The importance of breathing less

Fast breathing has become the new normal in today’s world, discover the health benefits of breathing less and how slow breathing can increase longevity.

Ancient yogis believed that each of us have a certain number of breaths assigned to us the moment we are born into this world – once we have inhaled and exhaled that final breath we expire.  Pranayama was the first practice to build a theory around respiratory control, maintaining that slow and controlled breathing is a way to increase longevity.

Generations are puffs of breath, that pass away. Man respires, aspires, and expires.
Victor Hugo

Breathing is so central to life that in many languages the word “exhale” is synonymous with dying. While eastern health sciences approach the breath as nourishment for body, mind and spirit – western science and medicine focus on breathing as a bodily function integral to survival.

Your body can store many of the things it needs to function – vitamins and food in the form of fat – but oxygen is one item that cannot be stored for more than a few minutes, it is continually being used by the cells to produce energy, with your lungs working constantly to provide a sufficient supply.

Fast breathing is the new normal

Your breath rate is defined as the number of breaths you take during a one-minute period – at rest. Recent studies suggest that an accurate recording of respiratory rate is very important in predicting serious medical events. Understanding how to take an accurate measurement is important. While watching a clock, count the number of times you breathe in two minutes, make three trials and find the average, divide by two to find the average number of breaths per minute.

Whilst in general children have faster respiratory rates than adults, and women breathe more often than men, fast breathing has become the new normal.  The average ranges for different age groups are listed below:

Newborn: 30-60 breaths per minute

Infant (1 to 12 months): 30-60 breaths per minute

Toddler (1-2 years): 24-40 breaths per minute

Preschooler (3-5 years): 22-34 breaths per minute

School-age child (6-12 years): 18-30 breaths per minute

Adolescent (13-17 years): 12-16 breaths per minute

Adult: 12-18 breaths per minute

At the normal breathing rate of eight breaths per minute a person will breathe about 11,520 breaths per day. At 16 breaths per minute – the current average for an adult – that rate reaches 23,000 breaths per day, and at 25 breaths per minute 36,000 breaths a day – a far cry above normal.

The benefits of breathing less

During rapid breathing carbon dioxide becomes deficient, oxygen delivery to the cells is reduced, breath holding time is reduced, and the natural automatic pause between breaths is absent.

Breathing is unquestionably the single most important thing you do in your life. And breathing right is the single most important thing you can do to improve your life.
Dr. Sheldon Saul Hendler

So what is the difference to your life and health when you breathe less? Dr. Buteyko – founder of The Buteyko Method – discovered that virtually all sick people (asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.) have accelerated respiratory patterns. A study of 85,000 people, Mike White – founder of The Optimal Breathing School – discovered that fast breathers suffer from much higher levels of anxiety, depression, sleeping disorders and high blood pressure than slow breathers.

Courtesy breathing.com

Cardiac coherence coordinates breathing with heart rate, slowing and steadying breathing to slow and stabilise the heartbeat. The method was developed based on the understanding that slow, deep breathing increases the activity of the vagus nerve.  The vagus nerve runs directly from your brain to your chest and stomach, connecting your brain to your heart and immune system – literally the mind-body connection. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, calmness pervades the body, your heart rate slows and becomes regular, blood pressure decreases and muscles relax. When the vagus nerve informs your brain of these changes, it too relaxes, increasing feelings of peacefulness. Thus the technique works through both neurobiological and psychological mechanisms.

Once you go below 10 breaths a minute you start to engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body relax when it has been injured. Slow breathing activates the vagus nerve, the primary cranial nerve, which is associated with a recuperative state.
Dr. Fred Muench

Slow breathing increases heart-rate variability, which is a measurement of the fluctuations in your heartbeat during an activity. “If your heart rate fluctuates between 60 to 80 beats per minute, cardiac-wise that’s healthier than someone whose heart rate varies between only 70 and 75 beats per minute,” says Muench. “It means your system is not so rigid. Someone like Lance Armstrong has a massive swing in heart-rate variability, whereas an unhealthy or older person has a much smaller one. The way to increase variability is to breathe slowly.

Breathing less and life span

For decades, scientists have pondered over a peculiar characteristic of mammals, and vertebrates to certain extent – the slower they breath, the longer they tend to live. Here’s some sample data of a few mammals’ respiratory rate and average lifespan.

Mouse: Breath rate = 90–170 per minute  Life span = 1.5–3 years

Rabbit : Breath rate = 30–60/min  Life span = 5–6 years

Dogs: Breath rate = 20–30/min  Life span = more than 10-20 years

Human: Breath rate = 15–18/min  Life span = 60–80 years

Horses: Breath rate = 8–15/min  Life span = more than 50 years

Whales: Breath rate = 4–6/min  Life span = more than 100 years

The most notable theory put forward to explain this phenomenon is that of the metabolic rate’s correlation to blood oxygen levels. The more rapidly an organism breathes, the higher its metabolic rate, this leads to faster ageing by causing the body to burn out its vital resources more quickly.

In a study of 5,000 patients spanning thirty years, doctors from the Boston University School of Medicine concluded they could predict both long-term and short-term mortality based on one’s breathing capacity. Dr. William Kannel said a person’s vital breathing capacity can “pick out people who are going to die 10, 20 or 30 years from now.”

Where Should I Begin?

Even if we don’t believe that we are assigned a specific number of breaths in our lifetime, we can still reap the benefits from slow breathing. You already know that high levels of stress and anxiety are bad for you and associated with serious health problems like heart disease. Mindful, slow, deep breathing is incompatible with stress and anxiety and scientific research is catching up with ancient traditions to show the overwhelming benefits derived from devoting time every day to breathing exercises.

Breathing is like solar energy for powering relaxation: it’s a way to regulate emotions that is free, always accessible, inexhaustible and easy to use. Start with brief periods of conscious, quiet breathing several times a day, taking time to focus on your breathing, being aware of it in the moment, slowly and rhythmically breathing in and out, will make you feel calm, relaxed and grounded in the present moment.

At Breath Evolution, our courses incorporate the teaching of breathing techniques based in pranayama, to achieve specific health and wellness goals.

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