Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art


In the realm of self-improvement and mental health, the quest for tools and techniques to enhance our well-being is ongoing. One such tool, often overlooked yet profoundly impactful, is the simple act of breathing. In his enlightening book, ‘Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art,’ author James Nestor delves into the intricate world of respiration, uncovering its significant implications for mental health and well-being. For psychotherapy clients and anyone interested in optimizing their mental health, Nestor’s work offers a treasure trove of insights into the transformative power of mindful breathing and the potential of behavioral interventions.

Understanding the Basics

Before we dive into the profound mental health benefits of Nestor’s findings, let’s start by understanding the basics of breath. It’s something we all do naturally, yet most of us pay little attention to the way we breathe. Nestor’s exploration begins by highlighting how modern lifestyle changes have negatively impacted our breathing patterns, often leading to suboptimal health outcomes.

In a fast-paced, stress-ridden world, shallow chest breathing has become the norm. This type of breathing, as Nestor explains, can contribute to a host of physical and mental health issues. But the good news is that we have the power to change this pattern through mindfulness and behavioral interventions centered around the breath.

Mindfulness and Breath

Mindfulness, the practice of being fully present in the moment, is increasingly recognized as a powerful tool for improving mental health. Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also enhance overall well-being by fostering a deeper connection to the self and the world around us. James Nestor’s ‘Breath‘ introduces an intriguing perspective: the role of breath in the practice of mindfulness.

Mindful breathing, as Nestor reveals, can be a potent gateway to achieving a greater sense of self-awareness and emotional balance. By paying attention to our breath, we can access a state of mindfulness that helps us better manage stress, regulate our emotions, and improve our overall mental health.

One of the key takeaways from ‘Breath‘ is that the way we breathe profoundly impacts our nervous system. Shallow, rapid breathing can trigger the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for our “fight or flight” response, leading to increased stress and anxiety. On the other hand, slow, deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and a sense of calm.

Incorporating mindful breathing practices, such as diaphragmatic breathing or box breathing, can be invaluable for psychotherapy clients seeking to enhance their emotional regulation and reduce anxiety. These techniques can easily be integrated into daily life and used as valuable coping mechanisms.

Behavioral Interventions and Breath

Behavioral interventions in psychotherapy often focus on helping individuals identify and change patterns of behavior that contribute to their mental health challenges. Nestor’s ‘Breath‘ introduces an intriguing angle to behavioral interventions by highlighting the role of breath in shaping our behavior and emotional responses.

For instance, Nestor discusses how certain breathing patterns can activate the brain’s amygdala, responsible for processing emotions, particularly fear and anxiety. By understanding these mechanisms, psychotherapists can work with clients to identify maladaptive breathing patterns that may exacerbate their mental health issues. Once recognized, clients can then be guided in using mindful breathing techniques as a behavioral intervention to mitigate these patterns.

A critical aspect of behavioral interventions is the concept of habit formation. Nestor explains that we can consciously retrain our breath and develop healthier breathing habits. This retraining can have a profound impact on our mental health. Clients struggling with conditions such as panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder can benefit greatly from breath-focused behavioral interventions.

A Personal Journey to Better Mental Health

Nestor’s ‘Breath‘ is not just a scientific exploration; it’s also a deeply personal journey into his own experiences with breath and its impact on his mental health. His accounts of experimenting with various breathing techniques, from free diving to exploring ancient breathing practices, add a relatable and human element to the book.

Readers, especially those interested in improving their mental health, can find inspiration in Nestor’s journey. His willingness to step outside his comfort zone and try unconventional methods to enhance his well-being underscores the idea that we all have the power to take control of our mental health through our breath.

One of the most memorable aspects of Nestor’s personal journey is his exploration of the benefits of nasal breathing. He details how his own experiment with taping his mouth shut during sleep led to profound changes in his mental health and overall vitality. This discovery highlights how seemingly small changes in our breathing habits can have far-reaching effects on our mental and emotional states.

Practical Applications for Mental Health

For psychotherapy clients and those seeking to improve their mental health, ‘Breath’ offers a plethora of practical applications. Here are a few key takeaways:

  1. Mindful Breathing: Incorporate mindfulness-based breathing exercises into your daily routine. Practice deep breathing techniques to calm the nervous system and reduce stress. Whether it’s a few minutes of diaphragmatic breathing in the morning or a breath-focused meditation before bed, these practices can significantly improve your mental well-being.
  2. Behavioral Intervention: Work with your therapist to identify how your breathing patterns may be contributing to your mental health challenges. Together, you can develop strategies to retrain your breath and mitigate the impact of maladaptive patterns on your emotions and behavior.
  3. Nasal Breathing: Explore the benefits of nasal breathing, especially during sleep. This simple practice can improve sleep quality, reduce snoring, and enhance overall vitality. Better sleep has a direct and profound impact on mental health.
  4. Daily Habits: Recognize that breath is not just a tool for managing acute stress; it’s a part of your daily life. Pay attention to how you breathe during various activities, from work to exercise to relaxation. Making small adjustments to your breathing habits can lead to significant improvements in mental well-being over time.


In ‘Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art,’ James Nestor beautifully illustrates the transformative power of something we often take for granted: our breath. For psychotherapy clients and anyone interested in improving their mental health, this book serves as a valuable resource.

By incorporating mindfulness and behavioral interventions centered around breath, readers can embark on a journey of self-discovery and healing. Nestor’s personal experiences and scientific insights make a compelling case for the profound influence of breath on our mental and emotional well-being.

In a world filled with complex therapeutic approaches, ‘Breath‘ reminds us that sometimes, the simplest solutions can have the most profound impact. So, take a deep breath, embrace the power of your breath, and embark on a journey towards better mental health and well-being.