Nowadays most people are running around from one task to the next. We can barely find time to cook and enjoy a proper meal let alone find time to slow down and take some deep breaths. There is a lot of talk in the yoga community that suggests that the way we breathe is crucial for good health.
As mentioned in an earlier Blog “Open your heart & Set the Foundations (Yoga Teacher Training)”, before I started yoga, I had little awareness of my breath. Apart from when I would find myself puffing and panting and gasping for air because of childhood asthma, I gave little to no thought on how and why I was breathing they way I was.
In my Blog entitled “Life’s Lessons” I spoke about how breathing exercises are a huge part of any yoga practice and how they can also be a very useful tool in our daily lives but in this post I would like to expand on those ideas a little further.
Breathing is a rhythmic, involuntary process regulated by our respiratory system but it can also be voluntary such as when we hold our breath or engage in pranayama techniques.
According to my past yoga teachers (and many other creditable sources), most of us breathe incorrectly, meaning most people do not know how to breathe so as to take full advantage of the nourishing, health-giving properties of the act of breathing. What is the first thing a person says if someone is stressed or having a panic attack? It is usually something along the lines of “Just Breathe!” Breathing has direct connections to emotional states and moods– observe someone who is angry, afraid or upset, and you will see a person breathing rapidly, shallowly, noisily and irregularly.
I’m a sucker for interesting trivia so when I watched a yoga documentary (sorry I can’t remember the name) that spoke about the correlation between how certain species who breathe fewer times a minute tend to live longer than species that breathe a comparably greater number of times per minute. The doco gave the example of the giant tortoise who only takes about four breaths per minute. So out of interest I did some research to find that an elephant only takes four to five breaths per minute, and when resting, an alligator may only take one breath per minute. While elephants (60-70 years) and alligators (30-50 years) don’t live quite as long as a giant tortoise (average 100-150 years), they’re undoubtedly on the high-end of life spans in the animal kingdom. Dogs, who average 10-13 years with 10-35 breaths per minute, as well as other animals like cats (12-18 years) and mice (2 years), take many more breaths per minute and live an unequivocally shorter period of time. Human beings, however, exist somewhere in between the dogs and the giant tortoises in both life span and breaths per minute. Humans tend to take between twelve and twenty breaths per minute, and they tend to live between 60 and 100 years.
So with this knowledge in mind, does longer breaths, resulting in fewer breaths per minute, equal a longer life? Paramahansa Yogananda’s book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ seems to suggest this is the case. This leads me to wonder if we can we increase our longevity by changing how we breathe and how often we breathe? If there is a way of increasing your longevity, it would have to be by implementing the Full Yogic Breath.
A full yogic breath is experienced through deep, full inhalations and long, slow exhalations. Rather than trap yourself in a frantic, high-energy breathing pattern, emulate the slower, deeper habits of the giant tortoise and work to take five to seven breaths per minute. When practiced over time, it has been suggested that this habit could lead to a much longer, disease-free life.
Since breathing has never hurt anyone, why not try it now? Get yourself into a comfortable seated or lying position and try Full Yogic Breathing for just 5 minutes.
Now, once you are comfortable, gently close your eyes and take a few moments to settle in. Close your mouth and breathe only through your nostrils. Breathe in deeply beginning by expanding the lower abdomen, moving up through the mid-torso and then to the upper-chest (feeling the collar bones lifting slightly). Then exhale by lowering the collar bones as the air leaves your lungs and push all of the air out by contracting your stomach and drawing inwards towards the spine to complete one round of Full Yogic Breath.
After several rounds of Full Yogic Breath (try to do it for 3-5 minutes but you can go up to fifteen minutes), allow your breathing to return to normal for a minute or two before gently opening your eyes and bringing your practice to a close. Before you move on to your next activity, pause briefly to notice how you feel. Are you more refreshed, awake, and relaxed? How did your practice affect or benefit you today?
By focusing on our breath, we are able to feel a connection between mind, body and spirit. Knowing how to perform simple breathing techniques can help lower your blood pressure, calm a racing heart, or help your digestive system without taking drugs. When the mind is focused on the breath and the nervous system is calm, there is less stress on the body. Your body can also experience better digestion and elimination through Full Yogic Breathing as fewer, fuller breaths help to reduce one’s appetite and keep the emotions and senses under control. Finally, you cannot be angry, upset or anxious if your breathing is slow, deep, quiet and regular.
I hope reading this Blog and completing 3-5 minutes of Full Yogic Breathing has helped bring a little bit of calm into your busy life. As you become more comfortable with the practice of Full Yogic Breathing, you can integrate this style of breathing more and more throughout your day-to-day activities for longer lasting benefits.
Breathe less, be happier and perhaps live longer.