3 years ago
James Nestor is a journalist who has written for Outside magazine, Men's Journal, Scientific American, Dwell magazine, National Public Radio, The New York Times, The Atlantic, the San Francisco Chronicle magazine, and others. His new book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art is available now: https://www.amazon.com/Breath-New-Science-Lost-Art/dp/0735213615
So much of this technology is cheap now to get. So even if you were to show up with $2,000 worth of equipment, you could see if there was some scientific basis to what these people are doing. But from my understanding, I didn't go down the chi hole too deep, but a lot of these people aren't showing up and offering volunteering to have their skills tested. And that's how science works. You have to test it, right? It has to be replicable. Well, it's everybody wants to be Swami Rama, but nobody wants to do what Swami Rama did, right? Yeah. Who wants to sit in a cave? Well, some people do. Sit in a cave for 30 years, right? Yeah. He would go away for years at a time in a dark cave and just sit there and breathe. So I just, in the modern age, I just don't know. Wow, freak that guy must have been. God, I would love to have talked to him. Yeah. He had it all down. Because there are people that can do that. You know, they're like the unibomber of breathing. You know, they just move to the woods and just without the negativity. But what was cool about him is he wasn't the only one who could do this. So there were researchers in the 20s and in the 40s who went out with a bunch of equipment, whatever equipment they could call it together, and tested other yogis who were able to do this exact same thing, right? So Swami was part of this long lineage of people who had this knowledge. Is it still there? It could be. I don't think it's online. I think you really have to get out in the weeds and earn these people's trust in order to get that story. And what is the history of these people doing this? Like what was their initial motivation? I mean, is there a written history of this? The earliest evidence that we have for breathing practices dates back about 4,000 or 5,000 years from these little statuettes in the Indus Valley, which is in northern India. So there was this huge thriving civilization. They had paved roads. They had running water. They were dealing with tin and copper. And they had no... In this whole civilization, they still have not found any political or governmental buildings. They haven't found any religious iconography. So these people in some ways could have been more advanced than we are now. And they had all of these figures of these people in these yoga poses with their stomachs out. That's how they date the earliest archaeological evidence of that. And since then, then all of these practices were moved into the Rig Veda and all of the earliest yoga texts. And they were codified in the yoga sutras of Pantanjali. That's where a lot of the yoga methods come from. That's about 2,000 years old. So the methods predate all that? I'm sure they predate probably anything that has been in writing. That's what's so curious to me, what makes me so curious. If you really think about what life must have been like back then, when they were creating this, you would think that people were hunting and gathering, and it was probably a very hard life. Well, not in that civilization. Right, but they got to a point where they had some sort of agriculture or some structures and buildings. How did they get to the point, because the rest of the world obviously didn't do this. This is not like common practice in Germany or in Italy or in all these other civilizations, like what made these people focus on breath work so much? Well, it could have been, but we just haven't found anything related to that yet. So if you think about hunter-gatherers, we're imagining them as, man, they're just working all day, they're hunting all day, they're gathering. They weren't from what I know and from what I've seen of the science there, probably three or four hours of work. And then you have no other distractions to spend time and build these systems of breathing and health, which is what started in ancient China, which is what started in India, which is what started in ancient Greece. Think about all the distractions we're dealing with today, constant interruptions. If you've already done your work for the day, there's nothing else to do, you're going to get more interested and you're going to have the time to do some empirical studies to see what works and what doesn't. It just seems to me that learning something like that, learning something like prolonged breath work and the benefits of it, it seems like this is a really long-term practice that doesn't show you immediate benefits. Yes and no. I think that you can take someone who has a serious problem, maybe someone who's already very fit, it's going to take a while to really see those big benefits. We see that with athletes with nasal breathing, it takes them weeks or sometimes months to really see gain some performance. But if you've got someone with a chronic condition like asthma or anxiety who are struggling to breathe every single day and you teach them some basic breathing, some normal breathing patterns, their lives can be absolutely transformed. We've seen this in study after study. So these people, their breathing has become so disrupted, their breathing in such an unhealthy way that they don't know what proper breathing is. Just shifting that has a tremendous impact.