Breath work can do phenomenal things.

James Nestor writes about this in a fascinating book I just finished, "Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art."

Nestor spent years digging into the art/science. He talked to everyone from doctors to yogis to freedivers, who can go as long as 12 minutes without air while exerting themselves intensely.

The range of things he uncovers is, well, breathtaking. On one end of the spectrum are monks who can breathe in such a way that they heat up their bodies. Like, a lot. He says they can sit in the snow bare-bodied for hours at a time and not only avoid injury (i.e. hypothermia and frostbite), but also the snow actually melts around them. Then, on the other end of the spectrum is the rest of us. Womp womp. He says about 90 percent of us in this day and age are breathing incorrectly, contributing to myriad health issues and chronic diseases.

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But there is increasing research, he says, claiming "many modern maladies — asthma, anxiety, ADHD, psoriasis, and more, could either be reduced or reversed simply by changing the way we inhale and exhale.” He concludes: "The missing pillar in health is breath."

So, how do we breathe better?

The recipe that Nestor identifies for proper breathing is simple. In a nutshell: breathe slowly, through the nose into the abdomen, and fully exhale on each breath out. He says the perfect pattern is to inhale for 5 to 6 seconds, then exhale for the same amount of time.

Posture matters, too: Mouth should be closed with molars a few millimeters apart and tongue touching the roof of the mouth; head perpendicular to the body (not kinked or jutting forward); spine forms a slight J shape — "straight until it reaches the small of the back, where it naturally curves outward."

Nestor includes himself in the 90 percent of us who are breathing incorrectly. At least, that used to be him.

By this point, after years of research on the topic and writing a bestseller, he says he has improved his breathing, general health and ability to regulate and affect his own nervous system. It's all primarily due to the different practices and exercises — the breath work — he's done, which strengthens breathing machinery and helps make that "perfect breath" more accessible.

Breath work expands lung capacity, gets us connected with our bodies (initiating more mindful presence) and ultimately leads to greater health and vitality. One of the coolest parts of it in my opinion, is how it can change the way we feel in real-time. Some types of breath give us energy or help us focus. Others can help us get to sleep, digest, de-stress, get more centered.

The following are a few exercises you can try to see what I mean. You could put them together as part of a breath work routine and/or use them whenever you need a particular boost.

Changing the way we breathe can change a lot of things. It might blow your mind a little bit, too.

Resonant “perfect” breath

“There is no more essential technique, none more basic,” Nestor says. He practices this technique as often as possible.

It’s a great one because it’s regulating, and useful in any number of situations. It’s sort of like an all-purpose breath. If you’re wound up and need to level off, if you need to de-stress, or focus, or just find your way back to center, try this:   

Inhale softly for a 5.5 second count (I count to 5 or 6 in my head — if that’s too long, do less). Expand your belly as air fills the lower lungs. Without pausing, exhale gently to the same count, bringing the belly in as the lungs fully empty. 

Attend to your posture with this: Sit up straight, relax your shoulders and belly. Repeat this full cycle at least 10 times. 

4/7/8 breathing

This is a relaxing breath that’s mostly considered a tool for helping you feel asleep. It was popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil.

The general principle here is that exhales are relaxing. This breath really emphasizes that exhalation. Use this in bed and keep the concept in mind.

Long and slow exhales can help anytime you need to chill out. 

Take a breath in through your nose for a count of four. Hold for a count of seven. Exhale completely and forcefully through your mouth, making a “whoosh” sound for a count of eight. Repeat this cycle for at least four breaths.

I have a video on if you feel like you need to see it to really get it.

Bellows breath

Bellows breathing is an energizing breath. You may need to build up to it, but whether you do it for 10 seconds or 2 minutes, it will revitalize you and sharpen your mind.

To do this one, sit or stand up straight. Start with a few rounds of deep breath.

Then, after an inhale … do a short, snappy, forceful exhale through your nose and snap your belly in. Follow this with an equally short and snappy inhale as you let your belly pooch out. 

This pattern is fast, but I recommend starting slow to get a feel for the pattern and how the belly snaps in and out. 

When you do speed it up, each component is just a 1 count. (This technique doesn’t call for counting, but this gives you a sense of the pace).

Continue this fiery breath for a few rounds. Start with 10-20 rounds and build up from there. 

Marci Izard Sharif is an author, yoga teacher, meditation facilitator, and mother. In Feeling Matters, she writes about self-love, sharing self-care tools, stories, and resources that center around knowing and being kind to yourself. For her classes and more, go to


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