James Nestor shares simple breathing tips to help if 'you're really stressed' and need 'calmness'

Virgin Radio

7 Feb 2024, 12:37

James Nestor talks to Chris Evans at Virgin Radio.

If you’re stressed out, or just need some “basic focus”, then breathing expert James Nestor is here to help.

James has a new BBC Maestro course, The Power of Your Breath, and he joined the Chris Evans Breakfast Show with cinch, to share his expertise. 

James’ book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art was released in 2020 and has sold more than two million copies worldwide. His findings include the fact that up to 50 percent of us are chronic mouth breathers, and 90 percent of us are breathing incorrectly.

Inspired to write the book because he got pneumonia, James told Chris: “Every year I kept getting pneumonia. Every single year, and I kept wheezing when I was working out. I was eating the right foods, sleeping eight hours a night. Everyone told me, ‘This is old age, get used to it’. I didn't like that answer. And a doctor friend instructed me on how to breathe better. She said, ‘Why don't you do this, this and this. Let me know how you feel’. And I don't know if this is proof of anything, but I have not had one of those issues since I fixed my breathing."

The 20-lesson BBC Maestro course explores why modern humans are such poor breathers and how it is possible to get back on track. When Chris asked for “a couple of quick hacks” for people who might be feeling a bit “foggy”, James said: “So for just basic focus, for calmness, try to breathe in and out through your nose at a count of around five to six in, five to six out. If I were watching you breathing, I would hardly notice your breathing at all. It's that subtle. Out through the nose as well. When you inhale, your belly should be expanding and then contracting, five to six out.”

He then shared another tip. “If you're really stressed out and you need a lot of focus, this one's a little weird,” he admitted. “You can do something called alternate nostril breathing, where you can take your thumb, or a finger, and you're going to plug your right nostril. Breathe in through your left to a count of about four. Plug both nostrils, hold for a moment. Breathe out through your right. Now breathe in through your right, hold, and out through your left. 

“You can do that for a couple of minutes. There have been a bunch of measurements of what happens in brain function and blood pressure. And it's all real stuff. There's around 20 studies that have looked at what this very simple exercise that anyone can do, that is free for everyone all the time, can do to your body and to your brain and to your motions.”

Whilst acknowledging the “more metaphysical side of it,” James said: “If you actually look at the science of what is happening, what you're doing is slowing down your breath. So, it's the pace of your breathing, it's the volume of your breath. And you are also hacking into this thing that happens naturally, because your nostrils switch from side to side, throughout the day. One nostril gets slightly inflamed and lets the other nostril have more access to more air, we know that breathing in through the left nostril activates the right creative side of the brain; breathing in through the right activates the left analytical side.”

And if you’re feeling a bit bunged up, then it turns out humming might just be the answer. “There was this study done, this very weird study, where this guy tested he had chronic rhinitis, and he started humming for 10 minutes, four times a day.”

Revealing that “it completely resolved" the person's rhinitis, the breathing expert revealed: “We are working to do some citizen science study with some real researchers to get 100,000 people with chronic rhinitis to try to do this. What are the negative side effects of doing this? Nothing. You're gonna annoy the person next to you, 'You're humming too much'. So hum alone, hum in the shower!”

The Power Of Your Breath is available now on bbcmaestro.com.

For more great interviews listen to The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with cinch weekdays from 6:30am on Virgin Radio, or catch up on-demand here.