Can we make a walkable life a breathable life, too?
I recently read James Nestor’s bestselling book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, which, despite its subtitle, is a straightforward deep-dive into a simple act that all of us perform all day every day as long as we’re alive.
Still, Nestor has a compelling argument, which is that more intentional breath practices are thousands of years old and were cultivated for a reason: because conscious breathing, and especially breathing through the nose, provides tremendous health benefits that we’ve lost over the centuries.
I began trying some of the practices described, like breathing more slowly (using methods familiar from when I used to do yoga more regularly years ago), and especially breathing through the nose. All the time.
This nose-breathing seems to be key to a lot of breath practices, whether covered in Nestor’s book or not. Being someone who advocates extensively for the physical, mental, spiritual, and community benefits of walking, I’ve been interested in the potential of combining breathing advice with . . . well, with walking. Nothing fancy, just the kind of walking around town I do for an hour or two most days.
Breathing isn’t hard, right? I breathe, you breathe. All day every day. And conscious breathing during a yoga or meditation practice is a habit you can get into pretty quickly. It’s breathing.
But what I’ve found is that conscious breathing is a lot like making a habit of walking everywhere: trying to do it makes you acutely aware of limitations and barriers that make it difficult.
With walking, much of these limitations are down to infrastructure: missing sidewalks, nonexistent crosswalks, a world built for cars rather than people. But some of it is within our own bodies. We’re not used to moving. Walking everywhere brings my attention to the knee that is always a bit wonked out, or slouchy posture.
And even before reading Breath, walking made me more aware of my breathing. Every time I go for a hike, my heart tells me how hard it’s working, and my lungs let me know they’d like more air. Breathing even more consciously, especially through the nose, has dialed that awareness up several notches. I’d like to go for a hike without opening my…