People in distress are often advised to breathe through their noses to help them calm down, and scientific journalist James Nestor has devoted his latest book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, to the benefits of breathing this way. He discovered that although humans breathe innately, somewhere along the way we forgot how to do it properly. Here, Nestor shares the fascinating results of his research.

Your book bowled me over because it’s both revolutionary and deeply simple. Why do we have to relearn how to breathe?

“Research made me realize that we’ve changed our diet to suit our current lifestyle, much like we’ve had to resort to exercise to counteract our new sedentariness. It therefore makes sense to observe how the stressors in our environment have transformed the way we use our main source of energy: our breath. As it turns out, we’ve been using our nasal passages less and less: Humans breathe too much, and [we breathe] through our mouths.”

Why is it bad to breathe through your mouth?

“Because your mouth has no system to filter the air that you breathe. By breathing through your nose, you force the air to travel through a series of structures in which it’s warmed, humidified, filtered, pressurized and conditioned before it even reaches your lungs, which makes absorbing it much easier. You absorb 20 percent more oxygen by breathing through your nose.”

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