Welcome to Pushing the Limits, the show that helps you reach your full potential with your host, Lisa Tamati. Brought to you by lisatamati.com.
Lisa Tamati: Well, hi, everyone. Welcome back to Pushing the Limits in this new year. I hope you're enjoying yourself. You've had a good break over the holidays, and I have a fantastic guest today. Wow, this guy is insane. So his name is James Nestor, and he is an author, New York Times best selling author, Wall Street Journal best selling author, London Times New York Times bestselling author of a book called Breathe. So it's all about breathing. You might think, how the hell do you write a book on breathing. But I tell you, this is going to be a really exciting interview, and you're going to learn so much that you wish you'd been taught years ago.
He's also the author of Deep, another best selling book that he did on freediving. And he's a filmmaker and science writer for many of the science magazines. Now in this book Breathe. He explores the million year long history of how the human species has lost the ability to breathe properly. And why we're suffering from a laundry list of maladies from snoring to sleep apnea to asthma to autoimmune diseases and allergies. And in this, on this journey in this book, which was absolutely fascinating. He travels the world and spends a decade in the attempt to figure out what went wrong and how do—we fix it.
And, you know, the links that the sky week two—for his research has just absolutely next level. I really enjoyed doing this interview with James. He's an incredible person. And just so very, very interesting. So I hope you enjoy the show. Before we head over to speak with James in San Francisco, just like to remind you to do a rating and review if you came for the show. This is a labour of love. And it really really helps the show get out there if you can give us a rating and review, either on iTunes or wherever you're listening to this podcast. Or if you can't work it out, just send me an email with it. And we'll gladly receive those as well.
And if you want to reach out to me if you've got any ideas for podcasts, or people that you would like to see on here, or if you have a question, health question, if you want help with health journey, health optimisation, epigenetics, run coaching, that's our day job. That's what we do for a living. And that's what we are passionate about. And that's what we love. So if you're having trouble with a tricky health issue, if you wanting high-performance, if you're wanting to do that next ultramarathon or first run your first five-kilometer race, whatever the case may be, please reach out to us, email@example.com. And you can find all our programs also on that website, as well as this podcast and lots of other goodies. So I hope you enjoy this interview with James Nestor. Over to the show now and thanks for listening.
Lisa: Well, hi everyone and welcome back to Pushing the Limits. It's fantastic to have you with me and I am jumping out of my skin for excitement today because I have someone that I've been just so looking forward to interviewing. An amazing author, James Nestor, who is going to be sharing his research and his book, which is really a game-changer. Breathe is the name of the book. And James is coming to us all the way from San Francisco today. So welcome to the show, James. Fabulous to have you.
James Nestor: Thank you for having me.
Lisa: So James, can you just give us a bit of a background into your—who you are in your background? And how the heck did you end up writing a book about breathing? And why do we need to know about it?
James: So I'm a journalist, and I write for science magazines and outdoor magazines. I've been doing that for years and years and years. And I think the real jumping off point for me was when I was sent out to go to Greece to write about the world freediving championship. And even though I've spent my life near the ocean, I'm a surfer. I'm a swimmer and body surfer, all that, I had never really spent too much time under the ocean. And I had never seen anyone freedive before because the water is very cloudy here on the West Coast. There's not a lot of places to do this. So I remember going out in this boat, it was the first day of the competition and just watching these people take a single breath and go down 300, 400 feet on a single dive there. And come back four minutes later and—just it was like they we're answering emails just like.
Okay, next up, back for lunch. It was what the hell is going on here? I had understood that this was absolutely impossible. And yet here these people vary sizes, various forms - big, tall, large, small, all that - that had mastered this thing. And I got to be friends with a few of them who took me into this other side of freediving outside of the competitive freediving, which I just thought was pretty insane. And they allowed me to understand free diving as this meditation. And of course, breathing is at the core of this meditation. And by mastering the sort of breathing we can not only dive deep, but we can heat ourselves up, heal ourselves and do so many other things.
Lisa: Wow, so that was the jumping off point in, for those interested. Yeah, I've taken an interest in freediving too. And my gosh, what they do is pretty next level, insane. I don't think I'm crazy enough to really have a go at it. To be fair, but absolute admiration for what they do and how they do it, in—the everything that they have to overcome. But okay, so if we just jump in now, the into—how does we know? What can we learn from these free divers and other traditional breathing techniques? And why is it important for the everyday person to be understanding how the breath works in the physiology, which we'll get into which I found absolutely mind blowing and thought, why is nobody told me this? And why did—why does, why should someone listening to this actually be interested?
James: So the free divers told me that the only way to hold your breath is to master this art of breathing. And it was also something interesting to see all of these different people. And they all had these enormous chest, they had expanded their lung capacity. Some people double the average adult lung capacity by forcing. Well, they were not born this way. So it made me think about how malleable the body is depending on what inputs we give to it. And so I got back to San Francisco, and I wrote another book that featured freedivers. But in the back of my mind, that book was called Deep. And it looks at the human connection from the very surface to the very bottom of the deepest sea, magnetoreception echolocation all that.
But as I was researching that book, and writing, I just kept finding more and more information about breathing, about how so many of us in the West, including in the medical world view breathing as just this binary thing. As long as we were breathing, we're healthy, and we're alive. When you're not breathing, that's bad, your dad or you have a serious problem. But that is such the wrong way of looking at this. It's like saying, as long as you are eating, you're getting food, you're getting nutrients. But it's what you eat. That's so important. And it's how you breathe. That's so important.
So I was lucky enough to then meet a bunch of leading experts in this field who have been studying this stuff for decades, even publishing in these weird scientific journals. No one's been reading their stuff. I thought, why the hell hasn't anyone told me this? Like, I'm middle aged, I've been mouth breathing, through most of my life. I've been whenever I was working out or surfing, I'm just thinking I'm getting more oxygen in. And this is so damaging to the body, and no one was talking about it.
So this book took me so long, because I couldn't understand why some researchers on one side were saying how you breathe has no effect on your asthma, has no effect on your body, on your brain. And this other side was saying they're 100% wrong. Here's all the data. So it was going through all that and weeding through all that that took me a while. But I think at the end, I finally found the truth behind all of this.
Lisa: He certainly did. And the book is such a deep deep dive like you know, and I've been talking to some friends about you know, reading this book and, and everything. How can you have a whole book on breathing? And I'm like, you have no idea. You could probably write 10 books on breathing and it's so powerful. And as an athlete I've, you know, I was just saying to you prior to the recording, I've spent my entire life as an asthmatic since I was two years old. I have a very small lung capacity. I have a low VO2 max, despite that I decided to become an endurance athlete. Go figure that one out, got some mental issues, obviously.
But I'd spent my entire athletic career breathing in my mouth in places like Death Valley, in the Sahara, in the Himalayas, and altitude, and you know, freezing cold temperatures. And all of the problems that that brought and so this book has been a life-changing thing for me personally. Unfortunately, I'm no longer a competitive athlete bagger. You know, like I didn't get the memo back then. But now training hundreds of athletes. Wow, I can start to influence them and change them and are already started to adopt some of the information into the programs that we're using. So super powerful information, and in really important. So, okay, now let's go into a little bit—the physiology of breath because we sort of think if I take deep breaths, and breathe often in faster, if I'm running, then I'm going along. I'm getting as much oxygen as my body can get. Why is that completely upside down?
James: That is upside down. And it's so counterintuitive. It took me months to get my head around this, even though we've known these scientific papers were published on this 115 years ago, showing very clearly that you need a balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen to operate effectively and efficiently. And when we breathe too much, we can offload too much CO2, which actually makes it harder for us to bring oxygen throughout the body.
If you don't believe me right now, you can breathe 20 or 30, heavy breaths. You might feel some tingling in your fingers or some lightness in your head. This is not from an increase of oxygen to these areas, but a decrease of circulation.
James: Because you need a balance of CO2, for circulation, for vasodilation. This is—it is integral to providing blood and nutrients to our body. And for some reason, as Westerners we just think more is better, more is always more. That is not the way of the proper way of thinking about this when you talk about breathing, you want to breathe as closely in line with your metabolic needs as possible. Why would you?
It's like being in a car. Why would you be revving the motor? Everywhere you're going, I had a stop sign just revving the motor. When you were over breathing. That's exactly what you're doing. You're causing a bunch of wear and tear on your heart on your vascular system. And you're sending stress in those—to your mind. People like you are very strong willed and we'll fight through it right you'll just keep going you're in pain, I don't care. I'm gonna finish this race. I'm gonna make it happen. Compensation is different than health. Oh, and and so this is why so many professional athletes, they'll be really good for a few years. The minute they stopped, diabetes, chronic health problems. Our body..
Lisa: Thyroid, diabetes, metabolic problems. Yeah, like no hell, you've spent your life being a disciplined athlete. I'm struggling with hypothyroid, for example, and high blood sugars. And I'm lean and I'm, you know, it's like what the heck. Like, wow. And I hope through the breathing in some of the other stuff that I'm doing that I can remove some of the damage because you're because it is so counterintuitive. So that carbon dioxide there was a real mind bender for me, because I've always understood carbon dioxide as a negative thing. You know, we want to breathe it out. We want to get it out of the system. That's the end result of you know, what do you call it the electron chain in the ATP production, and we're producing this carbon dioxide, we're gonna give it out.
And that's not the case, isn't it? It's a controller of the acidity in the blood is something that we want to train, our chemoreceptors need to be trained in order to be able to tolerate more carbon dioxide. So this just dive into the winds a little bit on the actual physiology that I've just touched on the air so that we can actually get to the bottom of this carbon dioxide, your mind bender, really.
James: So when we take breath in, it enters into our lungs and the bronchioles, to these little air sacs, the alveoli, and from there it goes through various layers and enters into red blood cells. The vast majority of oxygen enters into red blood. So there's some free floating but not much. So in those red blood cells or something like 270 million hemoglobin, and so then it enters into this hemoglobin. And it's, you know, it's funny, why would when we're working out, why would we get more oxygen in one area than another? So CO2 is the signaling molecule. So where oxygen is going to detach is an areas where there is CO2, and oxygen isn't going to attach otherwise. So you need this healthy balance of CO2, we have 100 times more CO2 in our bodies than we do oxygen.
James: Okay, so this is this very carefully controlled system that needs to be in balance, and our bodies are so wonderful at keeping us alive. So when we become imbalanced, all these other things happen. If we become too acidic, we'll learn to breathe more, right? We’ll trigger that if we become too alkaline, our kidneys will release bicarbonate. So all of this is incredible and so important.
Compensation, different than health. We can compensate for a very long time. Imagine you can live maybe 40 years eating garbage crap food eating Fritos. That doesn't mean you're healthy. No offense to Fritos. Delicious, absolutely delicious. But, you know, it doesn't mean you're healthy. So…
James: ...the reason why you have to understand this balance of CO2 and oxygen is because you can't just understand CO2 as a waste product. It's still considered this a medical school. Yeah, you don't need it. But people who study this know that is—it's absolutely essential to have that balance, you don't want too much. But you don't want too little. You want your body to be able to operate at peak efficiency without having to go through all those compensations, right? To keep you there.
Lisa: Exactly. So when we breathe in, we.. When I say, we don't hold our breath, and I'm holding my breath for a long time, as long as I can. And then that's horrible urgency that comes up and you start to—your diaphragm starts to make that sort of hiccup thing. And this is actually the chemoreceptors in the brain, which is the area that is what I understand, correct me if I'm wrong, that is measuring the CO2 levels more than anything in the blood, not the oxygen levels. And it's so, the CO2 going up, and then the body's going “Oop, time to breathe,” and it makes you do that, you know, hiccup thing in order to make you breathe. And when I'm doing my breathing exercises that I've learned from you, I let that reflex go for a while while I'm training my body and to be able to accept more carbon dioxide. And that will help me be a better athlete with a bit of a EO2 mix hopefully, and make me faster and so on. But it's the CO2, that's actually pushing the oxygen into the cells as well, isn't it? And that was another, a mind bender as well.
James: It's an exchange. So you can think about those red blood cells as this cruise ship, right? So and they're full of oxygen. And they cruise to areas where there are other passengers that want to get on this is CO2, and they exchange. The CO2 hops on as oxygen hops off. And this is just how it works. So that need to breathe, you're 100% right. A lot of people think, gonna exhale, hold my breath. “Oh, I don't have enough oxygen, I need to breathe.” No, that is dictated by rising carbon dioxide levels. And so many of us are so sensitised to CO2, that we can't hold our breath more than 10 seconds without going.
But they've done a study with athletes. And they found that to very comfortably hold your breath, over 25 seconds, 89% of those athletes will not have any breathing dysfunction. So this is a great practice to do. And this is why this is used in so many different breathing techniques for so long. The ancient Chinese were doing breath holds. Pranayama ancient Hindus were doing breath holds for thousands of years—is to exhale softly. And to hold your breath calmly. You don't want to be struggling and feeling your diaphragm moving. Just calmly, when you feel a little teaspoon of discomfort. You breathe and you calculate how long that is.
Don't look at this as a competition. I know that there's a lot of people out here. No, you can compete later. So what you want to do is to get your CO2 tolerance higher, because by having a higher amount of CO2, which is really a normal amount of CO2, your body can operate better. You will have more circulation. Oxygen will detach more easily. And when you're doing endurance sports, this is what you want. You don't want to use energy for things you don't have to use energy for. You want to be burning clean and tight. And that's what this allows you to do.
Lisa: This is about efficiency isn't and maybe you're saying that the average person is breathing 12 to 18 times a minute, on average. And ideally, we should be around the five and a half or six times a minute would be ideal. “So breathe light to breathe right” was one of the catchphrases that stuck in my head. And that's my trigger for all over breathing again. And so it's actually slowing down our breathing rate and not increasing the volume so much as diaphragmatic breathing. So using the deep, lower lobes of our lungs to actually get the breath end and doing it a lot slower. And why are we all you know, doing it 12 to 18 times a minute and overbreathing? Which is yeah. It is...
James: Sometimes a lot more than that. I mean, I've talked to clinicians who see people breathing 25, 30 times a minute just and they've been doing this for decades, and their bodies are just destroyed.
So it's, these things become a habit after a while and our body gets used to that cycle of compensation. And we start acknowledging this is normal. We started thinking having migraines is normal, having cold toes and cold fingers all the time is normal, being exhausted all the time is normal. None of this is normal. And especially if you look at modern populations of what's considered normal now, I mean, what 15% of Americans have diabetes, 25% have sleep apnea, 10% have autoimmune like, what is going on here? And that this is just accepted that, “Oh, just you know, I've my diabetes...”
James: ...my drugs. So anyway, I'm getting off track here. You when this becomes a habit, again, compensation different than health. And a wonderful practice to try is to breathe in at a rate of about five to six seconds, and breathe out at around that same rate. I put in the book 5.5 yet, but then people have been writing me, saying, 'I'm a half a second off'. Oh, my God. So now I'm saying anything in that range. And if that's too difficult for you, slow it down, go three seconds in three seconds out. It's perfect.
This is not a competition. This is about acclimating your body. So we can't breed this way all the time, that's going to be impossible. But whenever you become aware of your breath, that you're breathing too much, you can bring your breath back by breathing this way and recondition it. And the point of all these exercises is not to think about them. You want to do them often enough, that you're always breathing through your notes that you're always breathing lightly and slowly.
And that range of diaphragmatic movement, especially for athletes, I cannot tell you how essential this is, when you're breathing too much. Okay, here's what's happening, you're breathing up into your chest, which is extremely inefficient. There's more blood further down in your lungs, so can participate much more, much better in gas exchange. But you're also doing something else. You're taking air into your mouth, your throat, your bronchi, bronchioles, none of which participate in gas exchange yet do you bring it in? You go? I'm using maybe 50% of that breath.
If you slow down with the same volume, six laters a minute, to about six or seven breaths, right? Per minute, your efficiency goes up 35%. 35%. And if you're not gonna make a difference, you're running for five hour days. You're crazy. If you look at Kipchoge, check out how he's breathing, you know, an hour and a half, extremely light. He's completely in control, you can hardly see his chest. And he is in the zone.
Sanya Richards-Ross was the top female sprinter in the world for 10 years, check out how she's breathing through the nose in control, destroying everyone else and all of our competitors. So it takes us a while, which is why people don't, you're going to see a decrease in performance when you switch. Okay, guaranteed that it's gonna to go down. If you stick with it, it's gonna go up. I don't want to say that it's true for everyone. But I would say 95% and the breathing experts, the elite trainers I've worked with have told me 100% of the people they've converted, their performance goes up and the recovery is cut by half.
Lisa: Wow. And then I mean, who the hell doesn't want that as an athlete, you're fighting for 1%. So when we're talking, no such mess of possible changes that don't rely on your genetics and don't rely on you know, things that you can't control anyway. And like, for me, transitioning has been hard. I'll be honest, because I was completely congested all the time. And that's why I'd heard that nasal breathing because that’s the next thing we'll discuss that nasal breathing was very, very important for a number of reasons. I didn't really understand why. But I was like, well, I can't breathe through my nose is just blocked the whole time. And I don't have a show on hell of doing that. So well.
Well, I'll carry on doing my breathing. And then when I learn how to decongest my nose and sometimes it will take me two or three breaths. And the first time the first couple of weeks when I was doing it, my nose was running and I wasn't getting anywhere and I'm like, this is not working. But I pushed through that phase. And now I can run for like a team case at a fairly good pace, completely nasal breathing, if I do the warm up phase properly, if I go out the door and just try and do it straight out, the gate won't work, I need to do the walking, holding my breath, and get that cleared first, and then I can get into my training. And then I can hold it in the first 10 minutes, I'm still finding it a little bit like I want to breathe with my mouth, but that instinct is there. But I'm slowly training myself into that system.
And saying, I can actually, you know, I can actually run for a good hour just through my nose without any problems. And I've also not done the high-intensity. So I backed off the super high-intensity, because I know I'm automatically going to open my mouth when it gets to that. So while I'm in this transition phase, I'm not doing anything beyond that sort of aerobic capacity level. And I think I need this just to adapt. So these are huge types of people listening out there, if you are congested, and you think, well, this is all well and good guys, but there's no way in hell that I'm going to be able to breathe through my nose. Think again, there is, it's just a matter of being taught how to do it. And that's a pretty simple couple of exercises that were, you know, that's in the book. It can really, really help us if you persevere through it.
And then I expect to see improvements and my VO2 max and all the rest of it. Now, let's talk a little bit about the reason why it has to be nasal breathing. And so it's not just about breathing slowly. We've talked about breathing slowly, we've talked about diaphragmatic breathing. We've talked about CO2 and the role that we don't want our CO2 levels too low in the body. Let's talk now about the whole. Where was I going James? Help me out. I've just hit a..
James: You wanted to talk about breathing, you want to talk about fitness, you want to talk about nasal breathing.
Lisa: I hit a moment. So nasal. So we want to understand the physiology of the nose and why the nose is what we want to be breathing with rather than our mouth.
James: So I want to mention a few things. A few more things about running. This may seem overkill, but just a couple of points. So what I've heard from various instructors, Patrick McKeown is a world renowned breathing therapist, top got Brian Mackenzie the same thing. Never work out harder than you can breathe correctly. So if you're entering the zone, your mouth is open, slow it down and build your base and work up from there. Sometimes it took Dr John Douillard took him six months to fully acclimate. But once you get there, you are going to find a power in yourself that you did not know existed.
And this has been proven time and time again. When Carl Style was working with the Yale running team and the US Olympic running team. He said that these people suffered way more sicknesses, respiratory problems, asthma, COPD than anyone else. And he said, “They push through it because they're competitors. They're gonna push through it.” A complete mess. So there has to be a slight shift and thinking of like, you have to accept your performance is going to go down for a little bit.
Right now's a good time to do that. We're still in a pandemic. So you know, once things open up, you'll be kicking everyone's ass. And that's not a bad thing. But just know that this is a wave. This is a process. So the reason why you want to be doing this, we'll get to nasal breathing now is I will bring on my guest. He's been waiting over here patiently. Steve, for the people who aren't watching this, I'm holding up a cross section of a human skull. You can see the nose right here. When you breathe through the nose, you're forcing air through this labyrinth.
It's so similar to a seashell. It's called the nasal concha. So seashells have their shells this way to keep invaders out to keep pathogens out. Right? Our noses serve the exact same function. This is our first line of defence. So when we breathe through our nose, we're heating air which is important in cold climates where humidifying it, which is very important in dry climates. We're pressurizing it, we're conditioning it, we're removing particulate which is important, if you live in a city or basically anywhere else now. We're helping to fight more viruses. So there will be a smaller viral load breathing through the nose. And we condition this air so by the time it enters our lungs, it is properly conditioned to be more easily absorbed. When you're breathing through your mouth. You can consider the lungs as an external organ. Yeah, because they're just exposed to everything in your environment. So not only that, not only is this the most effective filter we have is it forces us to breathe more slowly. This is a self-regulating device. Yeah. How long did it take me to take that breath took a while? How long does this take? Yeah, nothing. So that's slower breath with that pressure allows us to gain 20% more oxygen breathing through our nose than equivalent breaths through our mouth. Again, if you think this is gonna make no difference to, you you're absolutely crazy. And this is simple science. You know, this isn't controversial stuff.
Lisa: No, this is simple science, but not well, knowing until your book came out and became a worldwide best selling book. Thank goodness because this stuff needs to be out there. And I'm called silly because I'm deep in the waves and in researching all the time. And by hacking and the latest longevity, and the goodness knows what I'm just always into the latest and greatest. And I'm constantly surprised at how you know that some fantastic information never sees the light of day, because of the systems that are in place, or traditions and laws and stuff. And it's like, wow, we have to get this information out there.
And this is one of those times when I'm thinking thank goodness, someone has put this into a book that's readable for people to understand the science without having to do such a deep dive themselves. And I think that that's really important. And that nasal, you know, nasal breathing. Also, it does another thing that I found really, really interesting was all about the nitric oxide. Can you explain what nitric oxide is and what it does in the body and why the nose is so important in that regard?
James: Nitric oxide is this amazing molecule that our bodies produce that plays a central role in vasodilation. Having more nitric oxide will decrease your chances of having a stroke, will decrease your chances of having a heart attack. It will increase circulation to your brain. I mean, I can go on and on here. It's no coincidence that the drugs Sildenafil also known as viagra, guess what it does, it releases nitric oxide in your body. That's how it cleans. Yeah, we get six times.
One study showed that we get six times more nitric oxide breathing through our nose than we do through our mouth. And if we hum we get 15 times more nitric oxide. So this has an incredible effect on the body and especially now there are 11 clinical trials right now where they're giving patients with COVID. Guess what? Nitric oxide. And apparently, according to Nobel Laureate, Louis Ignarro, oh, it's working wonderfully well in these. Studies are going to be out soon. I heard something. My brother in law's an ER doctor, my father in law's a pulmonologist. So we talk all about this stuff. And the vast majority of the people suffering the worst symptoms of COVID are people with chronic inflammation.
And as an opposite, very observational study. There are also mouth breathers. Yeah. And this was known 100 years ago, they were saying 75 to 80% of the people with tuberculosis are mouth breathers, chronic mouth breather. So there's been no official study on this just this is just observational stuff. Don't go write me about this, that your nasal breathing got COVID. It can happen.
Lisa: Can happen still, we're not saying that.
James: It's to me, but we know that can happen. But we also know something else. That breathing through the nose will help you defend your bodies so much more effectively, against viruses. And this is what Louis Ignarro again, he won a Nobel Prize. So listen to that guy, if you're not gonna listen...
Lisa: Yes and I've actually I've heard Dr Ignarro speak a number of times, and I'm hoping I can get him on my podcast to actually just to talk a whole session on nitric oxide and what he discovered, because he he won a prize for discovering this, this gas if you like in the body, because nobody really understood what it was or how it operated.
And it is being used for Viagra. And the reason it works for that is that it expands and dilates the blood vessels, but that's what's actually doing it and all parts of our body. And therefore when we're doing this nasal breathing, and we're getting more of that nitric oxide and I mean, a lot of the athletic supplements that you can get now in your corner supplement store are about, you know, drinking beetroot juice or whatever increases your nitric oxide. So this is another way to get at an info for you athletes out there. You want better performance, you know, a lot of my athletes are on beetroot juice and things like that. Just nasal breathing is another way of doing that. You know, so that's a really big piece of the puzzle, I think.
James: And those don't work. They certainly work but the key was so much of this just like with a key with oxygen. You don't like, go and get a bunch of oxygen for five minutes, then walk away so I'll fix them. You want to constantly be producing this stuff. So beet juice, you know what we'll work for a short amount of time. But to me, it seems like a much better idea to use something that we're naturally gifted with to use our nose. And to constantly be having a body that can constantly produce a healthy healthy level of nitric oxide. I drink beet juice.
I'm a big fan of that, the nitrates and other vegetables can help release more nitric oxide. Great stuff, right? But nasal how often can you be drinking beet juice, you don't want to be drinking that 10 times sugar in it.
Lisa: No. There's a lot of sugar in it.
James: There’s a lot of sugar in it and you know, occasionally is great, but there's other ways of doing this. And you know, I think our bodies are the most powerful pharmacists on the planet and that's been shown so why not try to focus on your body and health a little bit? Well last thing I want to mention that I just find, is so frustrating here in the US is all this talk of COVID all this talk of you know wear a mask, which I'm a believer in that stay at home. I'm a believer in that. Zero talk about not eating four double cheeseburgers a day.
Lisa: Hey, mean.
James: Ola, like getting your health and breathing through your nose. like where's that conversation? Getting vitamin D, getting vitamin C. And so anyway, we've seen what the government's you guys have a much more progressive government, let me tell you, we're so jealous of it. But now we have the whole...
Lisa: We’ll be a medical society, though there's nothing. It's not that late. But yeah, and I've had a number of episodes, I've just done a five part series on vitamin C, and intravenous vitamin C, and cancer, and sepsis. And, you know, the whole gamut in the problems there. In this, every single doctor has said to me too, when it comes to COVID, why aren't we building up our immune system so that we don't get people in our ICU on ventilators? You know, so that we don't get to that point, or we have less people and, you know, that just seems like a no brainer to me, but we're still promoting eating crap and drinking crap. And, you know, and not taking into account. It's, yes, I mean, the vaccines and all that, but how about we just take a little bit of self-responsibility we might not have as bad if we do get it.
You know, like I've got a mum. I've just written a book called Relentless that my listeners know about and it was about rehabilitating my mum back from an aneurysm four and a half years ago, where she hit massive aneurysm. Hardly any higher function, I was told, like, should never do anything. Again, I spent four and a half years rehabilitating her and she's completely normal. Again, she's driving the car, she's walking, jogging, everything's fine. And this is why I've ended up doing what I do, because I'm very passionate, because none. And I mean, none of this was offered in the standard medical system that we were in. They were great at the surgeries, they were great in the crisis.
But when it came to rehabilitation, there was just nothing there, and so I discovered all of these things. And one of the passions I have is just staying one step ahead of here and giving her the next thing now she's 79 years old, I want to keep her healthy. So when COVID threatened us, you know, I've, you know, got over there in the corner, my hyperbaric oxygen chamber, my ozone over the air, and, you know, you name it. I've got it so that if it does come, we prepared as prepared as we can be. And that is a good approach, I think prevention, rather than waiting for the disaster, and then trying to pick up the pieces at the end of the day. You know?
James: Yeah, and I just want to be clear, and I know that you're saying the same thing here. There's, doctors in my family that practice Western medicine who've helped people, when I get a car accident, last thing I want is acupuncture. I want to go to the ER and have somebody say, “Sir, I break a bone. I'm not doing pranayama breath work, I'm going to go and get a cast.” But about rehabilitation. This is 100% true, because it costs a lot of money.
There's no way a system can support full rehabilitation. And one thing that I've heard from almost every expert in the field, whether it's a professor at a university, or an MD, or a nutritionist, or whatever is they believe, this isn't my view. This is their view. I want to be objective here but they believe that there's a reason people aren't talking about breathing again. It's, there's no money in it. There's a money. Oh, why the US government isn't saying “Don't go to McDonald's today.” That's going to shut the economy down. So the good news about this is people who are interested want to take control of their health. There are now other means of getting information from people who have studied this stuff, people who are into scientific references, who are looking at science in a real objective way.
And so I view this thing, hopefully, this is going to be a lesson we can all learn then that we can acknowledge how incredible the human body is, how we become susceptible to illness, and how to better defend ourselves in the future.
Lisa: I'm just so on board with all of that. And I think it's our right and this is a problem we do. You know, we love Western medicine, they do some brilliant things. I love naturopathic medicine, I love alternative, complementary, whatever you integrate, or whatever you want to call it.
We've all got deficits, and we've all got blind spots, and every single piece of this. And it's about bringing the whole lot together, and not letting money rule the world. I think is, if we can ever get to that point, that would be fantastic because it is at the moment. And there's a lot of things that are being hindered, like things, simple things like breath work, like stress reduction, like intravenous vitamin C's, like things that don't, nobody can make money at, or hyperbaric oxygen is not going to make millions for anybody. So it's not getting out there, that information is not getting out there. And it needs to be out there.
We got I reckon we could talk for days, the job's because we were obviously on the same track. But I wanted to touch on a couple of areas. One was the whole skeletal muscle record of our ancestors and our facial, you know, our whole facial development and why that's part of the problem and the food problem, the mushy food that we eat today. And then remind me to talk briefly about the immune system and all this inveigled the vagus nerve and stuff. So let's start with though, with the skeletal record, and the difference between our ancestors and how we are today.
James: So early on in my research, I started hearing these stories about how humans used to have perfectly straight teeth and I don't know if you're like me. I had extractions, braces, headgear, you name it, every single person I knew had the same thing. It was never if it was just went this is what how it was done. At wisdom teeth removed. If you think about how weird that is, you're like, why are we removing teeth? From our mouths? Why are teeth so crooked? Where if you look at any other animal in the wild, they all have perfectly straight teeth. And what I learned was that all of our ancestors, before industrialisation, before farming, any hunter-gatherer all had perfectly straight teeth. So I went to a museum and looked at hundreds of skulls, and they all stared back at me, these perfectly straight teeth. Completely freaked me out.
They had these very broad jaws, wide nasal apertures forward, growing powerful faces. So if you have a face that grows this way, and you have a mouth that's wide enough for your teeth, you have a wider airway. Having a smaller mouth, you have less room to breathe. And this is one of the main reasons so many of us struggle to breathe, we have upper airway resistance syndrome, sleep apnea, snoring, and so many other respiratory issues is because there's less room in there. And what happened is this came on, in a blink of an eye with industrialised food in a single generation.
People went from having perfectly straight teeth, wider nasal apertures, to having crooked teeth and smaller mouths and a different facial profile. And this has been documented time and time again. Yet I had learned in school, which for me, it was zillion years ago that this was evolution-meant progress we're getting we're always getting younger, you're getting taller, we're getting better, look around the day and ask yourself if that's true, it's complete garbage. And then I went back and looked at the real definition of what evolution means. All it means is change and you can change for the better, or for the worse. And humans, as far as our breathing concern is concerned, are changing very much for the worse.
Lisa: Wow. And so we're, I mean, I'm saying I grew up have had so many extractions and teeth completely crooked and a tiny little mouth and all of those sort of problems that you're describing. So what was it that their ancestors did differently? So it was just the food being not we not chewing as much was that basically? Yes, like that's that was a real chain game changer for us when the industrialisation happened and we got mushy food.
James: There were many inputs, chewing is the main one. So when you live in an extremely polluted environment, sometimes your nose can get plugged, right? You start breathing through your mouth, that can create respiratory problems, but if you breathe through your mouth long enough, your face grows that way actually changes the skeletal picture of your face. So that's another input improper oral posture is what that is called, but it's for when you're younger chewing is so essential and it starts with breastfeeding.
There were no Gerbers food. I don't know if you have that out there, but there were no, like, soft foods. Just a few 100 years ago. So if you think about it, so now we're eating the soft processed foods right out of the gates. We're going, we're being fed on a bottle, soft processes. All of our mouths are too small and too crooked. So this chewing stress starts at birth. They've done various studies looking at kids who were bottle fed versus those who are breastfed.
When you're breastfed, your face pulls out your mouth, gets wider because it takes a lot of stress to do. Two hours a day, like every day, every two hours, you're doing it. And literally, and I've talked to parents who had twins, I just talked to a lady yesterday who bottle fed one did love not want to be breast fed breast fed the other. They look totally different. One has crooked teeth, one has autoimmune problems. One has swollen tonsils, the other doesn’t. So that is anecdotal.
But there's been studies in the 1930s they did tons of studies into this. So I'm a dude, I'm not going to sit here and tell everyone they breastfed people for that is not my point yet. But some people just can't. But I think it's important to acknowledge that the physics of how this works. And after that, if you have bottle fed a kid that's fine. But they need to start eating hard foods baby led weaning, this is what needs to happen to develop that proper jaw to develop that proper airway.
And even if you don't do that, if you then go to soft foods, and your kid is two to three years old, and it's snoring or sleep apnea, which is so common now it's so tragic, because that leads to neurological disorders, ADHD, again. This isn't crazy New Agey. This was at Stanford, there's 50 years of research on this from the top institution here. So there are direct links between those things, but luckily we have technologies now that can help restore to the mouth to the way it was supposed to have been before industrialisation. They actually widened the mouth of these small little kids, and open their airways, and it drastically improves their health.
Lisa: Today so it's palatal expanders that you you tried out and actually isn't even as an adult was you developed I remember it was at eight coins worth of new bone in your in your face and in a year or something crazy so we can still so if you've missed about if you've not received your kids or your you didn't get that yourself or whatever, it's not all over there is things that you can start doing even starting just to chew now like that to eat some carrots and whatever you know, whatever hard foods you can find to actually use those that powerful joy in order to make it stronger.
It's just like every other muscle in the body isn't it? And when we're mouth breathing to our remember you saying or the muscles here get lax and flattered and just like any other muscle that we're not training, if we're if we're going to mouth open all night and we're you know, then we're causing those muscles to be lax and over time that that leads into sleep apnea and things as well can do. So yeah, so this is something that we can practically get a hold on now even if it's a bit late for you and I think.
James: Yeah, I talked to my mum I was bottle fed after like six months my mum was like six months is a long time when I was growing up bottle fed soft foods industrialized crap my off intel I was you know 25 and it discovered these things called vegetables. But you know, so so this isn't pointing the finger at anyone we were sold this story by our governments that said you shouldn't eat mostly refined grains, eat your Cheerios, eat your bread, or crema wheat eat your oatmeal like that this is eat your sugar, that's good. Eat your chocolate milk, you know, so we have knowledge now we know the folly of our ways.
But the one thing that was inspiring to me this is easier to do, when you've got a developing kid quickly growing it, you can set the foundation and their face will grow around like their faces grow different. It's just, it's beautiful to see how the body forms to its inputs. So I, you know, youth was several decades ago for me, for far too long. I was a child of the 70s and 80s. Right? Yeah, we thought I thought once you're in middle age, you're completely screwed. What can you do, but that is just a convenient excuse for people to say, “Oh, it's genetics. Oh, I inherited this.”
Like genes turn on but they can also be turned off and so I wanted to see what how I could improve my airway health in a year and so I took a CAT scan, and I did proper oral posture, you're 100% right when, when you're just eating soft, mushy food in your mouth is open. All of those tissues can grow really flabby just like anywhere else on your body. But if you exercise them if you exercise the jaw, the strongest muscle in the body, you know, for its size, the tongue, extremely powerful muscle, you exercise these things, they get tone like anything else. And this can help open your airways. So this is just an anecdote, this was my experience, it'll probably be different for other people. But I did a number of these things.
And a year later to the week, I took another CAT scan, and the results were analysed by the Mayo Clinic, which is one of the top hospitals here. And they found that I increased my airway size about 15 to 20%. In some areas, and I can't tell you just as a personal story, it has absolutely transformed my life because I can breathe so much more easily through my nose. At night. I am silent. I didn't snore before but I was knowing that my wife would always tell me, totally silent now. And of course I am because I have a larger airway, things are more toned air can enter more easily.
Lisa: Is it easy to find palace expanders are these like any a couple of dentists in the world doing this sort of stuff?
James: Not everyone needs palatal expansion. I've gotten so many hundreds of emails of people, you know how we are, it's like, what's the latest thing, oh, there's a new pill, there's a new device. Oh, I get it, that's gonna solve all my problems. So they can really help people who need it just like surgical interventions. For people who have severe problems in their nose are a huge help. They're transformative. What I found is a lot of people don't need that. And what I firmly believe is start slow, start low, see what your body can naturally do. If after six months, you're like, ‘I'm still not this isn't working,’ go see someone you know, and take it from there.
But palatal expansion absolutely works for people who really need it, but you would be amazed by just doing something called oral-pharyngeal exercises. There was a study out in chest, which is one of the top medical journals, you know, they found this significantly cut down on snoring, not lightly, significantly. And all it is, is exercising the tongue, roof of the mouth, proper oral posture, just working out this area. Toning it, of course, that's gonna help you if this is flabby and hasn't been to..
Lisa: The gym for your mouth.
James: That's what it is. And I view that world, there's a whole separate school called myofunctional therapy that is helping people do this, which is so beneficial. They focus mostly on kids, but they also work with adults. And this is what they do. They are the instructors, the gym instructors, for your mouth and for your airwaves. And I strongly recommend people looking that up, there's a bunch of instructionals for free on YouTube, you can go that route as well.
Lisa: Oh, brilliant, we'll link to some of those on your website. And, you know, I get people those resources. It's just, it's just amazing and fascinating stuff. And who would have thought this conversation would go so deep and wide, I wanted to just finish up then with talking about the immune system and stress reduction and vagus nerves and all of us area too, because, you know, me included in this and most people are dealing with, you know, massive levels of stress, and breathing can I've, since I've read your book, and I was really, you know, quite aware of how to bring my stress levels down and movements and the importance of you know, yoga and all those sorts of things.
I've had that piece of the puzzle sort of dialed in, if you like, but the breathing exercises and actually calming the nervous system down within minutes. Now I can fall asleep in seconds. And you know, what seconds is a bit exaggerated but minutes, and I can I can take myself from being in this emotionally, my god and i tend to be like that because I'm like, you know, busy, busy, busy. And then go, “Hey, I'm spinning out of control. I've lost control of my breath. And I hear myself and I pick myself up on it now.”
And I go and do two minutes of breathing exercises. That's you know if that's all I can afford to do, and I can switch into parasympathetic now, that's been gold. Can you just explain why the heck does doing this slow light breathing diaphragmatically stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and the vagus nerve from what's actually going on there?
James: Sure. So what people can do now is take a hand and you can place it on your heart. And you can breathe into rate of about three seconds and try to breathe out to about six to eight seconds, just whatever's comfortable. Now, breathe in again. 123 and exhale. And as you're exhaling out very softly, you're going to feel your heart rate, get lower and lower. And lower. So when you are exhaling, you're stimulating that parasympathetic side of your nervous system, our breath can actually hack our nervous system function.
And by exhaling more, and taking these long and fluid breaths, you can trigger all of those wonderful things that happen when you're parasympathetic. You reduce inflammation very quickly. You send signals to your brain to calm down. You actually change how your brain is operating the connectivity before the between the prefrontal cortex and the emotional centers of the brain changes when you slow your breathing.
So throughout the day, if you want to remain balanced, you take those soft and easy light, low breaths, to account of whatever's comfortable, three, four, even up to six, and six out. But if at some times you feel “My stress levels are starting to increase. I'm feeling my mind slip. I'm making rash decisions.” Start extending the exhale. An exercise I like to do is inhale to about four, exhale to six, you don't have to do it that long. Inhale, two, three, exhale to five, whatever's comfortable, as long as that exhale is longer, you're gonna feel your body slowing down.
And if you don't believe me, all you need to do is get your heart rate variability, monitor your pulse oximeter and take a look at what happens after 30 seconds of slow, focused breathing. And you will see this transformation occur in your body, if that can happen in a couple minutes, what's going to happen to you after a couple of hours of taking control of your breathing, or a couple of days, or a couple of months.
I'll tell you what's going to happen. I talked to dozens and dozens of people who have fundamentally transformed themselves through nothing more than breathing. I want to mention again, I'm not promising this is going to work for everyone for everything. But it needs to be considered as a foundation to health.
Lisa: And you need to stick at it for a little bit. And you know, I do my HIV monitoring every morning before I get out of bed and do my breath holding exercises and look at my boat score from Patrick McKeown. And you know, all that sort of stuff. Before I even put my feet on the floor, and I yeah, I can control my heart rate to a degree just through my birth weight. So I know this works. And I know that when I do a longer exhale from that, and compared to the inhale, immediately, I just feel a bit more calmer, and a bit more in control.
And it's reminding myself and this is the trick because we, when we're in the middle of work, and we've got meetings and phones are going and emails are coming at us, and it's like the “Lions are chasing me.” And it's been trying to remember to breathe in. Bring yourself down and calm yourself down. And just take that couple of minutes many times a day, you know, depending on how stressful Your life is. And in doing that on a regular basis, over time will have massive implications. Because we're talking here, your digestion. You digest food better if you're in a parasympathetic state versus a sympathetic, your immune system.
Again, coming back to COVID in that conversation, you're going to be improved, you know, your hormone balance. Yeah, just to fix everything, the way your, the brain waves, all of these things are going to be affected by your stress levels. And what is the easiest quickest way to reduce your stress? You breathe. So I think you know, that's a that's a really, really top tip. This just before we wind up and I've taken enough of your time, James but I you did in the, towards the end of the book, you went into some extreme super breathing practices, which because I was like, wow, okay, because I you know, read all about Wim Hof and looked at his breathing techniques.
And I was like, wow, how how does that work, then? Because I'm over breathing when I'm doing that. How does that work? What is there a specific time when that type of breathing or the extreme breathing one pops just one of them? But you know, is there a reason to be doing that type of extreme breathing stuff? Or can it help? Or is it just for crazy like good, crazy, but crazy.
James: Seems so counterintuitive, after learning about all these benefits of breathing less and breathing lightly, to then practice something where you're breathing like this. Yeah, and I was like, What is going on here? These are two completely opposite things. But think about those breathing practices like going to the gym. You're not going to go to the gym for 24 hours a day you're going to destroy your body, but going to the gym for half an hour and working out going to the gym for an hour and working out says huge benefits to so these breathing practices are all about working out the body and working out the respiratory system and working out your stress.
Okay? So they purposely stress you out. A lot of people think “I don't want to stress that, why do I want to do something that stresses you out?” The point is, they teach you to control your stress, you consciously bring stress on, and then you consciously turn it off. And this hormetic stress, these short bursts of stress are so beneficial to our bodies, because we are not meant to be sitting on soft sofas and soft beds, eating soft foods, watching soft TV programming all day, we're meant to work out sometimes. And that's what these are so effective for doing. Some people find them jarring if they haven't done any breath work.
So I suggest people start with that foundation of nasal breathing, breathing, awareness, breathing slowly and all that. But for some people for whom nothing else's work, no other drug has worked. I'm talking about people with autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, even amass of psoriasis. I mean, the list goes on and on. I've seen this time and time again. And the science is very clear that this hormetic stress, doing this in a controlled way, allows you to decrease inflammation for the other 23 and a half hours of the day, which is exactly what the parasympathetic state does.
So I love what you call Wim Hof Method, he's the first person to say I talked to Wim semi often I love what he's doing. He's such a cheerleader, he changed people's lives. Love the guy. He knows this isn't his method. This is 1000 year old stuff, you can call it Sudarshan Kriya, you can call it pranayama. Whatever all these methods are so similar, because they do the same thing. They have you breathe very intensely. And then they have you hold your breath or not breathe at all. And then they have to breathe very intensely.
So this is the interval training, you see what's going on here. So this is HIT training for the respiratory system. I'm a huge fan of it. I use it as much as I can. I've seen big benefits to it. And it so happens to be right down the stream from me at University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Alyssa Apple, who is the expert in telomeres, had a famous book out a couple years ago. She's now studying this stuff, breathing and arthritis. And her study is coming out next month. I'm talking to her next, next week. So this stuff in, in my view, especially with athletes, the people getting the calls now are people that are focusing on breathing Brian Mackenzie elite in stride, length is Brian. He's doing this is all he's doing now.
Lisa: Yeah, these guys are just on the next level. And when I first read the book, and I you know, read Patrick's too. And I was like, hang on, I don't get this because I was into the Wim Hof stuff. And I was like, yeah, I'm doing that sort of stuff. And but, you've just really clarified that for me, actually put that into sort of mistake, that part of it. That it is, like the intense interval training. So you don't want to be doing this 24 seven, you know, you want to do this with a specific purpose for a specific short period of time to create a stress just like you do when you go in train your backside off, and then you come back and you recover from that and it just that push and pull.
And on you're so right, like, we and this is an issue in our, in our world now we are so comfortable. We are so warm all the time and cozy, you know, in our clothes, clothes and their cozy houses and our cozy cars and now we never get outside and we need as human beings to be pushed and pulled and out in up and down and have challenge, you know, challenge both mentally and physically. I think to keep ourselves strong and we don't, that's when we you know, fade away and have problems and get sick and all those sorts of things. So I'm a big, you know, mean, pushing the limits is the name of my podcast for crying out loud. You know.
James: I actually talked to Patrick quite often, we correspond all the time. He and Anders Olsson told me at the beginning they're like, Oh, this heavy braid. This is bad. This is bad. Yeah, Patrick's come around now. Worst wins book. He's like, Wow, this is great stuff. So he's starting to incorporate this stuff. Because again, it's Westerners, it's we always think, it's needs to be one or the other. You're the slow breather, you're the fast breather, your paleo or your vegan, your kid. These things all have benefits to me. They're more tools in the toolbox to use at different times. And we're showing this these short periods of intense breathing can really be this pressure release valve for stress.
And I'd be surprised if someone does the Wim Hof Method or Tummo. I'd be surprised if anyone is feeling more stressed after that. I mean to me, I find this is a very powerful tool. I use it before sleep sometimes, man the second my head hits the pillow. I'm gone in about eight hours. And that's what you want. That's brilliant. And it's good to Yeah, that Patrick's saying that, that Toby and Patrick's coming on the show in a few weeks time, so I'll ask him about it. Because I, you know, like I've been fooled do I, you know, because I've been doing the Wim Hof stuff previously, and now I've like, all backed off of it.
But now I might have another crack at it again, and go a little bit deeper and just see if I can, you know, get to the next level. Because I mean, there's slow breathing for most of the time and certainly controlled in the in the training, and then there in the running and so on, is what you want to be doing most of the time, but we want these little stressors, these are medic stressors in order to improve and…
James: Guess how one breathes the rest of the time. He rolls through his nose. Yeah, really slowly. And he hums a lot. Increase nitric oxide. So this is everyone sees him as the maniac screaming at you to breathe, and they don't see him the other 23 and a half hours a day where he's very chill, you know? So this is again, it's not one or the other. It's able to look at the benefits of all these things, just like the benefits of all these different foods that pick out the ones that work for you and to use them.
Lisa: Excellent. I think that's a beautiful place to wrap it up. James, thank you so much for writing this incredible book, and for sharing your knowledge and spending so many years because I know this was a lot of years of research that went into this. Please everybody go out there and buy this book. Get the word out there,