"Enlightened" Breath: Breathing and Biomedicine

In his famous essay “What is Enlightenment” the philosopher Emmanuel Kant argued enlightenment consisted in “man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.” In his presentation, Dr. Normandin proposes that the same process is required in modern medicine in regards to the healing potential of breath. While much is known of the physiological importance of breathing in biomedicine, there is almost no appreciation of its possible therapeutic role in both psychic and somatic ailments. In this sense the modern medical paradigm remains in a state of immaturity when considering the potential of breath and breathing. Dr. Normandin argues for a new era – an age of enlightenment – in the use of breath and breathing as a healing tool. In this quest the nature of many eastern practices – anapanasati (mindfulness of breath) foremost among them – can provide a model for western biomedicine to follow. The metaphor of enlightenment in the ‘use’ of breath is not only a nod to the eventual hoped-for outcome of this practice in eastern spirituality, but also a conscious reference to some of the potential aspects to consider in implementing it more deeply in a modern context. These include awareness, awakening, individuality, insight and mindfulness. Dr. Normandin suggests that if we move beyond preconceptions about these practices (as being, for example, only spiritual or New Age) and approach them with reason – if we “dare to know” (sapere aude) – then their potential preventative and therapeutic role in medicine can be almost limitless.
Sebastian Normandin, PhD
Instructor, Lyman Briggs College at Michigan State University
Recorded February 12, 2014
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