Annnd a Big Exhale

Once in a while, helping a library patron or on the trail of a certain book or author, some odd tidbit in the catalog will grab my attention. A recent example: I discovered that the new book by James Nestor had several dozen holds on it, and at that time we owned only one copy. "Wait," you say. "Who's James Nestor?"

You're forgiven if you haven't read all of my blog posts. I mentioned him a couple months ago, and much before that wrote about his first book, Deep. A fantastic book that I fell into about freediving and whales, and freediving with whales, and communication with non-human animals, Deep later led its author to explorations in breathing. His new book is Breath, out just in time for a global pandemic that seems to make breathing difficult, or impossible. Hence, I guess, the many holds on what seems like a less-than-fascinating title.

I got inspired by Breath (ha!) just as my irregular exercising shifted from bicycling to swimming, which was weird because I also read Deep during swim season, pursuing the Master Switch of Life (also called the mammalian dive reflex) and breath-holding and so on. Not to mention pining for the deep blue sea. But there's more going on here --

I also discovered that Nestor blurbed Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui. While I've enjoyed swimming most of my life, I don't really consider myself a swimmer. Bonnie Tsui is. Plus, her writing is buoyant and refreshing, whether it's about her experiences in the water off Alcatraz, or the aquatic feats of Olympic athletes, or cold water swim clubs in Iceland, or the prehistoric swimmers of the Sahara Desert (remember The English Patient?). And she gets bonus points for citing Your Inner Fish, by Neil Shubin, a fascinating book about the evolution of our land-lubbing mammalian bodies.


Then I stumbled on to What Doesn't Kill Us, a book by Scott Carney about "The Iceman," Wim Hof. Hof and others of his ilk claim that cold exposure is good for you. After all, once we evolved beyond our inner fish we lived through several serious ice ages without polar fleece or central heating. Hof has shown that proper breathing is the key to controlling your nervous system, and thus moving from barely tolerating to actually looking forward to getting cold – really cold. So breathe as Wim describes, and go for a swim in an icy lake. Every day. Dive into his brand new book, The Wim Hof Method, for more, but don't hold your breath -- the holds list is growing. In the meantime, you can find a chat between James Nestor and Wim Hof online.

Then, within the space of a couple days, both my wildlife photographer cousins and my coworker and fellow LPL blogger Dan told me about a documentary I HAD TO SEE, called “My Octopus Teacher.” Unfortunately, it's not yet available on DVD at LPL, but YOU HAVE TO SEE IT. I won't spoil it, but -- freediving with wise and mysterious creatures, swimming in cold water, pining for the deep blue sea...its tentacles are wrapped around all of the aforementioned titles, and more. 

Such as, especially, The Soul of An Octopus, by Sy Montgomery. Montgomery, a prolific natural history writer, wrote about the eight-armed wonders in "Deep Intellect," the most-read article ever in Orion magazine (and that says a lot). Her book is highly recommended, especially after diving into “My Octopus Teacher.” 

The point of all this, I think: Take a deep breath, swim in your ecosystem every day, and perhaps you can flick on the Master Switch of Life eight times over.

-Jake Vail is an Info Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.

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