The term “breathing” refers to two distinct processes:
- cellular or internal respiration, or one of the chemical reactions that take place inside the cell and part of the cellular metabolism. This biochemical process that takes place in the mitochondria and sees oxygen (O2) react with lipids, carbohydrates and amino acids. The reaction produces: carbon dioxide (CO2), water and energy (stored in the form of ATP). CO2 is the most abundant product.
- external respiration, which consists in the exchange of gas between the environment and the body’s cells, necessary to supply O2 to the cells and eliminate CO2 from the body. Air arrives in the lungs, through the upper airways: nasal cavities and mouth. It is through these two ways that our body rhythmically comes into contact with the surrounding gas environment.
Below, I will consider only external respiration.
Breathing is one of the most important vital functions of the body of a living being. It consists of a sequence of inspiratory and expiratory acts, mainly of an involuntary nature but can also be voluntary. Except for specific needs, breathing through the nose is the preferred way since it is a better filter than the mouth. It reduces the amount of irritants that reach the lungs and, at the same time, warms and moistens the air we breathe. When large quantities of air are needed, the nose is not the most effective channel and therefore mouth breathing can be used. It becomes the preferential one when you are subjected, for example, to an intense physical effort. Breathing is the basis of growth and change both in our body and in our mind, without there is no nourishment, without nourishment there is no life. Life begins with an inhale and ends with an exhale.
In more subtle terms, since ancient times, the profound connection between breath, body and mind had already been intuited. In both the western and eastern cultures, breathing has always been at the center of spiritual practices: songs, shamanic rites, dances and how much the human being’s soul may have experienced to touch “higher spiritual planes”. In the Indian tradition, breathing has always been used in meditative practices to develop awareness. The concept of vital breath is expressed in the Sanskrit word prāṇa. Prāṇa was directed to influence the mind, to access “altered mental states“, where divine intuition was believed to reside.
In ancient Greece the term “soul” was ἄνεμος (anemos) or wind, from which the Latin animus (spirit) is derived.
To me it is very interesting to see how they were “forced” to associate the concept of soul with a natural element that represents the ineffability par excellence, as to underline the parallelism for which the presence of the soul can be experiential but it is not directly and entirely “Catchable” from outside.