Proper breathing science
Our whole life is entirely dependent on breathing. If we stop breathing then life itself ceases in the body. We can survive for a few days without drinking water, a few months without taking food, but how long can the average person survive without drawing air into the lungs? Note that there are some very spiritually advanced yogis who can live without breathing for a few hours. But for the average person, it’s no more than a few minutes. As a result, we can conclude that there is an intimate connection between life and breath.
Breathing is a process that we rarely give any thought to. It occurs automatically without our awareness, yet at the same time, it is something that most people do incorrectly.
Food for thought: If breathing is a spontaneous function of the body, how is it possible to do it incorrectly? The answer is that our respiratory muscles become lazy and cease to give optimum inhalation and exhalation.
Here is an excellent quote from the ancient classic text on yoga, Hatha Yoga Pradipika:
“Life is the period between one breath and the next: a person who only half breathes, only half lives. He who breathes correctly acquires control of the whole being.”
Respiratory rate / longevity relationship
The ancient yogis were fully aware of the importance of breath: no breath no life. Breath is life. In yoga, it is said that each person has a fixed number of breaths allocated to him. If one breathes slowly, then he will live longer, for the number of breaths is allocated for the lifetime. But if one breathes rapidly, the given number of breaths are used up more quickly, resulting in a shorter lifespan.
Maybe the above statement is true. But it has been proven that “aging is proportional to respiratory rate”.
Just check the respiratory rate / longevity relationship for various animals below:
Mouse: Respiratory rate = 60–230 /min; Life span = 1.5–3.0 years
Rabbit: Respiratory rate = 30–60 /min; Life span = 5.0–6.0 years
Dog: Respiratory rate = 20-30 /min; Life span = 10-20 years
Monkey: Respiratory rate = 30–50 /min; Life span = 18–23 years
Horse: Respiratory rate = 8-15 /min; Life span = 50 years
Elephant: Respiratory rate = 4-5 /min; Life span = 70 years
Human: Respiratory rate = 12–16 /min; Life span = 70–80 years
Whales: Respiratory rate = 3–5 /min; Life span = 112 years
Giant tortoise: Respiratory rate = 4 /min; Life span = 150 years
Here is a great verse from the classic Bhagavad Gita:
“When the yogi, like the tortoise withdrawing its limbs, can fully retire his senses from the objects of perception, his wisdom manifests steadiness” (Chapter 2-58).
The “control of the senses” refers to the control of breath.
The process of breathing
Earlier man was more receptive to the rhythms of nature. Perhaps he was not aware of many of them, but he nevertheless flowed with them and allowed them to influence him in the way that was intended. This includes even the process of breathing. There was absolutely no need for him to consider whether he was breathing correctly or not. His very way of life was in tune with nature and sufficient to ensure that breathing was correct. His active way of life encouraged the lungs to work at optimum efficiency. His relaxed way of life encouraged correct breathing.
Modern man through fear, competition, and hatred does not allow the respiratory system to work as it should. We take quick shallow breaths which in a way are in accordance with the fast, superficial modern way of life.
Fast and shallow breathing
When a person breathes fast, he is more tense. Also, he has fear and worries a lot. Consequently, this leads to bad health, unhappiness and of course a shorter life. When a person breathes quickly, he tends to inhale small volumes of air and exhale the same small volumes. This allows germs to accumulate in the lower areas of the lungs.
However, when the same person breathes slowly, he is calm and happy. Also, he is free from any tension. This, in turn, increases his lifespan. He tends to breathe deeply and thereby fill the lungs to a greater depth. This helps to remove stagnant air from the lower reaches of the lungs and to destroy the breeding ground of germs and the germs themselves.
Moreover, deep breathing imparts a good massage to the abdominal organs via the diaphragm. This is a natural and essential subsidiary function of the breathing process, which is often overlooked. The massage of the liver, stomach, etc. keeps them in good working order by expelling old, impure blood and allowing pure, oxygenated blood to replace it.
Shallow breathing connected with fast breathing does not give the internal organs the massage they require. This can lead to various diseases. Shallow breathing also leads to insufficient oxygen in the body. This causes functional disturbances and illnesses concerned with circulatory, digestive and nervous systems since the efficiency of these systems is entirely dependent on healthy, well-nourished nerves and organs, which depend completely on oxygen for survival.
Factors influencing breathing
There are a large number of factors that influence our breathing. For example, if we take a cold shower, we automatically start to breathe deeply. It is a conditioned response. Yet most modern people rarely have a cold shower. Instead, they take a hot bath. But our ancestors had no choice.
Also, a cold brisk atmosphere encourages deep breathing. Yet modern man spends as little time as possible in the open. He prefers to hibernate himself in air-conditioned and heated apartments. He spends his life cooped up in the office during the day, and watching television or surfing the internet at night. As such, he loses touch with the natural stimulator of rhythmic breathing. Primitive man did not need to learn how to breathe properly. It happened as an automatic response to his surroundings.
In comparison, the surroundings and way of life of modern man do not encourage proper breathing. It is for this reason that today most people have to learn how to breathe properly. They have to relearn what in fact is natural for them. They have to reactivate their nervous reflexes so that their breathing becomes normal and harmonious to life and health.
When we do not breathe properly, we starve our body of the oxygen nourishment that it requires for optimum health. This, in turn, causes our body to be prone to diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, pulmonary tuberculosis, among others.
A reasonably relaxed person sitting on a chair inhales or exhales approximately half a liter of air at a time. Now if that same person expanded his chest and abdomen to the possible maximum, and thereby drew more air into the lungs, it would be possible for him to draw in approximately an extra two liters. This is over and above the normal half liter that a person can inhale.
If we can contract the chest and abdomen after normal expiration comfortably, then we can expel an extra one and a half liter of air from the lungs, over and above the half liter that we exhale during normal respiration. There is also some air that will remain in the lungs even after the deepest exhalation. This is so because we can never fully deflate the lungs. Also, the chest and the diaphragm can never squeeze the lungs to remove all the air.
Most people, while sitting, breathe less than half a liter of air and so their lung usage is actually less than one-eighth their capacity. It is for this reason that learning to breathe properly is vital.
Why must we breathe slowly?
By now the advantages of deep breathing is obvious. But why not breathe deeply and quickly?
The reason is very simple. It requires time to transfer oxygen from the lungs to the blood. Also, it takes time to transfer carbon dioxide from the blood to the lungs, thus expelling the carbon dioxide into the air. If one breathes quickly, then the optimum oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange is not leached in the lungs. If the respiration is slow, then the optimum transfer can be achieved. This is why deep and quick breathing is so important in relation to each other. The deep breathing allows maximum intake for each respiration and slow breathing allows an optimum exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.