There is great power in our breath and people have known this from ancient times.
From the ancient texts of the Old Testament to the yogic discipline of Pranayama – throughout the ages, breathing has been described as a source of life, power and creation. The word inspiration, for example, has its root in the Latin word “spiritus” which means breath. In other words, the magical force that moves us to create was equated with the act of breathing.
The real power of breathing first became apparent to me during a special floor barre class I took with Mme. R. We had finished the challenging class and were “cooling down” with a series of breathing exercises that Mme. R. was demonstrating. We were breathing deeply and moving slowly to some relaxing music. I remember enjoying it and Mme. R. asked us to close our eyes to allow ourselves to fully relax.
When the exercise was over, I opened my eyes to find the other people in my class in various emotional states – a few of them had been moved to tears, some looked absolutely exhausted, others, like me, looked utterly blissful and calm. Mme. R. ended the class by telling us “I’ve done breathing work with many dancers before and it affects different people in different ways. Don’t worry if you’re feeling emotional, it’s normal”.
It’s not a surprise that breathing can have such an effect on our emotions – just paying attention to our breathing patterns on an average day can show how the two are inextricably linked. We breathe deeply when we feel safe and relaxed and our breath shallows when we’re scared and anxious.
The evening of the class, Mme. R. sent us a write up about breathing in ballet. Below are a few excerpts:
“In the beginning there was breath. Breath is life, movement… You have to teach breathing as part of movement.”
“The very first movement taught in dance class is how to breathe air in, to fill up the lungs, and then to exhale, allowing the body to fully stretch. Your arms have to look like they’re ‘breathing’; your legs have to look like they’re ‘breathing’. There’s a definite reason why you inhale when you do and why you exhale when you do…”
“Ballet is as much about posture as it is about movement. Though the movements are disciplined and require strength and stamina, the breath is critical to maintaining a relaxed and gentle appearance.”
“… performers of all kinds experience nervousness before stepping on stage – it’s part of a human’s natural flight-or-fight response. To counter this rush of adrenalin, the shortness of breath, the nerves and the unfocused mind, it is important use conscious breathing…close your eyes, ‘see’ your breath, and pay attention to yourself. Like any sort of meditation, you start becoming aware of your breath.”
Am I not lucky to have such a wonderful teacher?!
It’s Friday everyone…let’s start becoming more aware of our breathing and get “inspired” in the truest sense of the word!
Have a great weekend!