I was finishing up with a client at her apartment when her dog came into the room. He considered me for a moment, perhaps wondering if in my bag of oils and herbs I also had something that tasted like bacon for him to eat. I didn't. When he was done considering me, he wandered over to the nearest wall and slumped down onto the floor to rest. As I watched him pant, I remembered something I read in Paramahansa Yogananda's book Autobiography of a Yogi.
In his book, Yogananda speaks of how certain species that breathe fewer times a minute tend to live longer than species that breathe a comparably greater number of times per minute. My client's dog was taking about forty to fifty breaths per minute, and yet Yogananda observed that a giant tortoise only takes about four breaths per minute. An elephant only takes four to five breaths per minute, and when resting, an alligator may only take one breath per minute. Though elephants and alligators don't live quite as long as a giant tortoise, they're certainly on the high-end of life spans in the animal kingdom. Dogs, as well as other animals like cats and mice, take many more breaths per minute and live a decidedly 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 sixty and 100 years. It is interesting to note that the range of breaths per minute is proportionally similar to that of the range of expected life spans.
There are many different programs, tonics, and marketable systems that promise greater longevity for the practitioner (customer). The truth, though, is that there is a system in yoga that will increase your longevity--and it won't cost you a penny. This system is, quite simply, that of the full yogic breath.
A full yogic breath is experienced through deep, full inhalations and long, slow exhalations. When the mind is focused on the breath and the nervous system is calm, there is less stress on the body and it experiences better digestion and elimination. Fewer, fuller breaths help to reduce one's appetite and keep the emotions and senses under control. Rather than trap yourself in a frenetic, 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, this habit will lead to a much longer, disease-free life. Breathe less, live longer. Try it.