The beauty of awareness of the breath, is that it is a great way to become present. We become focused on the breath we are breathing right now, this moment. Simply focusing on the natural breath, as it is, will cause the breath to slow and deepen.
Breath awareness is the foundation for all other breathing techniques. It's also a powerful meditation practice in itself. Breath is an essential ally in all movement practice. Take time to explore and get intimate with your breath in conscious dance.
Much can be said on breath and how manipulating the breath can bring about powerful effects. However the first step is always to observe our breathing as it is. In movement we start by noticing our breathing and how it feels to move within the rhythm of the breathing cycle.
Breath serves as a physiological function to bring oxygen into our bodies and expel wastes and toxins from them. An essential regulator of our energy and vitality. It also is a bridge between the body and mind. A doorway into deeper experience. Without breath life as we know it is not possible. As humans we average around 22000 breaths a day. That is a lot of breaths. How many of those are we actually present too? Usually we pay no attention to it at all!
How can we work with the breath in dance? By exploring each part of every breath, and how movement feels in that moment, we discover how certain movement is supported by our breathing. Some moves simply feel better when they are done while we breath in, others when we are breathing out. There is also the holding of breath, associated with its own range of movement. Natural breath awareness becomes a moving meditation that leads to relaxation and concentration. It is first and foremost a tool to help us stay present. Here and now.
Observation of our breath during movement creates an opportunity for exploration and enquiry into our state of being. Our breath creates movement. The simple act of inhaling causes the body to expand. Feeling into our bodies and noticing where the breath is restricted or tight, provides clues for where in the body we are holding ourselves tense. Breathing out allows us to soften and let go, as the body empties of air.
Initially we can explore the breath moving or being breathed in the various parts of our bodies. The lungs are an obvious place to experience it. The belly as well. But our toes breathe too! What does that feel like? Do they like to flex with the inhale, or extend? We can lead our breath to various parts of the body and explore their movement with the breath cycle.
In vs Out
What does movement and our body feel like when we are breathing in? When we are breathing out? When there is a pause in the cycle? We can explore how we move with the inhalation, and then how it feels to move with the exhalation.
We can breath into painful, stiff or tight places in the body. Into places we find hard to feel or move. If we become aware of tension in the body, we can consciously draw breath into that area. Allowing it to expand as we bring attention to it. This helps us to feel into it better. Perhaps as a physical experience in the body. Or sometimes we could notice thoughts and emotions associated with the root cause of the tension. Breathing out is an opportunity to soften, let go and release those tight places. We allow ourselves to deepen into relaxation. Deeper awareness dawns.
During the dance our breathing pattern will change. It may speed up or shorten. We may become breathless. The out breath could get really long. Sometimes there are pauses. We might find ourselves holding the breath at times. Why? What's going on? How is that reflected in our movements?
State of Being
Breathing patterns also are a reflection of our mental and emotional state. Another place to become aware of this from. Often it is an easier way to notice and be with difficult or upsetting states. How are we feeling emotionally or what are we thinking about as we breath in certain ways?
Anxiety may creates a very shallow short breath, lots of holding of breath.When we are angry, our bellies tighten, and this also cuts a lot of the depth from our breath. When we are depressed our inhalation shortens and we barely breath at all. Every mental state has a unique breathing pattern. We can explore this, noticing how breath is the bridge between our mental state and our movements.
Beyond Breath Awareness
As we start to notice how our mental state creates a breathing pattern, we will notice the way we move or breathe manipulates our mental state. Although this is no longer breath awareness as such. Here is the next exploration into breath. Beginning to consciously play with the knowledge gained in our enquiry with breath awareness.
Fortunately even allowing breath to simply be natural, breathing each breath as it is and moving with it, leads us to relaxed alert concentration. This is because our wise bodies are always attempting to move us into balance with our nature and our environment.
If we can simply be present, allowing our breathing to be natural or unnatural as the case may be, it will change. We can also take conscious control of our breathing. Explore what manipulating it creates in our being. A word of caution however. Usually we have an agenda here that may lead us away from what is, into desiring what is not. So always take some time to be with what is as opposed to trying to avoid it through manipulation of breath.
When we are moving shamanically (see previous blog) we may become aware of thoughts, visions, images or psychic/intuitive flashes of insight associated with certain breathing patterns. When we move energetically, we discover how the breath cycle affects the flows and harmony of our bodies energy, which we experience in our sense of vitality.
In yoga the breath is paramount and a lot of study has gone into manipulating the breath to create various mental states of being. This is how the science of Pranayama was born. It is an exploration into manipulating breath to create specific physical, mental, psychic, energetic and emotional states, as well as expand the energy in the body and harmonise its flow.
The first practice of pranayama is natural breath awareness. Then we begin to learn how to expand our lungs capacity, and reclaim our lungs from poor breathing habits which develop for a myriad of reasons. In conscious dance we do this with movement and attention to our breathing. This is the next stage after simple observation. We work with what we discovered through being aware of how we are breathing. Finding ways to move that allow our lungs to open up, and our cells to breath more deeply.
As you can see in this brief introduction to breath and movement. There is a lot to be discovered, and it all starts with simply watching the breath move.