A lot of yoga students believe that you only get so many breaths during a life time and the slower you take these breaths the longer your life will last. In general the slower a body’s metabolism is, the longer the body’s cells will live. Animals with fast metabolisms usually live short lives. Animals such as rabbits, mice and small birds have fast metabolisms and their bodies wear out faster than animals with slower metabolisms.
The tortoise, which takes an average of 4 breaths a minute, can live up to 200-300 years compared to a rabbit, which has an average of 30-60 breaths a minute and will live to 5-10 years.
Humans have an average of 12-20 breaths per minute and can live to around 100 years old. Many yoga students train their breath to slow down and absorb more oxygen though pranayama breathing practices. Some yoga students who devote their lives to the study of yoga take these breathing practices many steps farther.
In very in-depth yoga pranayama breathing practices, the student spends their entire days and nights practicing and studying yoga and breath. First the yogis practice pranayama with their fingers controlling their nasal passages to limit and control the amount of air in and out of the breathing passages. Once they obtain a certain level of breath control with their fingers, many of the yogis will cut the frenulum on the bottom of their tongue and practice stretching until they can place it up against their nasal cavity so they can control the air flow with their tongue instead of their fingers. It is also said that some of the practices with the tongue in the nasal area can also stimulate adrenal glands that will heighten awareness and guide meditations to new levels.
After years of training, yogis can achieve great control over their breathing and slow it down to a small trickle. Once the breath is slowed down to such a slow rate, the body’s metabolism also slows down to a very slow rate. When the body’s metabolism is going at such a slow rate, it will burn less food, which gives the yogis the opportunity to go on long retreats with a small amount of food. There are many stories from India and Tibet about yogis that go on secluded retreats in caves and deep in the forest with a small bag of rice and are able to meditate for many months. Stories say that once you are in deep states of mediation and breath control, the breath is turned down to a small trickle similar to when an animal hibernates, and the life process of the body comes almost to a halt. When the body is in such a state that the process slows down, so does the aging. There are stories of yogis and mystics living in the caves in almost constant retreat who live for hundreds of years.
It is hard to tell how much of these stories are myth and how much are truth, but some of the monasteries in these areas exist on very small amounts of worldly substance as part of their normal routine. Going on a retreat with a small amount of rations would not be a large sacrifice from their normal daily rations.
Most people in today’s modern society will never spend the years of training and isolation to achieve these extreme levels of breath control, but a small daily routine of pranayama breathing practice is sure to have great health benefits, and with better health and breath we are sure to expand our life spans.