Breathe

Can Pranayama (Yoga Breathing) Help You Live Longer?

Updated on 7 July 2020 • 4 minute read
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It’s no secret that unmanaged chronic stress and anxiety, constant lack of sleep, malnutrition, and burnout can shave years off your life.

In fact, it’s well documented that many diseases and health problems are caused by stress. 

This creates a vicious cycle of illness and degeneration that can greatly negatively impact our quality of life.

According to Harvard Health, stress may contribute to or make the following conditions worse: (1)

  • Allergic skins reactions
  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Gum disease
  • Headaches
  • Heart problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Infectious diseases
  • Infertility
  • Insomnia
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • PMS (premenstrual syndrome) 
  • Side effects of cancer/ cancer treatments
  • Slow wound healing
  • Ulcers 

Maybe you’re already starting to feel or see evidence of stress-induced accelerated aging in your own life. 

Are you experiencing any kind of inflammation in your body like sore joints, gut issues, mental or memory problems? 

Are you finding your energy levels are depleted or out of balance?

Thinning or grey hair? 

More wrinkles and fine lines?

Bodily inflammation and chronic health conditions can shorten your lifespan and make you age faster.

This is what scientists call “inflammaging.”

“Although chronic inflammation progresses slowly, it is the cause of most chronic diseases and presents a major threat to the health and longevity of individuals.”

– Roma Pahwa, National Cancer Institute & Dr. Ishwarlal Jialal, California Northstate

These factors create a vicious cycle of stress > inflammation > aging.

As you age your immune response weakens which makes it harder to lower inflammation.

Research suggests that certain interventions can help mitigate these effects:

Yup, you read that last one right – breathing can help you not only decrease stress levels but also fight inflammation as studies suggest.

 

Learn to Self-Regulate & Live a Longer Life:

Breathing is a powerful tool to self-regulate.

Self-regulation involves consciously observing and managing our own thinking, emotional, and behavioral patterns in order to rise above initial stress reactions and impulses.

It also involves regulating your breathing, which in turn helps to regulate many aspects of your body function like heart rate, blood pressure, hormones, and nervous system.  

Self-regulating leads to increased stress resilience (the ability to effectively and efficiently face and bounce back from our everyday stresses and challenges.) 

It also helps to increase our body’s regenerative capacity for self-healing and thriving:

“Our ability to deal with stress has an impact on how we age.”

– Patricia Gerbarg, MD & Richard Brown, MD. 

In their publication titled Yoga Breathing, Meditation, and Longevity published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, doctors Patricia Gerbarg and Richard Brown cite a study conducted on 5,716 middle-aged people. (2)

15 years after the study, those who had a stronger self-regulatory capacity were 50 times more likely to be alive and disease-free than those who self-regulated poorly. 

The simplest and easiest thing we can begin to regulate immediately is our own breath

The ancient practice of yoga helps to regulate both body and mind by via two tools:

1 – Pranayama

Also known as yoga breathing, which is the ability to mindfully control and extend inhales, holds, and exhales can have a direct and almost immediate calming effect on your body. When practiced regularly pranayama can help slow the breath down and help restore vitality to your body so it becomes more resilient to stress and inflammation.

2 – Svadhyaya

Known as the art of self-inquiry, self-study, and self-awareness, practicing Svadhyaya can help calm the ripples of the mind by breaking negative thinking and behavioral patterns. Bringing mindfulness to your life means you lessen your reactivity and impulsivity while increasing the ability to be grounded, balanced in perception, and confidently responsive to life. This inevitably lowers stress and therefore inflammation.

 

How Pranayama (Yoga Breathing) Can Help Counter Aging:

Is it possible to live longer if we breathe better? 

Can we truly enhance the quality of our life by shifting something as simple as our breath? 

Ancient wisdom and modern science both seem to agree that it is.

As the Sanskrit proverb goes:

“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on the earth.”

In their publication, Gerbarg and Brown explain how recent studies on yogic breathwork support what the ancient yogis always knew – we can improve the length and quality of our days by improving the quality of our breath: 

“Breath practices are believed to eliminate toxins and negative “karmic airs,” to clear the “subtle pathways” of the “subtle body” (the energy body), and to increase oxygenation to strengthen the physical body…

Many scientific studies have shown that mind-body interventions derived from yoga (including breathing, meditation, physical postures, centering, and visualization) ameliorate stress-related mental and physical disorders including asthma, high blood pressure, cardiac illness, elevated cholesterol, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, insomnia, multiple sclerosis, and fibromyalgia.” (2) 

Let’s look to nature here… 

Animals that have rapid breathing patterns, for example, rabbits, tend to live for a short period of time. 

Animals with slow, deep breathing patterns, for example a tortoise, tend to live for a longer period of time. (The average lifespan of a tortoise is 100 years or more!) (3)

 

A Simple 60-Second Science-Backed, Life-Enhancing Yogic Breath Exercise:

The following is an ultra-simple, evidence-based breathing exercise that can be effectively completed in just a minute.

Though the body responds positively to this technique in 60 seconds, the longer you practice it, the more you’ll enhance your life. 

It’s based on breathing at a 10-second rhythm – 5 seconds inhales followed by 5 seconds exhales. 

Breathing at this rate seems to increase your heart’s rhythm variability (HRV.) 

Increased HRV is considered a predictive marker of longevity. (4)

Increase your HRV with pranayama, and increase your chances of living longer and better.

 

HOW TO: 

Complete at minimum x6 rounds of 10-second rhythm cycles (Remember: each full cycle = 1 inhale + 1 exhale)

Step 1: Begin to focus on your breathing, connect with the inflow and outflow as it is naturally, right now. 

Step 2: Intentionally slow your breath and deepen it slightly by engaging your belly. (Your belly should expand outwardly as you inhale and contract inwardly as you exhale.) 

Step 3: Inhale for 5 counts.

Step 4: Exhale for 5 counts. 

Step 5: Repeat Steps 3 and 4 a minimum of 6 cycles, although 30 cycles are ideal and optimal. (6 cycles = 60 seconds, 30 cycles = 5 minutes.) 

 

 

References:

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/promotions/harvard-health-publications/stress-management-approaches-for-preventing-and-reducing-stress
  2. https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04394.x
  3. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/g/galapagos-tortoise/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20381674

 

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