Did you know that medical science has proven that people with fewer breaths per minute tend to be healthier and live longer than those who breathe more rapidly?
It’s true! I checked out the research myself (my science-brain is so happy right now)!
In general, the autonomic nervous system (commonly referred to as the involuntary nervous system) is made up of the sympathetic (SNS), parasympathetic (PNS), and enteric (digestion) nervous systems. Deep breathing affects the PNS.
We can think of the SNS system as the gas and the PNS as the brake.
The SNS is referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ system. When we encounter danger or stress, the SNS kicks in, increasing heart rate and sending blood to the extremities so we can run away from the danger (inhibiting digestion, hence no swimming after eating). The adrenal glands are stimulated and hormones such as norepinephrine and epinephrine are produced. The SNS is activated whenever we’re upset like irritated at a coworker, saddened by an unexpected loss, or stressed about money.
The PNS is often referred to as the ‘rest and digest’ system. The PNS aids digestion (stimulates the salivary glands; accelerates peristalsis) and sends blood to male and female reproductive organs. The primary neurotransmitter of the PNS is acetylcholine. Acetylcholine levels rise when we are sleeping, helping to slow the heart and promote relaxation.
Below is a summary of some literature I found.
- Controlled, slow breathing is an effective means of maximizing heart rate variability (this is a good thing referring to the variance between beats indicating good recovery response) and preserving autonomic function, both of which have been associated with decreased mortality in pathological states and longevity in the general population.
- A regular practice of slow breathing exercise for three months improves autonomic functions (which leads to improved health and longevity).
- Slow-breathing is a safe, effective, and therapeutic approach for hypertension. Here is another one.
- Bonus! Slow deep breathing decreased symptoms of motion sickness.
- In a recent study at the Stanford University School of Medicine, researchers demonstrated how slow breathing induces tranquillity. Here they identified a handful of nerve cells in the brainstem that connect breathing to states of mind.
Slow, deep, gentle breathing is a fundamental component of qigong.
When our bodies are in a relaxed state, our hormones and improved digestion are helping us feel-good along with our heart and mind slowing. Our minds become clear and our cells become more oxygenated. It follows then, that we will make better decisions and our stress response will be modulated. Because we are nurturing and calming our minds and organs, it makes sense that we will feel better overall, have improved immunity and resiliency, and ultimately live longer!
In Level 1 Spring Forest Qigong teachings, Master Lin refers to deep breathing and says that a dog breaths 27 times per minute and lives between 10-15 years; a tortoise breathes two to three times per minutes and lives over 100 years; and the average human breathes 17 times per minute. By practising qigong and meditation we slow down the overall rate of our breathing, not just while we are practising. This helps us with longevity (among many other benefits!).
Have you seen this great video of the many benefits one of my students from my Energy in Motion Community received while practising qigong over a few short months? I encourage you to watch it! You will be inspired to keep practising, begin a practice, or to get back to a regular practice.
Slowing down your breath throughout the day is a great place to start! The more you bring your attention to your breath, the slower you will breathe, but also you will be clearing away the endless mind chatter we all get caught up in. This creates space for energy to flow and for better decision-making.
Click here to get my free guide and video on how to slow down your breath and bring energy into your body while you instantly calm your mind. It really works!
I’d love to hear about your experience with deep breathing in the comments!
Love and light,