Tortoise Lessons

Surely you have turned it into a game before.

You sit down at the machine or the doctor’s office and get the cuff put around your arm to have your blood pressure taken. In trying to see if you can beat your all time lowest score you reflexively close your eyes and start breathing much slower.

Somehow you inherently know that if you breath slower, lengthening your inhales and exhales, both your blood pressure and heart rate will drop. This is just one of many benefits the medical community is beginning to find come from breathing slowly.

Yoga tradition has seemed to know for centuries that breathing slower would help someone live longer. It is taught that a person has a limited amount of breaths they take during their life. The faster you breath the quicker you use them up. The longer the breaths the longer the life. Tradition has it that this concept originated by watching the tortoise, which regularly lives 150 years. They only breath about 4 times per minute. Other animals like dogs breath much faster, rates up to 30 breaths a minute, and have much shorter lifespans.

My favorite animal example though is the Bowhead Whale. It only breathes 1-2 times each minute, can hold its breath for 40 minutes, and lives for over 200 years!

Modern Research

As mentioned, medicine is beginning to notice the positive effects of slow breathing. They are diving in to see what it truly affects. Part of the reason it lowers blood pressure and heart rate is because breathing this way shifts the practitioner into a more relaxed or parasympathetic state. Being in a parasympathetic state puts much less stress on the body overall allowing it to repair. Part of this same line of effects is slow breathing’s ability to improve heart rate variability. Each of these factors correlate to a healthier overall life and would therefore lead to a longer life on average.

How to Breath Slower

Currently a “normal” range of respiration rates is 12-20 breaths per minute. Anything above 20 or below 12 is considered abnormal. This range, however, needs to shift lower because above 15 is rapid breathing. 20 breaths in one minute means each inhale and each exhale is only 1 second long! If you try this now and it feels normal then it is time to begin adding slow breathing to your day. Eventually you can breath 10-12 breaths each minute throughout the day easily.

There are two ways to begin this practice, Equal Breathing and 1:2 Breathing. Equal Breathing means simply breathing in for the same amount of time as you breath out. As you do this try gradually increasing the length. Over time 1 breath per minute is achievable! 1:2 Breathing involves breathing out for twice the amount of time as you breath in. Begin by breathing in for about :03 and out for :06. Again as you do this you will be able to increase the lengths of these breaths.

Add these practices in throughout your day or for a specific amount of time (5-10 minutes) and you will begin feeling more relaxed and enjoy all the health benefits that go with it!

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