Breath book cover

The four pillars of health: breath

The final installment of this series has arrived! Inspired by books and my own personal curiosity and quest for knowledge/wisdom, I have enjoyed sharing what’s I’ve learned.

Once again, the four posts in the series are:

Recently, I started using a new app geared towards healthy eating and weight loss. In their course curriculum, they have repeatedly mentioned the four pillars of health. Interestingly, the first three on their list are identical to mine. The difference comes in on the last one, where I have chosen breath; they put stress/stress management.

I don’t disagree with them that stress management is a key component of a healthy lifestyle. However, I’m not convinced it ranks higher than breathing.

All my life, I have suffered from allergies and sinus problems. When I was around 10, I had repeated sinus infections, bronchitis and was at risk for needing sinus surgery. At that time, allergy medicine, HEPA filters, and reduced exposure to my allergens (dogs, cats, dust, dust mites) seemed to be enough to clear it up.

As an adult, I have had frequent colds, severe congestion, coughs that last for 6-8 weeks, dry eyes, and postnasal drip. These symptoms seemed to be seasonal and highly likely to be caused by a cold or virus. Until recently, I rarely sought medical care, except for a few times for the extended cough.

Over the last few years, I have been talking to my doctors about my sinus issues and postnasal drip. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a doctor that’s really invested in helping me find a solution. Doctors only want to treat my symptoms, and if whatever they give me works, at least short-term, then they consider it resolved.

I was ok with this until the pandemic. Working from home since March of last year, about 20 months, I really don’t go out in public and see only a handful of people. As far as I can tell, I have not had a cold or any viruses during this time. However, I have had persistent postnasal drip. It can be very mild some days, and other days I can barely talk because my throat hurts so much.

After reading Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor, and seeing my mom also struggle with sinus issues, I have gone on a quest for answers. I don’t have them all yet, I will post back when I know more.

So, all of this has led to my inclusion of breath as the fourth pillar of health.

Now, it seems pretty obvious to me everyone should see why breath and breathing is important. Humans can live days without food or water or sleep. And exercise is (almost) entirely optional! However, humans will die within minutes if they don’t breathe.

A good approximation is the rule of threes: three minutes for air/breathing, three days for water, and three weeks for food.

Of course, breathing is something we do all the time. It’s routine, it’s subconscious. But are we doing it right?

“We assume, at our peril, that breathing is a passive action, just something that we do: breathe, live; stop breathing, die. But breathing is not binary. And the more I immersed myself in this subject, the more personally invested I felt about sharing this basic truth.”

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor

As it turns out, how you breath can have a huge impact on health. In Breath, James Nestor does an experiment where he breathes only through his mouth for 10 days. They recorded significant increases in his blood pressure, pulse, as well as increases in snoring, and sleep apnea over the course of the experiment. After removing the nasal plugs and returning to normal breathing with an emphasis on nose breathing, all these vitals quickly improved.

For anyone who suffers from allergies, snoring, sleep apnea, or any breathing affliction, I highly recommend reading Breath. In it, you’ll find a lot of scientific research on breathing, and well as an entire section on breathing techniques.

As I work with my doctors to figure out breathing issues, I will also be taking a closer look at the breathing techniques from the book, and adding those into my wellness routine.

What do you think? Does breath warrant the place I’ve given it as the fourth pillar of health? Were you expecting something else?

1 thought on “The four pillars of health: breath

  1. Vasily

    > What do you think? Does breath warrant the place I’ve given it as the fourth pillar of health? Were you expecting something else?

    I fully agree with your choice of Breath over Stress! I don’t have such a record of breath related stories but I think it’s not a coincidence that meditation apps like Headspace pay a lot of attention to breathing. Conscious breathing also leads to better self awareness and lower stress 🙂

    So love a lot your choice of four pillars.


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