things have different functions and different uses for different people.
Melanie Avalon: For listeners, that's why you have got to get Breath, you've got to just get it right now because there's no way we can even remotely touch on everything and it's all in the book, like deep dive into all the different breathing types. And, yeah, it's crazy how everything can affect things. I really am fascinated though by the carbon dioxide. One of the things that you talk about in the book is how it's actually the primary hormone of the body and it's the only thing that actually touches every single tissue and organ. Do our bodies even sense oxygen or is all of the sensors about the carbon dioxide?
James Nestor: You just mentioned a quote, and I want to attribute it properly. That was from Yandell Henderson, who was at Yale for about 40 years, and 100 years ago, he was discovering all the benefits of carbon dioxide. It's interesting that we've known this for so long, and yet it's been almost entirely ignored. Again, this wasn't some guy working in a garage in Montana. He was at Yale, one of the top research institutions. With CO2, it comes down to that balance, it comes down to allowing your body to function at its most efficient state. So, there's ways of measuring this with a capnometer. There's ways of measuring your O2. But it really comes down to not trying to be too far in one state or too far in the other. CO2, we know that oxygen can't do its thing without CO2. We cannot get oxygen without the presence of CO2. And they used to do these studies, I don't know why they don't do them today too often where people with gangrene or other circulation problems, they would expose them to more CO2 because in those areas having more CO2 there, would bring more oxygen, and they used to inject them with CO2. And that's one of the reasons why thermal baths are so effective for eczema and other circulatory issues is because they increase your CO2 which increases your oxygenation. Again, we've known this stuff or the science, we’ve known even the science for over 100 years, and yet you talk to most people, even people in the medical community, and they still call CO2 a waste gas, which is insane to me.
Melanie Avalon: For the carbon dioxide, some of the practices for that, is that what bag breathing is?
James Nestor: Yeah. I talked to a few researchers about that, and they suggest not doing that. And the reason is, it can be effective for people suffering from panic attacks and anxiety attacks, but it became so well known, and overuse that they started giving it to people who were suffering from heart attacks. Some people not knowing better did that and killed these people because when you're suffering a heart attack, you really need to breathe. So, what they're suggesting is just use-- you don't need a paper bag to breathe slowly, you can use your natural body, you can purse your lips, you can force yourself to breathe more slowly, doing that is not only more safe, but it's just as effective. You can increase your CO2 levels by doing this [breathes swiftly] Holding your breath, or breathing very slowly, breathing out of your nose, which slows down your breath.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, listeners, don't fear. Don't fear the carbon dioxide. Actually, speaking of fear and carbon dioxide, one of the most shocking, mind-blowing things I read in your book had to do with fear, and carbon dioxide and phobias. And it really, really struck home with me because I don't know if you have any phobias, James. But I have claustrophobia, that's the only one I actually have. We fill out the surveys of what do you actually scared of. Apparently, there are two types of claustrophobia, but one of them is actually not claustrophobia. It's actually the fear of suffocation. And that's what I had, completely. But apparently, it's not unique to me, I learned, that we all potentially have this inherent fear of suffocation. It's fascinating. Would you like to tell listeners a little bit about our fear of suffocation and how it relates to carbon dioxide and the potential implications of that?
James Nestor: Sure. Man, you would not have had a good time 60 feet below the streets of Paris, crawling through little tunnels for hours, looking for ancient skulls!
Melanie Avalon: Oh, in the catacombs?
James Nestor: Yeah, I'm sure that wasn't near your favorite passage in the book. So, back to work here. It turns out that people who suffer from anxiety, and asthma and panic, all traditionally breathe too much. So, their threshold of CO2 is very low. And as you said earlier, it's not a lack of oxygen that triggers the need to breathe. It is an increase of carbon dioxide. So, right now, if you exhale and hold your breath, after about 10 or 20 seconds, you're going to feel that nagging need to breathe, it's not because you have low O2, because you have more CO2 and it's those chemoreceptors that are sensing CO2 that trigger the need to breathe. So, people with asthma, with panic, with anxieties, they are so scared of losing their ability to breathe because they associate that with an attack, so they become conditioned to breathe too much, they can become conditioned to breathe through their mouths as well. [breathes through mouth] It's very typical breathing for someone with panic or fear-based disorders.
So, what they found, and again, they've known this for over 100 years, that by increasing the tolerance of CO2, for people with anxiety, for people with panic, for people with asthma, they are able to calm themselves down and overcome so many of those chronic attacks, like controlling their breathing. So, this is hard to do right off the top when you ask someone with anxiety to hold their breath. They last about three seconds [breathes raggedly] and they say and that can lead to an attack right there. But the science is very clear that by conditioning these people not to breathe more when they get nervous, but to breathe less, they can send signals back up to their brain to calm themselves, so they can actually change how their brains are functioning. They can change the emotional centers of the brain by breathing and they can overcome those attacks. And there's various studies on this. Justin Feinstein at the Laurier Institute of Brain Research is now studying giving carbon dioxide to people with severe panic problems. And the word on the street is, it's working amazingly. But the reason he's doing this is because he found studies from 40 years ago, from 60 years ago, from 100 years ago where researchers were doing this and had a profound effect. And that research, for one reason or another, was just buried and forgotten about. And, again, fascinating to see it coming back, which is why I named the book, The New Science of a Lost Art, because we've known this stuff for so long, we just haven't really paid attention to it.
Melanie Avalon: That was one of the things I wrote down from the book. I found it really haunting because I'm paraphrasing, but he basically talked about how there was all this research, like you just said on CO2, and then something-- I'm paraphrasing, but you said the research disappeared, we turned to pills and steroids and no one disproved it. Nobody just proved it that other stuff wasn't working, which is just really a haunting concept.
James Nestor: Yeah. And what's funny is, I was not looking for those stories. I was looking at everything. I've never written about medicine before. This is not my jam, which is why this book was such a nightmare to wrangle together because when you're talking about breathing, you're basically talking about something that affects from the electrons in the electron transport chain, to the cells, to the hemoglobin, to the lungs, to the body. So, you're talking about the entire body. I was lucky enough to-- my father-in-law's a pulmonologist, my brother-in-law is an ER doctor. So, they really helped me out, they put me into a serious bootcamp with this stuff and read every single word of this book, made sure I got it right. But finding these stories and finding the same arc to every story-- Carl Stough, this guy who had a massive effect for people with emphysema, worked for 10 years in VA hospitals, taught them how to breathe. The minute he left the VA hospitals, his therapy was completely discarded, and they put these people back on antibiotics and oxygen. So, no one ever disproved that the CO2 therapy of Yandell Henderson at Yale, or Joseph Wolpe or Daniel Klein, I mean, on and on and on. But it was just completely spooky.
I thought it was going out of my mind. I was like, “Is it just me, or something really fishy going on here?” I kept having to check myself. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, I don't stand in front of government buildings with sandwich boards, that's not my thing. But what I had found had been confirmed by almost every doctor and every expert in the medical field. These are people at the top universities. They said it's not really conspiracy theory, it's just there's not a way of really making money from breathing, and that is one of the main reasons why there hasn't been a lot of interest in it. And they were very clear. These are their words, and not mine. There's not a big impetus to study this stuff, which I thought was one of the most awful and tragic and disgusting things I've heard. To purposely not help people out because someone can't make money from it, I think, is pretty grotesque. But luckily, now, we have different ways of disseminating information, we have some real experts in the field coming out and showing the science is completely solid, showing people how to take control of their health, which is exactly what you've done, which is exactly what I write about, which is exactly why so many people are tuned into healthy foods right now. If you think of what was considered healthy food in the 70s and 80s, it was absolute garbage that we knew was garbage. We've known this food, this high-sugar, high-carb food has been bad for us for over 100 years. But that science was just battered down until around 15, 20 years ago. And now, you see this revolution going on with nutrition. I think the same revolution is going to be coming into different areas of health. You really got me on my soapbox there, I apologize about that, but it's a little crazy.
Melanie Avalon: To your point, what you just said, I was going to say it sounds like intermittent fasting, like a lost art of fasting. I'm actually hopeful because you could argue that there's not much money to be made from fasting, but there's an explosion now I think of science and research into it. So, maybe that can happen with breathing.
James Nestor: These things come in waves. And if you look at how science progresses-- and Thomas Kuhn wrote about this in the 60s, he said that these big revolutions in science, they aren't dictated by the amount of data that's available. They're dictated when public opinion switches, when politics switch, which is so scary. I had always thought that science was moving forward depending on what data was there. I mean look at all the data on climate science now. It's irrefutable. Still, we're polluting more than we ever have. So, the inspiring thing behind all this-- even you look at keto, we've known that ketogenic diet for epilepsy have been extremely effective for over 100 years. And yet, how have epileptics been treated for the past hundred years? With tranquilizers, which haven't really worked too well. But now this stuff, it's the lost art of nutrition, it's the lost art of fasting. And I think it's fascinating and really inspiring too that there are different ways for people to get information, and they can really take control of so many aspects of their life that they felt rather helpless and they can do that by living their natural bodies just function normally and be balanced.
Melanie Avalon: With studies on diet and food, there's at least the avenue of the economics of creating food products. Do you think there is a way that there would be an economical incentive for breathing techniques, and then connected to research?
James Nestor: Well, it's hard in a private healthcare system. It's much easier in a public healthcare system where doctors, they are encouraged to keep people healthy. And again, I know I sound like a big crank here, but what I'm telling you is coming from my father-in-law, who was a CEO and vice president of a huge healthcare management organization and has been a pulmonologist for 40 years. So, this stuff isn't really a secret, but what's the incentive? It's so sad to me-- and I don't want to point any fingers either. It's so sad to me that doctors have to see 15 patients in an hour. They don't have time to teach them about breathing. These people have real issues, real problems. And pills work, listen, they work wonderfully, but they don't do anything for the core issue, and the fact of the matter is, they just don't have bandwidth to do this.
So, this work has fallen on other people now, breathing therapists, and other people. And I've been in this the breathing world, the breathing research world, for a number of years. I see a huge change coming right now because this stuff is measurable. It works. The science is clear, it's been around for so long. And the best part, it's free. What's the worst thing that can happen to you? Oh, you're going to feel better for a few minutes of adopting some healthy breathing habits. Nothing wrong with that.
Melanie Avalon: I know, it's so wonderful. I literally walked away from your book, and I was like, “I'm going to change my life with breathing like-- except actually, I think I call my mom, I was like, “I'm breathing my way back to health!”
James Nestor: Well, I want to be very clear, breathing-- and I made this clear the end of the book. For people with huge chronic longstanding problems with chronic obesity or whatever, you can't breathe away the weight, you can't breathe your way out of cancer. The best benefit of breathing is to use this as preventative maintenance. So, what's the quickest way of decreasing inflammation in your body? Diet really helps, exercise helps, but what's an even quicker way? Take control of your breathing. When you breathe slowly, you enter that parasympathetic state, which decreases inflammation. Again, this isn't revolutionary stuff, we've known it for so long, but I view breathing is a part of healthy living, not the sole thing. You can't drive down a bunch of Big Macs, and then breathe and certainly think you're going to be healthy. You've got to eat right. You need to exercise, reasonably, and you need to breathe right. And those three things, I think, it's not that hard to do, but if you do it, the results can be sudden and profound.
Melanie Avalon: I cannot agree more, and that was one of the things I really loved about the conclusion of the book was that made very clear. It was the perfect approach I thought. I just have to ask you though about-- because the CO2 and the suffocation all of that. So, you actually did the experiments where they gave you CO2? When I read that-- okay, because like I said, my fear of suffocation, even if we all have it on some deep level, it's very present for me. So, when I read that, I was like, “I can't even--” because it makes you feel-- for listeners, apparently makes you feel even though you have oxygen, you feel you can't breathe?
James Nestor: Well, this what I'm about to tell you is not going to improve that. So, you can just close your ears, I'll wave my hand when I'm done. I'll make it quick too. So, this therapy of giving people CO2 who have anxiety and panic, what they found is it's effective because if you tell these people to go home and breathe slowly, a lot of them aren't going to do it. They're going to feel uncomfortable or they just can't do it. But the idea here is that if you give them this huge lungful of CO2, it can help reset those chemoreceptors, it can help reset their body. So, it's almost like extreme weightlifting. You can lift some weights and you can build this muscle and every time you do it after that, that muscle is going to get bigger. I don't know if that's the best analogy, but something like that. It's a baptism by fire. Again, they've shown for about 100 years that this has been really effective, but no one has really been experimenting with it lately, or very few people.
Justin Feinstein got an NIH grant to do this with panic sufferers. What he does is he has them come into this little lab, and he puts a mask up to their face, and they take in about 15% CO2. So, in the air, there is about what, 420 parts per million of CO2? This is a significant increase of the amount of CO2 that they're getting. Again, from what I've heard is, it's been extremely effective, these people are just chilled out because they're able to breathe normally. Since I hadn't had panic, he's like, “Well, what if we double it?” I said, “Okay, I'm game for that.” And I was thinking all the breath-holding I’ve been doing, I'm a free diver, so I'm used to holding my breath for minutes at a time. I was thinking that I wasn't going to feel too much from this, but oh, boy, it completely hammered me. I felt what it was like to have a panic attack.
And what was even more bizarre is, I had all of the readouts of what was happening in my body in front of me on this computer screen. I could see my oxygen levels never wavered. My CO2 levels went-- So, there was never any threat to my body. What was happening is we were just hacking into these chemoreceptors. And it was awful. I fully sympathize with anyone who has ever had any of these issues. I mean, I did before, but it's something altogether different when you experience it yourself. And so, yeah, I did that in the name of science, in the name of journalism, to be able to talk about it from the inside. I don't think I'll be doing that again. But nice experience to have.
Melanie Avalon: I'm in awe, I just can't. When you're done, did you feel really Zen? Did it have an effect? I know you said didn't really have panic or anything before.
James Nestor: I felt really chill. We were looking at my heart rate variability. And then, we even did after that, we waited about a half an hour and we did some crazy experiments after that, which did not make it into the book, which might make it into the new edition. We didn't have space for this in the book, where I combined Wim Hof style breathing, Sudarshan Kriya with the CO2 and had probably the most bizarre experiences I've ever had in my entire life, just shifting the pH from those two extremes. So, Feinstein said what probably happened is, it was so extreme that the chemoreceptors might have shut off and might have given your body the signal that you were dying. This is totally hypothetical. Not even a hypothetical, it's just a thought because I experienced something that was so profound.
I don't know if you've ever seen Jill Bolte Taylor's TED talk about, she's a neuroscientist that the left analytical side of her brain, she suffered an aneurysm there and the left side shut down. She was only able to view the world with her right side and how beautiful it was because you have nothing-- no sense of time, no sense of fear. Just everything was beauty-- that TED talk will bring you to tears. We're so left side dominant now that we're not able to see the wonder of the universe. But I believe that I got a sliver of that in these experiments and it really affected me pretty deeply.
Melanie Avalon: Wow. For listeners, I'll put a link to that TED talk in the show notes. One of my side obsessions is the research on left versus right brain implications in the split-brain patient studies, they blew my mind. One of the most probably mind-blowing things I ever read was the split-brain patient studies where they would show patients-- They would show them objects, and then they would make it so only one part of their brain could see it for some reason and the patients who-- because I think the left part of our brain controls language. Patients would see things that their left brain didn't actually see and they would just make up stories for why they saw it or how they'd seen it and make up memories and think it was all real, and it wasn't real. And after that, I was like I know nothing. I know nothing. My brain could just be making up a story about everything.
James Nestor: I think we've adopted to breathe too much, to be in sympathetic stress, to be left side dominant because it's really competitive in the world now, even though it's ironic that modern humans, we have shelter, we have food, we have warmth. We have all these creature comforts, but we've still managed to find a way of chronically stressing ourselves out, which is bizarre from an evolutionary standpoint. If you have all these things, you should be relaxed, but the opposite is happening. Again, I think that recognizing this and taking control of that, in so many ways can help rebalance your brain, rebalance your body, and ground you back into the wonderment of the earth and being here.
Melanie Avalon: I was actually thinking that when you're talking about the experiment with the CO2 because I was thinking that-- you could see on the thing that you had CO2 and oxygen, it was okay, like everything was okay. But clearly your experience was not at all that, this anxiety, this fear, this stress, we can't talk ourselves out of it. And we can't rationalize ourselves out of it. There has to be something-- I think a lot of people something a lot deeper and seems like breathing is a nice step in that direction, if not the path to take for a lot of people.
James Nestor: Yeah, and just one other quick thing I want to mention about that is they used to give CO2 to schizophrenics because CO2 is a massive vasodilator, it helped open up these dormant areas of their brains that were contributing to their schizophrenia, and this was back in the 20s and 30s. And these people would take this huge inhale of CO2 and people who had been mute, who had been completely out of it for years, came to, they sat up straight, and they started having these completely lucid incoherent conversations with their therapist, and a half an hour later, when the CO2 wore off, they collapse down again, and they become mute, and they wouldn't talk to anybody.
So, it just shows you that the potential of, not just CO2, not just this gas, but by bringing the body back into balance and by breathing differently, you can have this profound effect on our ability to think even when you're chronically sick, and those studies are freely available on PubMed, the NIH, and they're really emotional that these people were able to recover. And then, by the 50s, 60s came around, they just gave them tranquilizers. Tranquilizers didn't cause any of these rash problems or these reactions, because some people really had panic attacks. But they didn't help them either, beyond just numbing them, and this is how these people are still treated today. I'm not an expert in this field. But if you look at the science, if you look at what's been done in the past and how effective it was, I think, especially someone who's been suffering from these things for so many years, why not give it a try? Why not try to fix the core problem and help these people in a real way?
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, that's so incredible. Yeah, that was one thing I written down was that catatonic people were reawakened from this. Wow. Well, I want to be really respectful of your time. This has been so incredible. I have a million other thousand questions I could ask you, but I will refer listeners to your book because, like I said, it's all in there. Some practical takeaways for listeners. Oh, actually, I did want to throw out a little fun fact that I wrote down that I think was one of the most mind-blowing facts from the book for me, was you talked about how in the Framingham Heart Study-- and I feel nobody talks about this. You said that the longest predictor of longevity wasn't-- I can't even say it, wasn't genetics, it was lung capacity. Nobody talks about that.
James Nestor: Respiratory health. That's the one. And if you have larger lungs, you're going to live longer. So, one thing that didn't make it in the book as well is even people who had lung transplant, those who were transplanted with larger lungs lived way longer than those with smaller lungs. The great thing about this people, you can affect your lung size, you can affect your lung capacity throughout your life. You can do this by breathing properly, by breathing deeply and softly.
Melanie Avalon: Wow. Nobody talks about that. So, thank you for talking about that. If listeners listening right now and they're like, “Okay, I want to breathe,” besides reading your book, how should they breathe right now at this moment?
James Nestor: Breathe through your nose, I'm sure I drilled that one down to-- people are sick of hearing it, but breathe through your nose, breathe slowly, breathe deeply and breathe light. Deep doesn’t mean, don't go out and walk around [breathes deeply] “I'm going to expand my lung capacity.” No, breathe at a rate of about six breaths per minute to calm yourself down. And through the rest of the day, maybe 10 or 11 breaths per minute, but you want to breathe very lightly, and you want to breathe through your nose, and you want to breathe in a calm way. So that's the cliff note version. The how of this is very easy and I mentioned that in the book. To me, I thought was the much more interesting story was the, why do you want to breathe this way? What does it do to your body? Where does it come from? So, that's what I focused on.
Melanie Avalon: Well, you definitely, definitely did that. Like I said, I know it's not a cure-all. But I definitely walked away from it being like, “I'm doing this. This is the thing.” So, thank you. I am just so grateful for what you're doing, so grateful for your work. That brings me to the last question that I ask every single guest on this podcast and it's just because I have started to realize more and more just how important mindset is surrounding everything. So, what is something that you're grateful for?
James Nestor: I would say breath, but that's way too cheesy. I'm very grateful that I have the ability to live so close to the ocean because that is where my real refuge is in these difficult times. And if I'm lucky enough I'll be able to sneak out in there. I won't be sneaking out to the ocean, be sneaking within it in about five hours when I'm free from work.
Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you again. This has been so incredible. Like I said, I'm so grateful for everything that you're doing. Listeners, get this book, it is life changing, it's profound, all of the science is in there. There's exercises at the end that you can do, which you're not supposed to do while driving, but I was doing them while driving.
James Nestor: Only some of them. Only the heavy breathing ones. Don't do those. The rest of them, yeah, do them while driving for sure.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, but they're really incredible and really profound. And I cannot recommend it enough. Any other links you'd like to put out there? How can people best follow your work?
James Nestor: My website, mrjamesnestor.com. That's M-R because some other bozo took James Nestor, so I had to put the MR there. All of the studies, all are listed on website for free. There are exercises from doctors at Harvard, doctors at Stanford, all on the website as well, and it's a portal to some of the other information in the book. I'm also trying to get better at this Instagram thing, I'm a bit of a dinosaur, but I'm posting expert interviews with breathing therapists, breathing researchers up on my Instagram as well. And my handle is @mrjamesnestor.
Melanie Avalon: Awesome. I'm probably already following you, but if not, I’ll follow you right now. For listeners again, those links all will be in show notes. You said there's an updated version of the book coming out?
James Nestor: Since the book came out about three months ago, I've found so much other amazing information, just little bits that I'll be putting out for the paperback version, which will be out in about a year. So, I'm going to probably include the other research, the Justin Feinstein thing and that kind of stuff. I like to freshen up the paperback, add a new foreword but that won't be happening for a long time. And they're just little bits, most of which are on the Instagram. And see how old I am, I call it the Instagram, that’s something my mom would have done.
Melanie Avalon: The television, the Instagram, the Facebook, the pod-- well, this is the podcast. Last question, do you have any future books in the works?
James Nestor: Oh God. Yeah, it'll be a secret between us and your minions of listeners. Yes, I have an idea, but the idea of sitting down and writing a new book right now makes me look queasy, but it is fomenting in my head. I am so excited to get back in the field and to start digging up some new weird stuff. So, give me a few years, things should be underway by then.
Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Yeah. When I wrote my book, I was like, “Never again.” It's been three years and now, I'm like, “Okay, maybe, maybe.”
James Nestor: Yeah, you've got the publishing PTSD. I think a lot of people think like we just sit around with quill pens and monocles at cafes, but writing books, man, it is a frickin' grind!
Melanie Avalon: That's what I know, never again, but maybe, again. So, clearly again, you did twice, right, already?
James Nestor: Yeah, twice and I'll be doing it a lot more in the future, I'm sure.
Melanie Avalon: You're my inspiration.
James Nestor: Well, thank you very much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Melanie Avalon: This is so wonderful. Thank you, James. Bye.