© 2018 by Clare Vernon FCCA Dip ION FdSc mBANT

  • Clare Vernon

Breathe More Tortoise

Updated: Sep 23, 2018

There's much we can learn from the tortoise, not least, how to beat the hare! But, more relevant to wellbeing is to take a leaf from his book about breathing. Perhaps that is his key to calm contentment and longevity.

According to ancient hindu texts, when we are born we are given a certain number of years, which can also be expressed as a certain number of breaths. These texts also suggest that 'man's' life span is 100 years and in their daily recital of the Sandhyavandhanam Hindus ask for 100 years of healthy life, (something that most of us would not necessarily dream of nor desire given our expectations of diminishing health as we age).

If a man/woman breathes on average 18 times a minute he will breathe 1080 times in an hour and 25,920 times in a day.  That's a little over 946 million breaths in a 100 year long life (my accounting days die hard I'm afraid). And, in general, we spend very little time focusing on this incredible but natural rhythm of life.

So what of the tortoise?

In An Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahamsa Yogananda states “The restless monkey breathes at the rate of 32 times/minute, in contrast to man’s average, 18 times. The elephant, tortoise, snake and other animals noted for their longevity have a respiratory rate which is less than man’s. The tortoise, for instance, who may attain the age of 300 years, breathes only 4 times/minute.”

Now, whilst I am not advocating slowing your daily pace to that of the tortoise, nor turning blue in the name of longevity, there may actually be something we can take from this observation.

Quite often, when we are overwhelmed by events, daily life, certain people, just the sheer enormity of a task ahead, it is our breath that can shine a light on our wellbeing. I notice that during these times my breath becomes shallower, shorter, a little faster, 'tighter' maybe and certainly less enriching. And I can see how I could be using up my valuable breaths in a manner not conducive to my longevity. It is those times where I am what I call "up in my head" and not really quite myself; where I don't feel like me. I feel like events have overtaken me and if I could just regain my composure I would feel much better. If I am lucky I can notice this early enough to take stock quickly to change my pace, slow down and focus on returning my breathing to a place that feels much more melodic.

And then, I can reduce the extent to which the overwhelm that has reared its ugly head overwhelms me. Which I know contributes to my wellbeing and therefore has to be good for my longevity.

There is a lot of scientific truth in the Hindu idea that incorrect breathing patterns can contribute to illness and ageing. My training means that I could go into the biochemical implications of too much oxygen raging through your inner workings; of oxidation, free radicals, antioxidants and cell death; of foods high in anti-oxidants and free radical quenchers. I could even offer some ideas on how to improve your breathing or calm anxiety with breathing exercises but that would steer us both into a blog post that was not my original intention, nor quite so thought provoking and perhaps a little dull? Maybe another time.

Really, all I wanted to do was suggest that noticing your breath can be a simple yet effective way of bringing you back to your true self and enhancing your effectiveness at dealing with today's events.

If someone or something irks you today or that looming deadline finds you with shoulders attached to your ear lobes, spare a thought for the tortoise. Maybe that old adage "save your breath" has a deeper meaning than you realised?