Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion

2020 Edition
| Editors: David A. Leeming


  • Paul LarsonEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-24348-7_84

The use of the breath in spiritual practice has a long history, and the metaphor of the breath as a symbol for life is equally long standing. First let us note its strong association with life itself. We now know that there are heartbeats and brain function in the womb, but before that knowledge, we knew that taking in a breath was one of the first things we did as we are born. Our airway was cleared, the cord cut, and then we cried out. It is also the last thing we do as we die; we expire, literally. So the Egyptian glyph for life was an airway and the lung, the word in Hebrew for the life spirit is “nefesh,” the ancient Greeks termed the life force, “pneuma,” and in Sanskrit “prana” is also a term linking breath and life.

A basic limb of yoga as laid out by Patanjali was pranayama, the discipline of using the breath as a spiritual practice. Anyone who has practiced hatha yoga knows how intimately the breath is connected with the ability to stretch the body into the postures, or...

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Chicago School of Professional PsychologyChicagoUSA