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Science Discovers, Finally, That Breathing Is an Essential Instrument for Dealing With Reality


Indian tradition has spoken of the power of breathing for millennia; today, science is backing it up.

After a very long side route, science has finally arrived at the conclusion Indian tradition reached more than two thousand years ago: breathing decisively affects the body and the mind. Well beyond the mechanical transformation of oxygen into carbon dioxide, scientists have now confirmed that to achieve homeostasis – an organism’s balance – the brain relies on stimulation from breathing.

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine have discovered, among other things, that the cognitive functions of the body and mind work much better when we inhale through the nose rather than through the mouth. Further, deep breathing exercises improve the memory and help us to make better decisions. “When you inhale, you’re somehow synchronizing the cerebral oscillations that occur throughout the limbic network,” they explain.

By breathing restlessly, adrenaline is released. This sends signals to the brain that allow us to act faster and to make better decisions. This is because the hippocampus, responsible for memory, the amygdala, the emotional center, and the piriform cortex, are all affected by breathing.

George Gurdjieff once warned, “If you haven’t learned to breathe, you haven’t learned anything.” The Armenian mystic also noted that virtually all cultures have been curious about the physical and chemical processes of breathing, relating them immediately to life. The Latin word for breathing is spiritu, which also translates as breath. The Old Testament relates that God created humankind by breathing into Adam. And the Chinese, after noting that turtles breathed slowly and lived many years, began to pursue breathing with great interest, and this formed the basis of Qi Gong.

In contrast to Western philosophy, Eastern thinkers considered breathing as one of the pillars of existence. In Indian thought, it’s suggested in the dialogues of the Upanishads (8th century BCE), that a substantial change in the subject-object relationship might be registered through breathing. Indian thought puts a greater emphasis on the subject, that is, in the intimate and intangible, and not on describing the visible world.

The problem that thus occupied Indian thinkers from then on was of detonating a kind of soul transformation. Humankind began a sojourn within, to inspire divinity, and to unfold in the direction of self-knowledge. All of this was from meditation, control of the breathing, and the rather severe psychological discipline of yoga.

The current scientific inquiries confirm what Indian thought always insisted upon in regard to respiration. And from here, we can draw some lessons. First of all, we must learn to breathe. This is something we’ve not known how to do for a long time. We can also help to reinvent philosophical traditions with science, drawing from them valuable contributions to put into practice and to live better.

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