The Link Between Breath Control and Longevity
Did you know that animals who breathe the slowest often live the longest?
The elephant, whale, tortoise, snake and many others noted for their longevity in the animal kingdom and have a respiratory rate which is often less than humans.
The tortoise, for example, breathes only 4 times per minute and is able to attain an age of up to 300 years!
A humpback whale, on the other hand, are masters of the Pranayama technique 'Kumbhaka' (breath retention).
They will hold their breath and dive between 4-7 minutes and then come up to the surface for 6-8 breaths!
Some humpbacks have been known to hold their breath for up to an hour!
Their lifespan can reach between 80 - 100 years and some species of whale have been documented to live for over 200 years - which is just magical if you ask me.
Believe it or not, the best way to measure a blue whale’s age is their ear wax!
As a blue whale grows older, their ear wax alternates in layers according to when the animal was either migrating or in feeding periods.
So you can count the periods between migration and fasting in a blue whale's ear wax similar to how you would count the rings on a tree.
Using this method scientists have estimated that some blue whales live to longer than 70 years while larger Antarctic blue whales can live to 90 years of age.
How cool is that!
Aside from a whale's earwax…
I bet you want to know how I got onto researching the breath-rate and lifespan of different animals on this fine afternoon!
Well, Ancient Yogis believed and documented that you could extend your life by slowing down your breath.
I distinctly remember my Guru in India capturing our attention with this teaching! He had two top tips for longevity that stuck with me!
The first was that he does a ‘body scan’ continuously throughout his day to notice where he is holding tension!
He checks in with his shoulders and relaxes them, he ensures he is standing firmly on two feet with his weight evenly distributed and he relaxes his face at various intervals throughout the day.
This serves to soften and disperse physical tension and stave off injury and ailments. And it must work because he looks about thirty years younger than his age!
The second point was that he purposely breathes slowly and calmly all day long, not just on the Yoga mat!
This means that his breath rate is much slower and deeper than usual with natural pauses or Kumbakha (breath holding) in-between the inhale and the exhale!
This serves to make his breaths last longer because the ancient teachings state that you are born with the certain number of breaths that you will ever take!
My Guru firmly believed the ancient teachings and the wisdom that had been passed down through the generations of his family lineage.
There are, of course, many different interpretations of the ancient texts and often Pranayama is translated as ‘breath control’ but this one particular and traditional way of interpreting the teachings stuck with me!
My trip to India and my Guru’s words were a huge influence on my thinking!
I couldn't help but remember it... being born with a set number of breaths for our whole life!
This was not to scare us but rather to illuminate a point!
So if you breathe more slowly and purposely, then you use up your set amount of breaths more slowly and therefore live longer…
This interpretation resonated with me because when I went scuba diving out in Indian islands, I breathed a lot slower than my fellow divers and I would always be able to stay much longer below the surface before my oxygen ran out.
My Yoga practice seemed to be extending my time under water for sure!
Because your breathing directly affected the amount of time you had under water per dive you do consider each breath and make them last!
And this is what our Guru wanted us to do in life... bring our attention to each breath!
Back to the Sanskrit...
The word Pranayama can either be broken down into Prana (breath) and Yama (control) or it could actually be a Sanskrit word derived from Pran (life) and Ayama (extend).
And so the practice of ‘breath control’ could actually be a practice designed to extend or lengthen one’s life!
Upon learning this my brain wondered “so hang on, every time I go for a run and I breathe really quickly, does this mean I am using up my set breaths and shortening my life?”
Maybe this is the ultimate excuse I needed to never go running again!! Yesss!
However, I have come to the conclusion that this beautiful and ancient piece of storytelling is instead designed to make the practitioner aware of their entire life as being a gift - the gift of a certain number of breaths!
And how we spend these breaths is detrimental to the longevity of our life!
This very idea sows a seed and plants the idea of slowing down in the practitioners mind. That each breath you take is valuable for your longevity… so why would we not learn to breathe in the most effective and calm way?
It also reminds us that life is too short to make it even shorter by rushing through it!
So perhaps the answer to why tortoises live until they are 200 or more years old lies in the ancient Yogic texts? Because they take life very slowly! 🐢
And most importantly perhaps the answer to longevity and living the rest of our life in health and happiness lies in learning Pranayama and slowing the breath?
Yoga is all about the breath!
Pranayama shifts the autonomous nervous system response which means after continuous Yoga practice we unconsciously breathe at a slow breath-rate off the mat, in day to day life, without even thinking about it!
So how can you learn to start breathing more effectively right now?
Well you could join my members site that has 99 Yoga videos already waiting for you on breathing technique, Yoga and Meditations to slow the breath and shift the nervous system.
Join anytime and pay a monthly cost that is much more affordable than one-to-one Yoga or joining a studio! Through the monthly membership I am available via direct messaging for any Yoga-related questions!
JOIN HERE >>> NATASHA KERRY YOGA MEMBERS SITE
Happy Yoga-ing and I hope to connect with you online in class!