Learning to breathe

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on June 12, 2020 Published on June 12, 2020


“Today,” says Bins, on WhatsApp, “I have something to suggest to YOU!” “A likely story,” I say, from my side of the planet. “It’s very simple,” he says, “and it’ll turn you into a New Person.”

I groan aloud. “But I’m happy as I AM!” I protest. “I don’t WANT to become a new person!” Of course it’s pointless to resist. “So!” says Bins, “you know how you’re always complaining about how much you snore?” “Wait!” I say. “YOU’RE the fog-horn not ME...” But he’s right. Whereas he’s a truly operatic snorer and completely unaware of it, I’ve known for some time that I snuffle and honk too. Sometimes I wake myself in mid-snarl, with my mouth open and my throat raw.

“Okay!” says Bins. “I’ve heard about a book that you have to read. It’s called Breath, by James Nestor. In the ancient world, Indians, Chinese and also Native Americans all knew the importance of breathing through the nose. But modern humans have forgotten how to breathe.” According to Nestor, says Bins, the problem starts with our diet. Once we turned from raw food to cooked foods, everything we ate grew softer. Changes in our jaws resulted in smaller mouths and crooked teeth.

“I thought eating cooked meat eventually made us smarter?” I say. “Yes,” says Bins, “but it also led to terrible teeth! You have to see the photographs!” Apparently, among all the animals on Earth, humans are the only ones who have crooked teeth. “I watched a video of a talk he gave,” says Bins. “He shows us that chimpanzees, horses, dolphins, sharks — everyone! — have straight teeth. But not us.”

“Okay,” I say, “we have bad teeth. So what?” Well, apparently, so everything: The crooked teeth are only a symptom. “The whole front of the human face has shrunk,” says Bins, “which means there’s less space at the back of the throat. Which means that many of us don’t get enough air from breathing through the nose. So we breathe through the mouth.” “...which brings on the end of Civilisation?” I ask in my most snarky voice.

“No, you silly person,” says Bins, as if speaking to a beagle puppy. “It makes all of us SNORE! That’s why I think you should read the book! You’ll learn how to stop snoring, increase the blood flow to your brain and maybe even go free-diving!” On my side of the planet, I’m starting to frown. “Free-diving? What’s that?”

“It’s when divers can hold their breath for several minutes and dive a hundred feet or more without any equipment,” says Bins. “Like Japanese pearl divers.” “But I don’t WANT to dive for pearls!” I say. “Okay, never mind the pearls,” says Bins, “at least you can read the book, and teach us both to stop snoring!” “What! You’ve not read it yourself?” I exclaim. “Nahh,” says Bins. “I’ve got better things to do!” “Such as?” I ask. But there’s a silence and, after a short pause, gentle snoring.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on June 12, 2020
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