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The significance of breath

Throughout history, the subject of breath has held special significance in philosophy, religion, mythology and literature.Take a step back in time to the civilisation of Ancient Egypt and breath was inextricably associated with the concept of the 'soul'. The Egyptians believed this was composed of several parts, the 'Ka' or breath, which continued after death and remained in proximity to the earthly body , while another part commenced it spiritual journey. In Christianity, the first book of the Bible, Genesis, speaks of the 'breath of life', while in Hinduism, 'Atman' comes from Sanskrit meaning 'essence' or 'breath' .

Throughout history, the subject of breath has held special significance in philosophy, religion, mythology and literature. 

Take a step back in time to the civilisation of Ancient Egypt and breath was inextricably associated with the concept of the 'soul'. The Egyptians believed this was composed of several parts, the 'Ka' or breath, which continued after death and remained in proximity to the earthly body1 , while another part commenced it spiritual journey. In Christianity, the first book of the Bible, Genesis, speaks of the 'breath of life', while in Hinduism, 'Atman' comes from Sanskrit meaning 'essence' or 'breath'2

The 'spiritual' implications of breath are understandable. Breathing is tangible proof that we live and from that it could be said everything else follows. It was a source of philosophical and scientific interest to the ancient Greeks and Romans too. Cicero is credited with the wise words 'As long as I breathe, I hope', while Aristotle wrote about both the soul and breath3, and Hippocrates on 'Breaths'4.

When it comes to mythology, breath has a more sinister side, embodied by the mythological Basilisk. This 'king' of serpents was credited by Pliny the Elder in 79AD with the ability to destroy bushes with its breath5!

In terms of literature, the use of breath occurs in many guises. Wordsworth perhaps encapsulates its significance in the lines:

'A being breathing thoughtful breath, 

A traveller between life and death6.'

Breath is a qualifier of life, and many authors have used it as an analogy for bringing works and concepts 'alive'. Again, Wordsworth described poetry as 'the breath and finer spirit of knowledge'7 while Byron, in the Bride of Abydon, speaks of the 'music breathing from her face'. Jump forward to the 20th century and the significance of breath appears no less diminished -- Samuel Beckett's play 'Breath' which lasts less than a minute, contains only the sound of two birth-cries and of someone taking a breath. 

One writer who does have things to say about breath is of course Shakespeare, one of the Bard's most famous allusions contained in Sonnet 18: 

'As long as men can breathe or eyes can see, 

So long lives this and this gives life to thee.' 

However, Shakespeare's observations on breath were not always so complimentary, as he talks of breath 'that reeks' from his mistress8 and the 'foul wind' that 'is but foul breath, and foul breath is noisome'9 ! He goes further still when the term 'breath infect breath'10 follows a reference to leprosy in the play Timon of Athens.

With so much significance having been conferred on, and inferred by, breath over the centuries, when the 'sweet breath'11 that Shakespeare also speaks of, fails us too, it can be troubling.

The term 'noisome' may be outmoded but 'bad' breath is very much alive and present today, with up to one in four adults in the UK thought to suffer from it on a regular basis12. The term 'bad' in this sense infers an unpleasant odour, in the same way one might refer to something that has 'gone bad', but what causes 'bad' breath? 

Sometimes bad breath can be the result, or an indication, of an underlying medical condition and it is important to ascertain the cause. In many cases however, the problem may be in the oral cavity, caused by the malodorous gases methyl mercaptan, hydrogen sulphide and dimethyl sulphide, known as Volatile Sulphur Compounds (VSCs), which are caused by bacteria in the mouth. 

Sufferers may find bad breath worrying or embarrassing, fearing it may affect such things as social life or concerned that others may find it offensive. It was certainly found to be a worry for many people going on a date13. Those who realize they are suffering from bad breath may look to their dental professional for help and advice. Treating bad breath will depend upon the circumstances of each individual patient, but in many cases, merely masking the smell of bad breath may not be sufficient or offer adequate relief, in which case CB12 may be able to help. 

CB12 uses the active ingredients of zinc acetate and chlorhexidine diacetate to neutralise the VSCs that cause bad breath, rather than merely masking the smell. It is effective for up to 12 hours and also contains fluoride. Easy to use and available in two different flavours, CB12 can offer welcome relief to sufferers. While CB12 does not cure halitosis, used regularly it can help to maintain fresh breath.

Helping to relieve bad breath can make a big difference to sufferers. Shakespeare, as always, puts it well: 

"For this relief much thanks"14.

 

1. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/555149/soul

2. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/atman

3. Aristotle Volume VIII. Loeb Classical Library 288. On the Soul. Parva Naturalia. On Breath. Aristotle. www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php

4. Volume II, Prognostic. Regimen in Acute Diseases. The Sacred Disease. The Art. Breaths. Law. Decorum. Physician (Ch. 1). Dentition. (Loeb Classical Library) by Hippocrates, W. H. S. Jones (Translator) 

5. Natural History. Pliny the Elder

6. Poem: She was a Phantom of Delight. William Wordsworth

7. Observations Prefixed to Lyrical Ballads (1800) by William Wordsworth 

8. Shakespeare Sonnet 130

9. Shakespeare. Much Ado About Nothing.

10. Shakespeare. Timon of Athens, Act IV. Scene I.

11. Act IV, Scene 2. Midsummer Nights Dream. Shakespeare

12. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Bad-breath/Pages/Introduction.aspx

13. www.cb12.co.uk CB12 Dating Press Release May 2013. 'Bad breath is Brits' biggest pre-date worry'

14. Hamlet. William Shakespeare. Hamlet Act 1, scene 1


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