[00:00:00] Keto AMA on Reddit
[00:02:30] Podcast Sponsors
[00:05:56] Topic and Guest Introduction
[00:07:37] James' Breathwork Protocol
[00:09:54] Breath As The “Missing Pillar” Of Health
[00:14:12] The “Dis-Evolution” Of Breathing
[00:18:38] The Truly Awful Effects Of Mouth Breathing
[00:24:13] The Unusual Connection Between The Clitoris And The Nose
[00:27:43] How The Left And Right Nostrils Activate The Sympathetic And Parasympathetic Nervous Systems
[00:31:53] Some Clarifications
[00:34:20] Healthy Breathing Practices Of Native American And Indigenous South American
[00:37:21] Podcast Sponsors
[00:40:17] How To Stop Mouth Breathing, Increase Circulation, And Get Better Sleep
[00:50:30] What Other Cultures And Religions Can Teach Us Regarding The Ideal Pace Of Breathing
[01:00:03] Tibetan “Rites” That Help Expand The Lungs And Diaphragm
[01:03:34] Hypoventilation Training
[01:10:01] The Tummo Method Of Breathing
[01:13:28] Carbon Dioxide
[01:17:55] How To Biohack Your Breathwork
[01:19:06] Ending the Podcast
[01:20:37] End of Podcast
Ben: Guess what, everybody. I have great news. I am going to do an AMA. What's an AMA? It's ask me anything. And this is going to be on Reddit. This AMA is on all things keto and low carb. So, all you've got to do is show up and you can ask me anything on all things keto, carnivore, carb cycling, metabolic efficiency, biohacking your diet, you name it. So, the AMA is going to kick off. It's open now. You can go leave your questions now, but it's going to kick off Monday, June 8th at noon Pacific. And here's the URL where you can go to do this AMA. It's BenGreenfieldFitness.com/ketoama. We're going to kick things off on Monday, June 8th at noon. It's going to be a ton of fun. So, I hope to see you there. Spread the word to your friends, tweet it around or do the social media thing. Let's fill the room and have fun talking about all things low carb.
On this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
James: Evolution isn't about the survival of the fittest. Evolution means change. And right now, humans are changing for the worst. If there's anything good to come out of what's happening now with this foul COVID flu, it's that I really think that people are going to start paying attention to their breathing, not just when they're sick, but when they're healthy as well. Why don't you start there instead of getting the CPAP on your face, like lift your bed up? It's free. Anyone can do it.
Ben: Health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking, and much more. My name is Ben Greenfield. Welcome to the show.
Alright, you guys. I've been super-duper excited to get this podcast out to you because this book actually came out a couple of weeks ago. I was wanting to release this podcast for you right when the book came out, but there should still be copies available, I would imagine. It was one of the best books I've read in the past few months. I will let you wait with bated breath, pun intended, to find out a little bit more about what this mysterious book is, what we're going to be talking about. Well, my guest has been on the show before. Crazy immersive journalist, James Nestor. You are going to dig this one.
Now, before we jump in, I have also talked a lot about turmeric before on this show. But typically, when I talk about turmeric, I talk about these things called curcuminoids, which is the fat-soluble component in turmeric. You're probably familiar with curcumin. And I've mentioned about doing things like blending curcumin or turmeric with fats so they become more bioavailable. Well, it turns out that recent research has dug into something called turmerosaccharides. These are different than curcuminoids. It's a different part of the turmeric root. These are water-soluble. They're water-soluble polysaccharides, incredibly absorbable, way different than curcumin. You don't need to blend them with fats.
And furthermore, there are now a bunch of human clinical research studies out on these isolated turmerosaccharides that have shown that these things support an incredibly healthy inflammatory response to exercise, reduce joint discomfort, and vastly improve joint flexibility and mobility. So, these turmerosaccharides are super legit when they come to increasing your athletic recovery and your joint health. And I spent the past year researching not only the turmerosaccharides, but also serrapeptase, proteolytic enzymes, a bunch of other stuff that can be stacked along with turmerosaccharides to get you science-backed recovery that allows you to bounce back extremely quickly.
So, what I did was I combined all this stuff into one supplement. It's called Kion Flex. And the feedback I'm getting on this thing is crazy in terms of people just jumping out of bed and clicking their heels together like they're 16 years old even after a brutal workout the day prior. So, you got to try this stuff. I'm super proud of it. It's now available. So, it's called Kion Flex. You get a 20% discount on it. You go to getkion.com. That's getK-I-O-N.com. And the code that you can use over there is BGF20. BGF20 at getkion.com, and definitely check out the Kion Flex.
Now, of course, something else that can help you recover or just make you feel amazing and allow oodles of saliva to drip from your mouth is really, really good meat. I'm talking about high-quality meat, humanely raised meat, grass-fed, grass-finished beef, free-range organic chicken, heritage breed pork, which tastes way different than pork the way it tastes now before they bread out all the fat and flavor and to make it the other white meat, this is old-world pork, heritage breed pork is amazingly delicious, wild Alaskan caught salmon.
So, there's this company called ButcherBox. They've found all these different sources, natural organic sources of meat, and then they cut out the middle man, save you a ton of money, pass those savings onto you and ship these curated meat boxes straight to your door. That's not all. They have decided that for all my listeners, they're going to give you, when you make your first order from ButcherBox, two pounds of ground beef and two packs of free bacon. Yeah, you heard me, I said free bacon, if you go to butcherbox.com/ben. Promo code is BEN20. That gets you the $20 off your first box, the two pounds of ground beef, two packs of bacon. So, it's butcherbox.com/ben. That'll automatically get you the discount, or you can just use code BEN20 if you want to double-check and make sure you get that beef and bacon. So, enjoy and let's go talk to James.
Alright, folks. You sick of hearing me talk about breathwork? Well, you're just going to have to keep on soaking it up because as you know, I've been immersed of late in books on breathing and interviewing breathwork experts, and doing a lot of breathwork myself, breathwork courses, and breathwork with my children, and using all sorts of different breathwork biohacks and tools like hyperbaric oxygen chambers and holotropic breathwork in the sauna. And as the case is, I also keep my finger on the pulse of the entire literature surrounding breath. And a brand new book just came out that I just–I soaked it up. I think I read that thing probably with my breath held the whole time I was reading it. Just so good.
As a matter of fact, it was so good that I told my kids they should read it, and one of them read it and actually wrote a book report. My kids get little bonuses and extra books or toys, things like that, when they grab a book from dad's office and write a book report on it. And one of them actually wrote a book report on this book, which is written by a previous podcast guest of mine. So, there's this guy named James Nestor. He came on my show I think like three years ago and we did a big episode about freediving and breath-holding, and it was an amazing show. And actually, after that show, I was so stoked, I flew down to Florida and I took I think what may have been the same freediving course that James took from Ted Harty down to Fort Lauderdale. And it absolutely changed my life. It changed my breathwork, it changed my ability to be able to swim comfortably at deep depths in the ocean, my ability to be able to spearfish, just absolutely amazing.
But James, being the immersive journalist that he is, went on and began to dive into breath. He traveled all over the world to pulmonology labs, and ancient burial sites, and secret soviet facilities, and São Paulo, and choir schools, and just tracked down all these ancient breathwork practices like pranayama, and tummo, and kriya, and probably a bunch of other breathwork that I'm going to bastardize the pronunciation of. But anyways, he just tinkered all over the place with pulmonary function from a scientific and an ancestral standpoint, and wrote this book, and it's absolutely fantastic. The book is called “Breath“, but there's so many things in the book that I want to delve into that I had to get James on the show to go over all the pages that I folded over. The subtitle of the book is “The New Science of a Lost Art.” And so, the shownotes for everything that James and I talk about today you can find at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/lostart. That's BenGreenfieldFitness.com/lostart.
James, welcome back to the show, man.
James: Thanks so much. It's great to be here.
Ben: Yeah. So, did you, by the way, warm up for this super high-pressure show, do any kind of breathwork this morning, or do you have like a morning breathwork routine, especially after I've written this book?
James: I went and walked my dog and did some static tables, which always chills me out. So, I'm here, post park, post dog walking, ready to roll.
Ben: I love it. So, static tables, these are like the carbon dioxide and the oxygen training tables?
James: Exactly. Really long exhales, hold, hold as long as you can, inhale, longer exhale. Great for a parasympathetic response, really chills you out, increases circulation, and I love it, and that's usually what I do with my dog. I'm the weirdo in the park holding this breath.
Ben: I dig it. And by my understanding, by the way, a carbon dioxide table is different than an oxygen table. So, like a carbon dioxide table you would hold your breath, and then you would recover–let's say you hold your breath for two minutes then you recover for two minutes, and then you would hold your breath for another two minutes and recover for a minute 45, hold your breath for two minutes, recover for a minute 30, and just have increasingly shorter recovery periods.
Whereas I think with the oxygen, it is holding the recovery periods constant and then just doing longer and longer breath holds, right?
James: That's exactly right. What you're doing is you're increasing your tolerance for CO2. And CO2 has such a bad rap right now, but hopefully, we'll get into why that rap is not fair at all to this wonderful gas we have in our bodies. That is totally misinterpreted and misrepresented in so much of medical literature.
Ben: Totally, yeah. Well, I definitely want to talk about carbon dioxide. I actually interviewed Scott Carney. Do you know Scott?
James: Oh, yeah, sure.
Ben: Okay. So, yeah. We talked about his book “The Wedge” where he actually did I think a little bit of the same stuff that you may have done with carbon dioxide, although I want to hear your take on it, like the inhalation of pure carbon dioxide or looking into some of the benefits of carbon dioxide, which I'm just intrigued with. I need to find some kind of like a carbon dioxide generator for my home.
James: They're coming out right now. They're on their way out.
Ben: Well, make some intros, bro, if you get a chance. I definitely want to try this thing out. So, I actually want to start here because this was interesting for me because I never really thought about this way, but you hypothesized early in the book about physicians treating patients and how little they actually look at breath. I mean, what would a doctor find if they actually started looking at things like respiratory rate, or oxygen consumption, or carbon dioxide tolerance, or any of these other factors when someone, say, went to a doctor's office for just like a basic physical or blood work?
James: Well, they're going to get a window into physical and mental health that no other measurement could give. And, this is something that I brought up with my father-in-law as a pulmonologist. So, I've been asking him about CO2, O2, breathing. And his concern, and the concern with most people in the medical community is that you're breathing, it's not how we're breathing. Breathing is very binary for so many people. We breathe, we live. We don't breathe, we're dead. But, there's so many nuances in those 25,000 breaths we take every day, and their reflection, how efficiently our bodies are running, but also it's a tool that allows us to harness control of our nervous system, organ function, heart rate, mental state, on and on and on. This is something that a few researchers mentioned to me early on. They said it's how we breathe is as important as what we eat, how much we exercise, whatever genetic makeup we have. So, it's really this missing pillar of health. And if you're not doing that right, it doesn't matter if you're doing the other things right, you're always going to be a little off.
Ben: Yeah. And it is true. I mean, it'd be so simple to have like–and you could even do this with telemedicine, a pulse oximeter, some type of ventilation device. They just now, and I think one's getting shipped to my house in a couple of weeks, developed a new tool. And I'm sure I'll talk about it on a podcast once I get a chance to try it, simple metabolic rate analysis via indirect calorimetry, but not like the big clunky device that you got to use all the tubes and masks for like a simple device that you could breathe in and out of. Perhaps something that could measure respiratory rate, maybe the movement of the chest versus the belly as you breathe. I mean, it's not as though this stuff would be rocket science to quantify in a far more robust manner than medicine currently quantifies it. And just my own experience, there'd be as much benefit as testing somebody's blood work, possibly more.
James: I absolutely agree. And so many people have been researching this for the past 100 years, but something I just kept finding in my book over and over and over again is someone makes this great discovery, it's used, it completely works, it's forgotten, someone else discovers it in a different country at a different time, they use it, it completely works, it's forgotten. So, these cycles just keep happening over and over and over. And if there's anything good to come out of what's happening now with this foul COVID flu, it's that I really think that people are going to start paying attention to their breathing, not just when they're sick, but when they're healthy as well.
Ben: Oh, yeah. They absolutely are. And as a matter of fact, as you mentioned, the time we're recording this is during the quarantine and the coronavirus pandemic. So, if you're listening to this 10 years from now, that's why we're bringing this up.
But yeah, I mean, like you hear talk about, for example, how some natural things like sunlight might have some amount of antiviral activity, some compounds like methylene blue, for example, might act on some of these pathways as well within the body and interact with photons of light. And then, you also hear about nitric oxide, which would be increased via, say, nasal breathing as being something that might have some antiviral activity, granted–it kind of rubs me the wrong way when I see the alternative health world take that and run with it and be like, “Oh, if you breathe through your nose, you're never going to get sick.” It's not quite that simple. I mean, in many cases, we're talking about bathing cells, in some cases, in vitro in nitric oxide or intravenous administration of methylene blue with some type of a UV light in a doctor's lab, not like taking fish tank cleaner and going for a walk in the sunshine.
But regardless, we at least have clues as to some of the benefits of some of these type of practices such as increasing nitric oxide availability or concentration. And the thing I want to start with here is this concept that you get into early in the book. I think you call it dis-evolution, but it's essentially this idea that maybe we aren't breathing the same way now as we did for a really long time. Can you get into that?
James: Yeah. So, this is something I heard really early on several years ago that humans are the worst breathers in the animal kingdom. And I thought, “Well, how did that happen? How is that possibly true?” I always understood evolution as being a constant upward slope, that we're getting better, we're getting more refined, everything's going great. Twenty years from now, we're going to be even better than we were before. So, I went to the Morton Collection, which is at the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Penn. They have the largest collection of pre-industrial skulls in the world. Some of these things dating back thousands of years.
And something that was completely shocking is all of these skulls, all of these old skulls had straight teeth, they had huge jaws, they had huge nasal apertures, huge sinus cavities. So, if you look in an old skull and compare it to a modern school, what do we have? Ninety percent of us, me, perhaps even you, Ben, and almost everyone we know, we have mouths that are so small that our teeth no longer fit, so they're growing crooked. Our sinuses are small and stunted. And so, a smaller mouth and smaller sinuses makes it harder to breathe, which is one of the reasons why we have chronic sinusitis, we snore, we have sleep apnea, and other respiratory problems.
So, all of this happened on a wide scale in the last 400 years with industrialization of the food chain, and this completely shocked me. I understood growing up with the sniffles, wheezing. Everyone I knew had asthma. I thought, “Oh, this is just a part of childhood,” but it's not, it's completely unnatural. And evolution, I also learned this, maybe I should have learned this years and years ago, isn't about the survival of the fittest, evolution means change. And right now, humans are changing for the worst, which explains why our bones are becoming more brittle, our feet hurt, our backs ache, all of that. And that's the concept of dis-evolution, which is coined by Harvard biologist, Daniel Lieberman, and it explains why we're breathing so poorly now and why we need to really fix that before we do anything else.
Ben: Well, you said like the past 400 years, but I mean, I think if you look at the innovation of food and the development of fire that–our faces may have begun to change even earlier than that, even farther ago than 400 years because if you look at like mashing food, and cooking food, and fire, and less of a need to chew intensively, it seems like just the evolution of our food preparation tactics could change the mouth structure or the sinuses pretty dramatically, couldn't they?
James: And they absolutely did, but what happened is that did not have, as far as we know, a deleterious effect on our ability to breathe because our throats were still wide, our noses were still wide.
I mean, if you look at a skull right at the invention of cooked food, we've been cooking food for what, 800,000 years, our brains just started growing like crazy, and those brains needed space. So, they took it from the front of our faces and they took it from our sinuses. But as far as is known, we were breathing just fine. We were able to adapt to this because it happened over generations, thousands and thousands and thousands of years. What happened to our modern faces, all of this happened in the last few 100 years. So, we have not been able to adapt properly to it, which is why we're so messed up. I mean, if you think about these 5,400 different mammals on the planet, we're the only ones with chronically crooked teeth and with all of these respiratory problems. So, the paintings on the wall, and this is something that–I had braces, I had orthodontics, all that crap, and now I understand a bit of how that came to be and it helped me better contextualize how to fix it.
Ben: Yeah. Well, what you started to do from the impression that I got in reading the book was you kind of like started by reverse engineering it, like you started by purposefully doing the complete opposite of what would be considered healthy, and that's like total mouth breathing. Can you walk me through why you decided to take that approach and what you experienced by basically keeping yourself from breathing through your nose like humans are supposed to do?
James: Sure. So, I had heard that mouth breathing was really bad for you. So, I did a deep dive into that and found one study that said up to 50% of us are habitual mouth breathers. And the science is pretty clear that when we do breathe from the mouth, we're breathing in unfiltered, unheated, raw air, it saps us of moisture, irritates the lungs, loosens the back tissues of the mouth so we're more apt to snore, neurological problems I could go on and on and on. It's really, really bad, but nobody really knew how quickly this damage came on. Some people are saying, “Oh, it takes years. You have to mouth breathe for years and years as a kid for all of these problems to arise.”
Ben: Oh, yeah. I know Anders. He's been on the podcast before. He's amazing.
James: Okay. So, I don't know how. I mean, he's one of the best breathers in the world, just like a master of this. I said, “Well, why don't you be one of the worst breathers in the world with me for 20 days and we'll actually test out some of your theories and see how much breathing, how we breathe really affects us?”
Ben: Right. And by the way, to contextualize this, this would be like me saying, “Okay. I'm going to eat at McDonald's and not exercise for the next four weeks and see what happens.”
James: Exactly. There are definitely tangents of a kind of super-size me experimentation going on here, but the interesting thing is though not too many people eat at McDonald's three meals a day every day, but so many people breathe out of their mouths. So, in some ways —
Ben: It's true.
James: –we were making ourselves like the majority or at least half of the population and seeing what happened to our minds and our bodies and everything else. So, we jammed silicon plugs up our noses and took every imaginable metric, we tested ourselves three times a day, we had CGMs, nitric oxide monitors, cortisol level–I mean, you name it. And the most stunning thing to me, and this is something that I don't think anyone really thinks about, is within a single night, my snoring increased 1300%. A few days later, it doubled, then it tripled. Before I knew it, I had been snoring for maybe a minute or two a night, I was snoring for four hours a night, and my blood pressure shot up about 20 points, I had stage two hypertension, and I felt absolutely awful. And so, given that, the other half of the study was to see what happens when you just breathe from your nose. Could we reverse some of that damage that had been happening?
Ben: I have a quick question before you get into what you just did–these silicone plugs that you put in your nose, did those just like stain your nose for 40 days?
James: It was 10 days. We had to change them out due to infection problems.
Ben: I was going to say.
James: But we never breathe–our noses were so plugged up we couldn't have even gotten a breath through there anyway.
Ben: By the way, never write a book on gut health because I could just imagine you shoving like an anal plug up and not pooping for 20 days as a self-experiment. So, you need to be careful, man, with which orifices you're plugging up here.
James: You just read my latest book proposal.
James: How did you know that?
James: Packed into my computer. No, I'm not going to do this. I'm not a huge self-experimenter, and this was something that came up randomly just because we wanted to put ourselves in the position of most other people. So, what happened when we took the plugs out and just breathe from our mouths–or sorry, just breathe from our noses, we use mouth tape, we exercise with tape on our mouths, just so we could constantly nasal breath, is my snoring the first night completely disappeared, decreased 30-fold. I went from having 52 sleep apnea events to zero. My blood pressure lowered about 20 points to where it was before.
And Anders showed the same damage and the same restoration from nasal breathing. HRV, shot through the roof once we started breathing from our noses. So, I mean, the big takeaway from me from all of this was that if you snore or you have sleep apnea right now, you go get a sleep test, what do they do? They give you a CPAP and they say, “Good luck. This is going to help you.” And it will, it will definitely help you. But nobody's talking about the role of mouth breathing and snoring. Fifty percent of the population snores, about a quarter has sleep apnea. No one's talking about just breathing through your nose, especially for mild or moderate problems. And so, it's something I'm never going to ever repeat, but it definitely taught me a valuable lesson in nasal breathing. So, that's the first step, everybody. Don't breathe through the mouth. You're hurting your body and you look like an idiot. So, don't do it.
Alright. So, I've already brought up the asshole. So, we might as well just move straight onto the penis. The nose, the tissue in the nose is very special. I did not realize until I read your book. I told my wife this and she was chuckling. I'm like, “Did you realize that your nose is just like your clitoris in a certain way?” And we were just chatting about like the erectile tissue in the nasal cavity. Can you get into why the tissue in the nose is so special? Because this just fascinated me.
James: It is. They are made of the same stuff. So, they're made of erectile tissue and they function the same as one another. So, your nose gets erections all throughout the day. And to a certain extent —
Ben: Nose boners.
James: Nose boners all around, people are having them. Right now, those listening, you've got some nose boners going on because what happens is each of your nostrils opens and closes throughout the day. So, every around 30 minutes to four hours, it will open and close, and your nose does this for a number of reasons. Part of it is because it can help heat or cool your body down depending on what nostril you're breathing through, and it activates different hormones. And so, your body uses this as almost kind of an HVAC system to adjust your body. And they used to–about 100 years ago, women with very bad PMS used to get their erectile tissue taken out of their noses, and they claimed that this had a miraculous effect on the symptoms. And Freud was all into this, too. People with sexual perversions, he would recommend that they go get their noses drilled out. I'm not sure if that worked and I don't recommend this at home either, people. Don't do it.
Ben: This is crazy. People used to do this, the strangest things for limiting sexual urges, like that's apparently where Kellogg's Corn Flakes came out of as well. They discovered like a high-carb, grain-fed, not that I have anything against grains, but relying upon grains and cereals and high amount of carbohydrates as a staple in the diet seemed to somehow suppress sexual function. And one of the ways that Kellogg's Corn Flakes was originally marketed was to limit sexual urges.
James: Well, if you think about it, if you've got a bleeding nose with a bunch of bandage up there, like you're the last person someone's going to want to have sex with. So, maybe this is like a really good–maybe it actually worked for that reason. Same with Kellogg's. You're eating corn flakes all day. Maybe you're just feeling bloated and maybe not too sexy. So, maybe that's the real reason why it worked. But the actual connections between the nose and the genitals and nipples is a real thing.
And so, maybe next time, everyone's sexually stimulated. You can figure out what your nose is doing. I do know that some people that have this little too close of a connection, their noses will plug completely and they'll start sneezing, and it's so common that it has a name. It's called honeymoon rhinitis. So, hopefully, nobody will get that either. It sounds very inconvenient.
Ben: Crazy. It's like the nose almost has its own brain. And you get in the book, and we don't have to rabbit hole into this as much because I actually have a few other questions about the nose I want to ask you about, how it may even be influenced by like moon cycles and some of the very interesting kind of ayurvedic research behind how the nose responds to things like environment and moon cycles and all these crazy rhythms, like it's super, super complex and fascinating. And even if folks don't understand the science or the history of it, it should definitely influence people to develop a more intimate, pun intended in this case, connection with their nose. And maybe even some people listening can come up with some kind of a newfangled nose vibrator or something.
But regardless, the other thing about the nose is the right and the left nostril seem to act differently. And I've talked on the show before about alternate nostril breathing, but I didn't realize until I read your book that the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system actually respond differently to left versus right nostril breathing. Can you explain that?
James: Yeah. That's exactly right. And that's one of the reasons you want to let your nostrils do their thing. Your body's responding and it's adjusting itself by that intake of air into one nostril or the other. So, the right nostril is more closely linked to the left brain and it heats your body up. Your heart rate is going to increase, circulation is going to increase, you're going to get warmer. The left nostril cools your body down and your heart rate is going to go lower and it triggers more of a parasympathetic response.
I found this one researcher at UCSD that found this woman with very serious schizophrenia. They adjusted her breathing because she was so left nostril dominant that she was stimulating, they hypothesized her creative brain all the time to hallucinate. So, they switched her breathing and balanced her breathing and she had significantly fewer hallucinations because she was more balanced. So, this stuff is real and there's so much of this in ayurvedic medicine. And so, alternate nostril breathing is just a way of hacking into what your body is already doing and controlling that for a certain setting. Before you eat, you're supposed to breathe through the right nostril to heat your body up. And when you're done eating, you're supposed to breathe through the left nostril to cool yourself down before you go to sleep. So, it's fascinating stuff and there's 1,000 years of at least ayurvedic science behind it, and it's interesting that in just the past few decades, they're showing that there's real facts behind all that.
Ben: Oh, yeah. The yogis seem to repeatedly be found to be pretty far ahead of their time. And as I'm prone to do, because a lot of times, like I'll call bullshit when I'm reading a book if somebody makes a claim like that and actually go dig into the literature. And it turns out, you said ayurvedic medicine or ayurvedic practices, but then if you go to PubMed, there's actual studies, like there's a study in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology about breathing through the different nostril and how that alters metabolism and autonomic activities. And I'll put these studies in the shownotes if people want to check them out.
There's another one that assessed alternate nostril breathing on parasympathetic nervous system. This was like in the past five years. So, I mean, this is stuff that there's actual science behind. And just the idea that you could sit down to a meal–and for example, breathe through your–the right nostril would be parasympathetic, right?
James: Right nostril is sympathetic. You want to heat your body up.
Ben: Right. So, that would be after, that would be after. But you could cover your right nostril, breathe through your left nostril if you want to get into a parasympathetic state, or if you were just stressed out. And so, if you were going to do alternate nostril breathing to control stress, I never thought which nostril you breathe through is important, but it turns out even that is something that should be paid attention to. So, it's just fascinating.
Hey, Ben Greenfield. I want to interrupt real quick because after I recorded this podcast, I realized that I really wanted to clarify something about the right and left nostrils. So, modern western thought is that we should be in a parasympathetic rest and digest state while digesting food. Meaning, we should be breathing from the left nostril. That'd be the cooling or the mellowing nostril. Okay. The left nostril was your parasympathetic nostril. But the yogis actually had a different approach. They thought the body could more efficiently digest food when there was more heat. So, what they prescribe is if you're going to go rest after a meal, say, take a nap after a meal or something like that, you lie on your left side so the right nostril is more naturally open to allow you to breathe through that channel. Meaning, lying on your left side after a meal. If you're going to take a nap after a meal, that would be the right side, which would trigger more of a sympathetic response, and according to the yogis, make digestion more efficient.
And this is something that researchers at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia tested. They fed 20 healthy subjects a high-fat meal. And then after that high-fat meal, they had them lie on their right side on one day, but then on a different day, they had them lie on their left side. So, the people who lied on their left side–lied, lay. The people who lay on their left side after that high-fat meal, breathing primarily through the right nostril, had significantly less heartburn and lower acidity in their throats than the people lying on the right side. And I don't know how they measured heartburn and acidity, but they measured it.
So, then they repeated the study and they got the same results. What they hypothesized is that the extra heating in the body triggered by right nostril breathing increased the rate and efficiency of digestion. There was also a hypothesis that the stomach and the pancreas move into a more natural position for digestion when you are on your left side allowing food to more easily move into your large intestine. So, the study of that or the title of that study was “Influence of spontaneous sleep positions on nighttime recumbent reflux in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease.” There's a mouthful for you. But anyways, so it turns out if you're going to go to sleep after a big meal, lay on your left side. So, there you have it, nifty.
You mentioned some of these ayurvedic practices and how a lot of this comes from ancient Indian literature, but then there was some kind of a tribe. I think it was a Native American tribe that you talked about in the book that–it was this badass tribe with like these barrel chests and amazing bodies and absolutely fantastic physiological function. And they had like a deep-rooted nasal breathing practice.
James: For sure. And I just want to go back for one second. So, there's so much of this stuff. Seems like it's based on conjecture or hypothesis and no one's really going to believe it. And that's what kind of killed me writing this book because I knew I was going to have to do my homework. So, on my website, and this should be up by the time people listen to this, I'm going to have all 600 studies that had been cited in various ways and functions in the book, and including, I went down to this deep dark hole into alternate nostril breathing and found 20 studies. The facts there are now irrefutable. And so, whether or not people want to appreciate them or listen to them is up to them, but just as you had said, this stuff is proven at this time so we can use it or not, and it's just great to have those tools at your disposal. They're right under your nose.
So, again, this stuff has been around in various cultures at various times, and the Native Americans knew about it more than anyone. And it wasn't just one tribe, it was 50 tribes. This guy, George Catlin in the 1930s, got sick of living in western “civilized” society. So, he packed a gun in some canvases and brushes and headed out to the great plains and covered more miles than Lewis and Clark to live with 50 different Native American tribes. What he found was that every single one of these tribes shared nasal breathing as a medicine, to the point where mothers would stand over their infants and close their mouths if ever they were breathing at night with an open mouth, and they'd wrap them in this certain way and put them to sleep on these boards so that it would be harder to breathe through the mouth. And this was shared throughout their lives. They called it the great secret of life is to always breathe out of the nose to the extent where they said this nasal breathing is one of the reasons why your face is balanced and looks good, and is handsome and wide. And we found later that that's 100% true, if you're constantly mouth breathing, your skeletal structure is going to start adjusting in certain ways.
So, just the way in which you breathe can even change the way in which you look. And Catlin even went down to South America at the age of 56 and looked at a bunch of other indigenous cultures and found the exact same thing that breathing was medicine for these people, and it still is.
Ben: Hey, I want to interrupt today's show to tell you about a super fun website where I do the majority of my healthy grocery shopping because they let me get anything guilt-free, keto, paleo, gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, Fair Trade Certified, BPA-free, you name it. And they don't just have pantry items. They've got clean, beauty, and really safe supplements, non-toxic home cleaning supplies, ethical meat, sustainable seafood, incredibly clean wine. It's one of those places that you can go to and just shop. Again, guilt-free because you know everything has been curated by their team. They're called Thrive Market.
And it's very similar to Costco where you get a membership to save a ton of money, but then it's also kind of like Whole Foods where you're actually getting incredibly healthy foods, but at a fraction of the price of what you'd pay at like a natural grocery store, again because you get this membership. The cool thing is the membership you'd think is incredibly expensive, but it comes out for a 12-month membership if you guys use my special code to about five bucks a month, plus they will let you cancel within 30 days if you don't like it and get a full refund. So, it's totally risk-free. So, it's called Thrive Market. These guys have everything, your dark chocolates, your nuts, your clean wines, your beauty products, your home cleaning supplies, you can get it all in one fell swoop. And, to make things easier for you, you get a 20 shopping credit over there, and all you need to do is go to thrivemarket.com/ben. That's thrivemarket.com/ben, $20 in shopping credit, total guilt-free shopping. Their selection is absolutely mind-blowing. So, check these folks out.
The other thing I want to tell you about are these so-called old man socks. I used to wear them all the time when I'm flying airplanes, when I do triathlons, when I'd be using my stand-up desk. But the problem is they look but ugly, they literally do, I'm sorry all my old man listeners, look like old man compression socks. But this company called Comrad, what they did was they took the concept of compression. They upgraded compression by turning it into graduated compression, which gradually milks blood up from your toes all the way up to your calves, your knees, and then back up to your heart.
And then, to put the cherry on the cupcake, they actually made the designs sick. They've got these amazing designs like stripes and different colors, and you can make your own fashion statements, and they just look really good, plus they also feel extremely good, help you bounce back from your workouts more quickly, you avoid those varicose veins from long days of standing or walking, they just work. And Comrad has decided to give all of my listeners 20% off. All you do is go to comradsocks.com/kion, K-I-O-N, comradsocks.com/kion, and use discount code BEN20 at checkout. Use discount code BEN20 at checkout if you go to comradsocks.com/kion. So, check them out. Back to today's show.
You talked in the book about how some of the Plains tribes would strap their infants to a board and put a pillow beneath their heads. Not that I condone that for your children these days to create a posture that would make it harder for them to breathe through the mouth. And I'm curious, you didn't mention a lot about sleeping positions or sleeping postures in the book. But after writing the book, did you do any changes to like your pillow structure or side sleeping versus back sleeping or anything like that?
James: I always sleep with sleep tape. I didn't realize this until I started writing this book that I was a habitual mouth breather at night. So, I use sleep tape every single night. When I don't use it, I wake up my mouth is dry. I'm also a big fan of inclined bed therapy. So, lifting the back of your bed where your head is about seven inches, increases circulation, and also helps to keep your mouth shut, as well sleeping on your side, especially if you feel the onset of pneumonia. And New York Times just had a big article about this a couple days ago that side sleeping is so much better than back sleeping. And this is something that Buteyko, who was this breathing guru from the 1950s, a cardiologist who rediscovered so much of this stuff, found that back sleeping is so bad. So, side sleeping or stomach sleeping is much better from that standpoint.
Ben: I'm going to have to ask another guy that I've had on the show, and I'll find that article, by the way, and link to it for people in the New York Times. I interviewed Peter Martone. Peter developed this thing called Neck Nest, and he came up with the idea for after watching the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” where folks were sleeping with basically like–on their back with a piece of wood under their necks, he developed a pillow that supported the neck in such a posture. I think he calls it the Neck Nest that would allow for proper mouth and nasal alignment while asleep. I think it does some of the stuff that like inclined bed therapy does, but he's a huge proponent of back sleeping. However, I think his twist on it is that you're back-sleeping with your head in kind of a different anatomical position using a special pillow.
James: Well, I think that that would make all the difference, right? And I do know that for people with chronic respiratory problems, back sleeping is a bad idea. So, I know that if you're a healthy person and you really want to sleep on your back, if you really focus on adjusting your neck, then it sounds like that would work. I know a friend of mine had been through three sleep studies. He has sleep apnea, fit dude, surfer, always works out, awful breather at night. So, I simply had him raise his bed and put a couple pillows beneath his neck. And he went from 100 apnea events to zero in a couple of days. And so, this again is like, why is nobody in sleep medicine talking about this stuff? Why don't you start there instead of getting the CPAP on your face? Like, lift your bed up, it's free. Anyone can do it.
Ben: Yeah. For the bed thing, are you just buying on amazon those little–they're like stackers almost that you would put on the back of the posts, if you had a regular bed platform that would just mildly lift the back post of the bed compared to the front post of the bed, or are you talking about getting one of those full-on expensive gravity inclined bed setups?
James: Well, I think all of those would do the same trick. I just went to my library and got a bunch of books that I haven't read in a while and don't really have any interest in reading. The standard oxford dictionary, which is about freaking six inches thick, so I got a few of those. And, I just use books, and I just put them on the back post and it works great. People can buy stuff on Amazon. You can buy the fancy $10,000 version. I'm sure they all work great, but so does a piece of wood or a few books. That's why I think it's–especially with people with snoring, sleep apnea problems. There's really no excuse not to try this. The worst thing that can happen is, oh, that didn't work out too well for me.
James: It didn't cost you anything.
Ben: Yeah. For mouth taping, did you just use a plain old duct tape or a home solution like your cheap ass book solution, or did you use –? There's got on my shelf somewhere back there, some company sent it to me. I'm looking at the–SomniFix. Yeah, SomniFix. You use those?
James: I've tried them. And again, I found that a more simple solution to me personally, worked just as well, I went down to Walgreens and bought some 3M durapore, micropore tape. It's just surgical tape that has a bunch of teeny little holes in it. So, it's easy to go on and off, which is what you want on your lips. You don't want to use duct tape or gorilla tape or any of that kind of tape. You want something that's going to go on very easily and come off very easily. So, I'm a big fan of that stuff. And, if you go on YouTube, you're going to find a whole bunch of different ways of mouth taping. This one guy uses eight pieces of tape every night to create this tape beard that he's a big fan of. I'm not such a big fan of that. I've found a piece of tape the size of a postage stamp just moved, imagine like a Charlie Chaplin mustache, just moved an inch down to your lips, I found that that works great. You just need to remind your body to keep your mouth closed. I don't think you need a huge fat strip from ear to ear. So, just something very–start really small and start with tape that is not super sticky. Trust me on that one. I think, Ben, in your book, you recommended coconut oil or a little bit of olive oil, and that's great. That'll work great.
Ben: Yeah. So, I have a few thoughts. First of all, I'm definitely not going to tape beard because no matter how big my nose boner might be, my wife's just not going to go for the tape beard thing. And then also, I personally–like my take on the mouth breathing while you're sleeping, I think for people with sleep apnea who are severe mouth breathers, it's a good solution. For me, what I used was the solution of teaching myself how to nasal breathe under intense periods of stress. So, I would nasal breathe during 5Ks, I would nasal breathe while training for Spartan races, I would nasal breathe during Tabata sets on an AirDyne, pretty much force myself when my whole body's screaming at me to breathe through my mouth, to breathe through my nose. And there was one device that I used called an Opti–I think it's called an OptiO2 that I'd stick in my mouth that keeps you from breathing through your mouth when you're exercising. And so, I kind of trained myself how to do it during pretty intense periods of stress.
And then, I also would go on really long walks using our mutual friend, Anders Olsson's Relaxator device, which forces you. I actually just got those for my kids, too. So, I'm teaching my kids. We're going on walks now and they each have their own Relaxator, and I'm teaching them how to use it and how to breathe through their nose during the entire walk. And for me, I train myself how to do it so much in a conscious state that–I don't have any issues with sleep apnea. And I've used a pulse ox, I've used the Biostrap monitoring tool, I've used a lot of tools to just make sure that I'm doing okay with snoring or with mouth breathing at night. And I'm fine, but I think that's one solution for people who might not like to sleep with the mouth tape. I know some people, it keeps them awake, but I would just say, teach yourself how to nasal breathe pretty much every other time except when you're asleep, or perhaps when you're eating, and you'll be able to train yourself how to nasal breathe, in my opinion, in many cases.
James: Sure, you can in most cases, but some of this is anatomical, right? Some people who have very strong jaws and have a certain facial structure are going to be much more apt to keep their mouths closed at night. My wife does not need any sleep tape. She sleeps with her mouth shut all the time. So, even though I've trained myself so hard to breathe out of my nose, my mouth still drops open because I think it's just–and this is something I was talking to a surgeon about as well. So, it depends on your jaw size.
So, having said that, you're 100% right with training yourself to nasal breathe all the time, working out at extremely intense rates. I know people are going to think, “Well, how am I going to get enough air in there? How am I going to get enough oxygen?” You have plenty of oxygen. You need to adapt yourself to that increase of CO2. And once you do that, you're going to increase circulation, you're going to get more oxygen, you're going to be able to recover much more easily than you would otherwise.
Ben: Oh, yeah. I mean, you have more oxygen. It may be that you're breathing through smaller holes so to speak, but the nitric oxide release is going to vasodilate the tissues and allow for better oxygen delivery. The drop in cortisol is going to allow for a little bit more hyperoxygenation. The retention of CO2, even if you're breathing less air, will cause more dissociation from the oxygen in the red blood cells into tissue. And so, yeah, you might be breathing less actual air title volume-wise, but you're getting way more oxygen delivery. You're right.
James: One more thing along those lines, a little quickie, is I found it was helpful to convince myself of this to wear a pulse ox while working out. So, I would go on a stationary bike in a gym and just go for it as hard as I possibly could while breathing at a rate of about three times less than I would otherwise, about six breaths a minute. And I found that my O2 stayed consistently at 97% the whole time even though I was breathing three times less. So, it's not an O2 problem, exactly what you said. You get so much more nitric oxide and you're actually increasing the efficiency, slowing your heart rate down so you can push even harder by breathing through your nose. So, there's a zillion benefits to doing it, but that pulse ox trick for people who aren't completely convinced is worth a go.
Ben: Yeah. And by the way, you just brought up respiratory rate, and I think that's something super important to think about in terms of the number of times you breathe per minute. Now, you got into some research in the book that has actually looked at the ideal pace of breathing, and I believe it was based on a lot of these cultures like the Buddhists and Taoists and some Christian, Native American cultures, and all these different breathing patterns for a calming effect or the health effect of a certain breathwork frequency. What did you find in terms of the inhalation/exhalation rhythm or the amount of breaths per minute?
James: Yeah. About 20 years ago, some Italian researchers brought a bunch of subjects into the lab and they hooked them up with every imaginable sensor, and they had them recite the Ave Maria, the Catholic prayer, then they had them recite om mani padme hum, which is a Buddhist chant, most famous Buddhist chant. And they found that it took these people almost exactly 5.5 seconds to inhale and 5.5 seconds to exhale. So, they were breathing at a rate of 5.5 times a minute every time they practice these prayers. Then they looked at Hindu and Taoist, the Native American cultures, the Sa Ta Na Ma or the om, I mean, on and on and almost all of these prayers were locked in at that breathing rate.
They found something amazing when people breathe like this. You don't need to pray to do this. You don't need to chant a Buddhist mantra, although maybe that'll help. But blood flow to the brain increases the systems of the body into a state of coherence where everything's really functioning at peak efficiency, the heart circulation, nervous system, all of that. So, whenever these people went and started spontaneously talking or returning to a different breathing rate, all of that fell apart. Whenever they breathe like that again, it all synced in. So, various researchers and scientists are using this, therapists are using this simple, simple tweak, which is breathing in for about five or six seconds. Don't worry if it's five and a half or six. I mean, anything in the ballpark is good. Breathing out for that same amount of time, if you want to relax yourself a little more, you're going to exhale a little longer.
So, this is something I try to do all the time, especially when I'm working in front of my computer, which is basically all the time, anyway, is to breathe at this rate. And you can instantly, at least I can, instantly feel the benefits of doing this even when you're walking to be breathing at this rate. Don't ever try to stress it or push it or get mad at yourself from missing a second or so. The point is to relax yourself. Let your body function the way it wants to function. That's what breathing at this rate does.
Ben: Yeah. It's so fascinating how all these different cultures kind of settled on that perfect breath weight. It says something for just overall human wisdom and following our natural innate tendencies if we are in an unstressed state and not living surrounded by all this dis-evolution and evolutionary mismatches. So, it's five and a half to six seconds in, five and a half to six seconds out. It makes total sense. And it also begs the question for me when we look at a lot of these rapid breathwork tactics, like Wim Hof breathwork. That's obviously more than five and a half to six in, five and a half to six out, holotropic breathwork like–super-fast, and might fall into the category of over-breathing, which you know is a huge issue in society. Are you concerned about those type of breathwork tactics causing some type of physiological damage because based on everything we've talked about so far, those fly in the face of some of these breathwork tactics?
James: Absolutely not. They are profoundly therapeutic, and this is something that I get into towards the last third of the book where I'm looking at really more extreme breathing techniques, breathwork techniques. The difference is between someone being anxious or panicking or having an asthma attack, they're breathing this way unconsciously. They're–“Oh my god, what am I going to do? I'm late for the meeting. Oh, I hate traffic.” When you consciously put yourself in that state and you consciously put yourself into an extreme state of stress by breathing very heavy, you get control of those functions, which means you know how to turn it on and you know how to turn it off. You can spend the next 23 and a half hours of the day chilling out instead of being semi-stressed. So, I'm a huge fan of Wim Hof method, tummo, whatever you want to call it, kriya, pranayamas, holotropic. I've done all those, I've studied them. And so, to me, it comes down to that one thing. It's conscious versus unconscious. Consciously doing this has huge benefits and it can really shove you into some intense states, mental states, physical states, and all the rest.
Ben: Yeah. It's very interesting because you're essentially doing the exact opposite of what you'd be trying to do if you were, say, nasal breathing during entire night of sleep and focusing on oxygenation because you're exhaling, you're breathing off a bunch of carbon dioxide with most of these forms of breathwork. So, you're narrowing blood vessels, you're decreasing circulation to the brain by an incredible amount. I think in the book you say it's by like 40% that brain blood flow decreases. And so, what happens is that that hallucinatory experience, which is why Stanislav Grof developed holotropic breathwork as an alternative to LSD. And then you, let's say if you're breathing off CO2, then you would be alkalizing the blood.
James: That's exactly right.
Ben: And so, if you're alkalizing the blood, that's essentially causing a little bit of a panic signal. And when you're doing all of that, you're essentially training your body how to be more resilient to stress.
So, the way that I think about this is that everybody says, not everybody, but a lot of people say that the heart is like a battery, it has a finite number of beats over your lifespan. Therefore, creatures with a lower breath rate, a lower metabolic rate, creatures who hibernate often, creatures who do not eat many calories, et cetera, they're going to live a longer time. And then, an exercise enthusiast might hear that and say, “Well, crap, an hour a day, I'm elevating my heart rate, I'm breathing hard, I'm going into a state that's nothing like that low metabolic rate that supposedly sustains lifespan.”
But the way I think about it is those other 23 hours of the day, your heart rate is actually much lower. If your resting heart rate is 40 instead of 70 throughout your entire life despite that hour of exercise during the day, shoving aside, all the grip strength, and the metabolic benefits, and the mitochondrial benefits, et cetera, it actually is going to be a lifespan increasing tactic as long as it's not overdone. Like we know there's a law of increasing mortality with over exercise. I would hypothesize that in folks who do too much Wim Hof, or too much holotropic breathwork, or if that's like a daily staple for them, that that would indeed create an unfavorable scenario.
James: Absolutely. You look at the most fit people, they usually have an extremely low resting heart rate, right? So, you can go out and run a marathon, and then you're not going to run a marathon for five or six hours the next day, and the next day after that. You're going to be recovering. And so, as long as you're recovering with that low resting heart rate, then the beats per day and per year are going to be much lower than someone who is just jacked up on coffee all day, not exercising, just chugging away at 90 beats per minute. So, yeah. And that's what yogis have said, B.K.S. Iyengar said, “A man's life is not measured by his years, it's measured by his breaths.”
So, how we breathe directly affects our heart rate. And the slower we breathe, the slower our heart's going to beat. And that's why those six breaths a minute, try breathing that way and really jacking your heart, it's a really hard thing to do. That's where you want to be. You don't want to create undue stress to your heart. And also, breathing in those long and low breaths are going to activate the diaphragm, which is going to do a lot of the lung work for increasing circulation, for sucking in blood into the thoracic cavity, and then shooting it back out. So, the diaphragm is really a second heart and you need to activate that to release the burden from the heart doing so much of the work.
Ben: It makes total sense. And you talked about one thing in the book that I think a lot of people are probably aware of, and that makes sense intuitively, and that's the idea of when you're eating to chew your food quite often and to consume things that might not always be constantly pulsed or smoothied or in their liquefied, purified form, and even children benefit from some amount of hefty chewing. And the approximate rate of chewing per bite recommended for adults ranges from 25 to 40, which is nowhere near what many people are getting. And you have a fantastic information on chewing in the book about even the release on stem cells, and bone density, and information of teeth in the mouth.
And, that all makes pretty good sense, but then you also talked about something else as a practice that I think might fly under the radar a little bit, and that's the idea of actually allowing the lungs to properly expand through specific stretching or specific therapy work. And one thing you mentioned in the book that I very briefly looked into a while ago–I interviewed a guy named Stephen Cabral, who's an ayurvedic doc. And he was talking about different ayurvedic cleanses. And he mentioned these Tibetans and some moves they do for longevity on a daily basis. I didn't really think about those too much until I got to a section in your book where you were talking about these five Tibetan rites. And I'm curious if those were similar to what Stephen was telling me about because from the way you described it in the book, from what I understand, they're actually like lung expanding or diaphragm expanding stretches.
James: For sure, as is so much of yoga, if you think of all the poses in yoga. You're breathing in in postures that allow your lungs to inflate in a certain way to increase your respiratory health and stretch those muscles. So, these five Tibetan rites have been around for 2,000 years and they're supposed to heal ailments and increase longevity and all that stuff, and it's basic yoga postures, okay? It's downward dogs and you're leaning back, you're leaning forward. And so, you could do those and they certainly work just as any yoga posture works that really allows you to access areas of your lungs and breathe into.
But, what I've found, and there was this study that about 20 years ago, the Framingham study found that the greatest predictor of longevity wasn't genetics or diet or daily exercise, it was lung capacity. Bigger always meant better. It meant that you were going to be living longer. So, whatever it takes to get that lung capacity, you can try the five Tibetan rites, other yoga stuff, you can exercise, stretch out. That's really key. And we're seeing that now with this COVID stuff too, how much respiratory health is affecting people getting the most severe symptoms of this. So, it's vital even if you're not sick, especially if you're not sick, to start working that out now, expanding your lungs and keeping everything flowing.
Ben: Yeah. And these would be difficult to describe on audio, but I found a really fantastic infographic that will show all of you listening in what the five different stretches are. I started to do them in the sauna because I have a little yoga routine I do in the sauna three or four times a week, and I started to sprinkle those in, and they're incredibly opening, like you're expanding–I think it's important to actually do the deep diaphragmatic breathing as you're doing them, just as you would do during any proper yoga practice. But, the five Tibetan longevity exercise is absolutely fascinating.
I mean, if you're doing the mouth taping or the nasal breathing or any of the other tactics that we talk about in this interview or in James' book, and you're working in maybe here and there, a little bit of Wim Hof work or holotropic breathwork, it's kind of that over-breathing scenario. I think a couple other things that are incredible would just be chewing your food 25 to 40 times per bite, and then maybe on a daily basis, ducking away for 10 minutes and doing these Tibetan longevity exercises. I think that's a great tool for anybody who wants to turn themselves into a little breathwork ninja.
Now, another thing is a hypoventilation training, hypoventilation training. I have a kettlebell coach, Joe DiStefano, and he's training me right now for the Russian Kettlebell Certification. And, he's actually very into breathwork. His wife is a kundalini yoga instructor. And he has me, as one of my warm-ups on the AirDyne, at the 20-second mark, at the 40-second mark, and at the 60-second mark while pedaling at a decent pace like a 60 RPM pace doing a full exhale and holding for as long as possible, which after reading your book, I get the impression it's kind of similar to like hypoventilation training. But how would you personally describe this idea of hypoventilation?
James: It's by just breathing less when you're exercising. So, there's a bunch of different ways to do this, but that's the main premise behind it. I would suggest not pushing yourself really hard unless you're jogging on grass because you can get really dizzy doing this. But what I thought was so fascinating about all of this exercise and this philosophy is that again, it had been around for decades and decades. Emil Zátopek, which is considered the greatest runner of all time, used this to become a complete badass in the Olympics, winning golds in events he had never even trained in before. And then the U.S. men's swim team at the Montreal Olympics used it to do the greatest performance ever of a U.S Olympic swim team.
And so, it got a lot of this training, got really pooh-poohed in the '90s where researchers looked at it and they said, “Oh, this doesn't work. This is a big placebo effect. Don't do it.” Since then, other researchers had looked at those pooh-poohers and found that they were completely wrong. There are so many benefits to breathing less, into training yourself to breathe less. And you get into some of this, Ben, in your book of how you can increase–it's basically altitude training, but you can do it anywhere. So, all the benefits you're getting from altitude training, you're going to be able to get by just training yourself to breathe less.
Ben: Right. And it's dry land. This is not stuff you have to do underwater. I mean, you have to go to Laird Hamilton‘s house and do his underwater pool workout or join–something I discovered yesterday that you–I would guess you already know about this, James. Have you heard of the Underwater Torpedo League?
James: I think I've heard about it, yeah. And by the way, I just want to give a big warning. Do not push your breath-holds underwater without supervision, people. Super stupid idea. Don't do it. I'm talking about jogging on a lawn, on a beach, on sand, somewhere soft, and definitely get a trainer to help you out with this.
You can increase VO2 max with hypoventilation training, you can increase red blood cells on and on and on. It's great, it sucks, it's super painful and boring and miserable, but the effects, the benefits are pretty pronounced. So, back to torpedoes.
Ben: So, the Underwater Torpedo League, you go to go–I think it's utlnation.com. I think it was like Men's Health Magazine or Men's Journal did a story on it, but it's essentially water polo using this fast-moving underwater torpedo, all underwater, all the same rigors, the wrestling, the physical contact of water polo, team against team using this underwater torpedo. I already filled out the contact form on their website to find out if there's any leagues up here in Spokane, Washington, which I doubt they're probably on like L.A. and San Diego. But I think you would probably find it pretty fascinating, James. It's literally a full-on water polo game that takes place underwater. So, that's kind of the extremes of hypoventilation training.
James: Yes, underwater hockey. And they actually have this at a pool near–I'm sure someone claimed a different name so they can have their own league or whatever. But this has been going on for a long time. There's a pool very close to my house where these guys have been over and over trying to get me to go down there. If you want to increase your breath-holds and get better at freediving, that's the best way of doing it, and you're around a really supportive group. It's supposed to be pretty brutal, but it has definitely piqued my interest. So, it's on my list.
Ben: Yeah. And when you first start this type of hypoventilation training, especially during exercise–I'll also warn people in addition to being careful, maybe doing a bike instead of a treadmill, or like you say, on soft grass or at a golf course if you're going to do it while running. You do get a little bit of a headache, like the carbon dioxide increases because you're retaining a bunch of it, and then you get that increased amount of oxygen dissociating from your red blood cells in the tissue and the vasodilation into the brain. You get so full of blood that your nervous system starts to send pain signals, like it's pretty crazy when you first start to do it.
James: For sure. And that brings up something else about Wim Hof method, and tummo, and kriya, that almost all of these ancient methods, not holotropic breathing where you're just going balls to the wall for three hours, but all of the ancient versions of these very vigorous pranayamas. They have you breathe very hard for a certain amount of time, then they have you breathe either very slow or they hold your breath. So, all of them do this and they do it for a reason because you off-gas all that CO2 when you're breathing very, very heavy, and then when you hold your breath or breathe slowly, all that CO2 comes back up to release all of that oxygen into tissues and muscles and organs. So, that's why I think it works. It's that ebb and flood of oxygen and CO2, and manipulating that to maximize both of those gases in your body.
I do Wim Hof‘s method a few times a week. I love it and I always feel that rush of circulation, not when I'm breathing heavy, but when I'm holding my breath. And that CO2 increases and all that oxygen is able to be free throughout my body. So, it's interesting. That's another parallel, kriya does the exact same thing, tummo, the same thing, on and on and on. And I think they all do the same thing for a reason because they found for thousands and thousands of years that this was so therapeutic and effective.
Ben: You've used the word tummo a few times. Some people might not be familiar with that term.
James: It is the inner heat meditation. There are different versions of tummo. This is basically what Wim Hof method does, but Wim was not the only westerner to figure out tummo. It's been around for a long time and he's done more for breathing awareness than anyone else on the planet today. I really believe that. And seeing the people absolutely transformed from taking up his method is so inspiring to me. But it was interesting to me to find that there was another cat in the 1930s. He was born in 1931. His name is Maurice Dubar, and he had pleurisy and lung infections and tuberculosis. And by his 20s, he was left for dead in the hospital. Doctors had given up. And this missionary came in and said, “Hey, I've heard this thing called yoga and breathing might help.”
So, Dubar trained himself to breathe. He trained himself in tummo. And a few years later, he was completely healed, not only that, but he gained a superhuman strength and basically did everything that Wim did, but 30 years before, sat in an ice bath for an hour, ran 150 miles through the Sahara Desert over six days. At the age of 72, went on a bike ride in the Himalayas at altitudes of 18,000 feet. So, it just shows that this is really an ancient knowledge that we've had in various cultures, various religions, but they've all come to the same conclusions over and over again. And to me, that just shows how valid this stuff is. Now, we have scientific measurements and machines and sensors to show what happens in the body, and all of that is validating what these older cultures have known for thousands of years.
Ben: And anybody can do it. You're going to kick out of this, and this was totally not planned. I am in my office right now. I'm looking at my office window. My twin boys, River and Terran, the same guys who also read this book “Breath“. They're outside right now doing their workout. They get a workout document that I send to them each week. And sometimes it's balance exercises, sometimes it's breathing exercises, sometimes it's rope climbs, but they're literally doing their workout right now. I can see them out by the cold tub, this cold tub called the Morozko Forge, and you absolutely have to like breakthrough a thin layer of ice on top to get in.
And their workout today is two minutes Wim Hof, hold the exhale. Once the exhale is done and any dizziness is gone, they're getting in the cold pool, they stay in this cold tub, which is at about 33 degrees for 90 seconds, get out, 30 push-ups, and they do three rounds of that. And I guarantee, my children's nervous system is going to be so much more resilient than mine ever was. And they're literally doing this right now. I'm looking out my window and they're out there at the cold pool. And, I'd forgotten I signed them that workout today, but it's reminding me how anybody, if a little 12-year-old boy can do that type of thing, anybody can start to train themselves in like Wim Hof, in holotropic, in nasal breathing, in the five and a half to six seconds in, five and a half to six seconds out using something like the Relaxator on walks. I mean, this stuff you can start into if you're freaking 70 years old and start to better yourself. So, I mean, it's so valuable. And again, this book I think is indispensable.
Now, I would be remiss, because we touched on it when we first started our show, if I didn't bring up carbon dioxide because kind of like Scott Carney talked about in his book “Wedge”, you talked about carbon dioxide in your book. I believe you referred to something called Meduna's mixture and this idea of carbon dioxide therapy. Get into carbon dioxide. Explain that to people.
James: Sure. Well, I think we've established how important it is to have the right balance of CO2 and O2 in our bodies. That's a known thing, but about 100 years ago, people started hacking into that and they're like, “Well, what if we sort of forced more CO2 into someone's body, especially someone who was deficient or had mental problems or physical problems?” So, this research started in Roya in the French Alps where they were finding people with asthma and eczema and various skin diseases, respiratory problems. They would put them in these carbon dioxide pools and they would show these amazing recoveries. People with gout who hadn't been able to walk for years and years were out hiking two weeks later. So, they thought, “Well, it's hard to get a bunch of people to go up to the French Alps to bathe in these pools. So, what if we just had them inhale CO2?”
And this stuff was huge in the '20s. They were using it for epilepsy, which worked fantastically. They were using it for schizophrenia, which worked great. Fire trucks in New York and Chicago and other major cities had CO2 tanks on their trucks to help people who had suffered from heart attacks or strokes or asphyxia on and on and on. And then all of this stuff disappeared. I'm sure that listeners now can see this ongoing pattern that I just kept finding over and over. It disappeared and all those people were given tranquilizers instead, which would help with the symptoms but did nothing to address the core problem.
So, what they found was having this huge dose of CO2, like 30% CO2 with the rest oxygen was able to open up these dormant areas of the brain that were misfiring or that were static, not functioning properly, and it allowed them to open and function normally again. And so, what I've seen, and this is something that's just starting to happen right now, there's an NIH researcher, Justin Feinstein, great dude out of the Laureate Institute of Brain Research.
Ben: I'm familiar.
James: He's now looking at inhaled CO2 for anxieties, and he's finding the preliminary research so far is that it has a very promising effect on people because people with anxieties, even with asthma, with panic problems, they're breathing way too much, which means their CO2 is way too low. By increasing that, it allows them to mellow out and breathe normally again. So, it's like these crazy breath-holds, but you don't need to hold your breath. You just walk in, inhale some CO2, and it does all that for you.
Ben: Gosh, don't you just love technology? We don't even need to do holotropic breathwork. What you do is you get a DMT vape pen. And then for the carbon dioxide tolerance, you just hook up with Feinstein's lab and maybe have him send you some type of CO2 inhalation device. Who needs to do the hard work? Get a tummy tuck if you're getting too fat and —
James: For people who are self-motivated, right, you don't need this, you need your lips, you need your nose, you need your lungs. But there's a lot of people out there who, they aren't going to show up and do their 20 minutes of breathwork. And so, that's why I think these hacks for them, not for everyone else, but for these people, it can really help them out. It can give them that boost they need to get their stuff together to be able to think clearly to heal them. And that's why I think it's so important, and it's better than keeping someone on SSRIs for 30 years. Why not try this first and see how that affects them?
Ben: Yeah, yeah. In a couple of things, first of all, as you were discussing carbon dioxide, I realized, I think I referred to it as respiratory alkalosis, it would actually be respiratory acidosis. I think that was a misstatement on my part. When you're retaining carbon dioxide, it would be acidosis, not alkalosis. It would be basically like hypercapnia.
James: Low is acid and high is alkaline.
Ben: Right. Yeah. So, I misspoke several minutes ago when I said that just so folks know. No need to leave me nasty comments on the shownotes. Not that anyone ever does that. The other thing is that, related to this idea of biohacking your way into these states with like carbon dioxide inhalers or DMT vape pens versus learning how to do breathwork and “the hard work” to do it, I think there is also something to be said for this idea that it's about the journey, not the destination. And, I think that there's a great deal of mental and emotional power that you develop by being comfortable with the breathwork, by putting in the hard work, and by–rather than getting the calf implants, do calf raises and you'll be a better person as a result. So, that's kind of my take on the use of some of these biohacks rather than just doing the hard work.
James: I absolutely agree with you. And to me, it's not asking you to do too much. Breathing's easy. It doesn't take much time, and it grounds you, it connects you to other people, connects you to the planet, other animals. I mean, to me, it's an anchor, especially in these really stressful times to be able to pause for a moment, breathe, reconnect with yourself and have a greater view of everything else that's happening around you.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Well, this book I think is going to do people a lot of good, “The New Science of a Lost Art“. And like I said, all the shownotes are at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/lostart. It's a must-read. I realize you may feel like you got a lot of it from listening to this podcast, but we didn't even delve into half the stuff in the book. So, not only that, but there's also some fantastic resources throughout the book for taking a deeper dive, as well as a lot of kind of practical instructions in the appendix for yogic breathing, for box breathing, for breath-hold walking, for 4-7-8 breathing. So, a lot of really good stuff in here. You've even got a great tip for decongesting the nose, which I tried a couple of times and it works fantastically.
So, folks, the book just came out the time we're recording this and it's called “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art.”
Ben: Breath, sorry, Breath.
Ben: That's right. Breathe would be with an “E”, “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art“. And by the way, if you go to the shownotes at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/lostart, also, if you have a chance, listen to the freediving episode that I did with James because in my opinion, it was equally as entertaining as I hope today's show was, and I think you'll get a lot out of that too because I certainly did. So, James, dude, thanks for coming back on the show.
James: Thank you so much, Ben. Always a pleasure.
Ben: Yes, sir. And folks, thank you for listening in and until next time. I'm Ben Greenfield along with James Nestor signing out from BenGeenfieldFitness.com. Have an amazing week.
Well, thanks for listening to today's show. You can grab all the shownotes, the resources, pretty much everything that I mentioned over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, along with plenty of other goodies from me, including the highly helpful “Ben Recommends” page, which is a list of pretty much everything that I've ever recommended for hormone, sleep, digestion, fat loss, performance, and plenty more. Please, also, know that all the links, all the promo codes, that I mentioned during this and every episode, helped to make this podcast happen and to generate income that enables me to keep bringing you this content every single week. When you listen in, be sure to use the links in the shownotes, use the promo codes that I generate, because that helps to float this thing and keep it coming to you each and every week.
I first interviewed today's guest, immersive journalist James Nestor, about freediving in the episode “The Extreme Sport You’ve Probably Never Heard Of, And How You Can Use Its Renegade Techniques To Become Superhuman.” It was such an exciting and intriguing show that afterward, I wound up traveling all the way to Ft. Lauderdale to take a freediving course, which absolutely changed my life (you can learn more about that in my episode with Ted Harty, “The Ultimate Guide To Freediving, Legal Blood Doping, Wim Hof Breathing, Increasing Your Breathhold Time, Underwater Ear Equalizing, Spearfishing & Much More!“.
Today James is back to talk about something we all do 25,000 times a day, yet most of us do it incorrectly or haven't even begun to tap into its lost art. That's right. I'm talking about breathing.
In his new book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, James travels the world to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. The answers aren’t found in pulmonology labs, as we might expect, but in the muddy digs of ancient burial sites, secret Soviet facilities, New Jersey choir schools, and the smoggy streets of São Paulo. Nestor tracks down men and women exploring the hidden science behind ancient breathing practices like Pranayama, Sudarshan Kriya, and Tummo and teams up with pulmonary tinkerers to scientifically test long-held beliefs about how we breathe.
Modern research is showing us that making even slight adjustments to the way we inhale and exhale can jumpstart athletic performance; rejuvenate internal organs; halt snoring, asthma, and autoimmune disease; and even straighten scoliotic spines. None of this should be possible, and yet it is.
Drawing on thousands of years of medical texts and recent cutting-edge studies in pulmonology, psychology, biochemistry, and human physiology, James turns the conventional wisdom of what we thought we knew about our most basic biological function on its head. You will never breathe the same again after hearing this podcast.
During this discussion, you'll discover:
-The breathwork protocol James begins his day with…7:41
- Static tables
- Long exhales and inhales
- Great for parasympathetic response
- Increases circulation
- Increasing tolerance for CO2
-Why James views breath as the “missing pillar” of health…9:55
- Gives a better measurement of fitness and health
- Doctors view breath as binary
- Breath is a nuanced function of the body
- “How we breathe is just as important as what we eat, how much we exercise, genetics, etc.”
- James' discoveries are not new; they're simply forgotten over and over
- COVID-19 will hopefully cause people to rethink the importance of breath
-What James views as the “dis-evolution” of breathing…14:15
- “Dis-evolution” was coined by Harvard biologist Daniel Lieberman
- Humans are the worst breathers in the animal kingdom
- Old skulls at the Morton Collection at the University of Pennsylvania compared to modern skulls:
- 90% of us have small mouths
- Sinuses are smaller
- Chronic sinusitis, snoring, sleep apnea
- Industrialization of the food chain is a factor
- Evolution is not “survival of the fittest”; it's about change, and humans have changed for the worse
- The lifestyle changes in the last 400 years have been too rapid for the human body to properly adapt
-The truly awful effects of mouth breathing…18:38
- We breathe in unfiltered, dry, irritating air through the mouth
- Ran a little experiment with Dr. Jayakar Nayak of Stanford Univ.
- Anders Olsson, author of the book Conscious Breathing
- James Nestor and Anders Olsson completed an experiment where they breathed only through their mouth for 20 days:
- Snoring increased 1300% the first night
- Blood pressure shot up
- Stage 2 hypertension
- Follow up study on breathing only through the nose:
- Snoring disappeared completely
- Zero sleep apnea events
- Blood pressure normalized
- HRV increased
-The unusual connection between the clitoris and the nose…24:11
- Nose and clitoris are made of erectile tissue
- The nose gets “erections” all throughout the day
- Nostrils open and close throughout the day
- Helps heat or cool the body
- Activates various hormones
- Similar to an HVAC system for the body
- Alterations to the nose were performed to repress sexual urges
-How the left and right nostrils activate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems…27:44
- Right nostril is linked more to the left brain; vice versa with the left nostril
- Woman with serious schizophrenia became relatively normalized with alterations in nostril breathing
-Healthy breathing practices of Native American and indigenous South American populations…30:50
- George Catlin left “civilized society” in the 1830s to live with over 50 Native American tribes
- They all used nose breathing as a form of therapy
- “Great secret of life” is to breathe through the nose
- Key to facial symmetry
- Went to S. America to study indigenous cultures and found similar results
-How to stop mouth breathing, increase circulation, and get better sleep…37:06
- Sleep with sleep tape every night
- Incline bed therapy increases circulation
- Side or stomach sleeping is far preferable to back sleeping (if you're healthy)
- BGF podcast with Peter Martone (an advocate for back sleeping)
- Neck Nest, invented by Peter Martone (use code GREENFIELD2019 to get a custom pillowcase and Dr. Sleep Right's 30 Day Sleep Quest)
- Mouth taping:
- OptiO2 to prevent breathing through the mouth while exercising (website is not yet open, check back)
- Relaxator device
- Individual anatomy is a big factor in the ability to practice nose breathing while sleeping
-What other cultures and religions can teach us regarding the ideal pace of breathing…47:08
- Italian researchers observed consistent patterns in subjects engaged in prayer from various religions
- Spontaneous dialogue caused the breathing patterns to vary widely
- Focus on breathing in ~5-6 seconds; exhale slightly longer than the inhale
- Rapid breathing tactics (Wim Hof) are profoundly therapeutic
- Rapid breathing brought on by anxiety or panic is involuntary
- Voluntary rapid breathing enables you to gain control over your breath
- Holotropic breathwork
- Breathing off CO2 results in alkalizing the blood
- Key point: Controlled rapid breathing (exercise or rapid breathing techniques) results in overall health and control over the body and mind
- A man's life is not measured by his years, it's measured by his breaths
-Tibetan “rites” that help expand the lungs and diaphragm…56:47
- BGF podcast with Stephen Cabral
- Heal ailments, increase longevity, etc.
- The rites are made up of basic yoga postures that we're familiar with
- Greatest predictor of longevity is lung capacity
- Respiratory health is a hot topic in the age of COVID-19
- Infographic showing the 5 stretches
-How hypoventilation can improve breath…1:00:02
- BGF podcast with Joe DiStefano
- Hypoventilation simply means less breathing
- Olympic athletes have used it with great efficacy
- Mimicking altitude training
- Underwater Torpedo League
- Always do hypoventilation under supervision or with a trainer
-The Tummo method of breathing…1:06:30
- Tummo – “Inner heat” meditation
- Maurice Dubar went from left for dead to superhuman strong practicing Tummo
- Morozko Forge (use code BENFORGE to get $150 off the retail price for any Forge)
-How to biohack your breathwork…1:09:55
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
– Podcasts mentioned in this episode:
– Previous podcasts about breathing:
- with James Nestor: The Extreme Sport You’ve Probably Never Heard Of, And How You Can Use It’s Renegade Techniques To Become Superhuman.
- with Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reece: Anti-Aging, Homeschooling, Underwater Workouts, Pooping & More With Laird Hamilton & Gabby Reece
- with Ted Harty: The Ultimate Guide To Freediving, Legal Blood Doping, Wim Hof Breathing, Increasing Your Breathhold Time, Underwater Ear Equalizing, Spearfishing & Much More!
- with Ted Harty: Freediving, Breathholding, Iceman Wim Hof, Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible Training, How To Use Static Apnea Tables & More!
- with Patrick McKeown: Maximize Oxygen Utilization Efficiency, Simulate High Altitude Training, Get The Cardiovascular Capacity of a Navy SEAL & More With “The Oxygen Advantage” Author Patrick McKeown.
- with Wim Hof: Conquer The Cold And Get Quantum Leaps In Performance In This Exclusive Interview With The Amazing Iceman Wim Hof.
- with Wim Hof: The Iceman Returns: Wim Hof On Climbing Frigid Mountains In Underwear, Eating Only Once A Day, Activating Hormones With Breathing & More.
- with Brian Mackenzie: How To Hold Your Breath For Four Minutes, Training Mask Myths, Performance Breathing & More With Brian Mackenzie.
- with Dr. Belisa Vranich: Pee Strips, Power Lungs & Pulse Oximeters: How To Flip The Switch On Your Body’s Own Natural Ability To Heal Itself (& Little-Known Ways To Breathe Better).
- How Breath-Holding, Blood-Doping, Shark-Chasing, Free-Diving & Ketosis Can Activate Your Body’s Most Primal Reflex.
- Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor (other books by James Nestor)
- Conscious Breathing by Anders Olsson
- The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown (other books by Patrick McKeown)
– Gear and Equipment:
- Neck Nest (use code GREENFIELD2019 to get a custom pillowcase and Dr. Sleep Right's 30 Day Sleep Quest)
- SomniFix mouth tape
- 3M micropore tape
- OptiO2 (check back, their website is opening soon)
- Incline Bed Therapy tools on Amazon
- Biostrap for sleep monitoring
- Morozko Forge (use code BENFORGE to get a $150 off the retail price for any Forge)
– Other resources:
- Coconut Oil
- Olive Oil
- Wim Hof breathing tutorial video on Youtube
- Tummo “inner fire” meditation
- Stephen Cabral's Infographic showing the 5 stretches
- The Underwater Torpedo League
- Study: Assessment of the Effects of Pranayama/Alternate Nostril Breathing on the Parasympathetic Nervous System in Young Adults
- Study: Breathing Through a Particular Nostril Can Alter Metabolism and Autonomic Activities
- The 5 Tibetan Longevity Stretches
- Justin Feinstein's carbon dioxide research in the lab
–Kion Flex: The ultimate recovery formula, Kion Flex is a bioavailable blend to support joint comfort, mobility and flexibility, and bone health. Ben Greenfield Fitness listeners, receive a 20% discount off your entire order at Kion when you use discount code BGF20.
–Butcher Box: Delivers healthy 100% grass-fed and finished beef, free-range organic chicken, and heritage breed pork directly to your door on a monthly basis. All their products are humanely raised and NEVER given antibiotics or hormones. For 2 lbs of 100% grass-fed beef and 2 lbs of pure bacon for FREE, PLUS $20 off your first box go to ButcherBox.com/BEN OR enter promo code BEN20 at checkout.
–Thrive Market: Organic brands you love, for less. Your favorite organic food and products. Fast and free shipping to your doorstep. Receive a gift card for $20 when you begin a new membership using my link.
–Comrad Socks: Seriously comfortable compression socks designed to support your every move. Receive 20% off your Comrad purchase when you use discount code BEN20.