• Shannon Lynne Sullivan

Discover the benefits of experimental breathing

​I have a nearly impossible task for you—don’t worry, it will only take a second. Without changing your breath in any way, notice the movements your breathing creates. Did you succeed? If so, you are more talented than I.

​For me, attending to breathing feels like tracking a wild animal. I encounter imprints suggesting what has come before—sometimes only a moment has passed, sometimes I discover a fossil. When I do manage to arrive in the presence of my live breathing, it often interrupts its activity to turn a suspicious eye to my intent. A moment where I manage to come with enough quiet to witness my breathing undisturbed is a rare and highly valued gift. This practice of attending without interfering is a skill we cultivate in Awareness Through Movement®. Moshe Feldenkrais is reported to have said: “When you know what you do, you can do what you want.” To truly know what you do requires the ability to experience without changing. Awareness is a prerequisite for choice.

I find the development of breathing awareness to be a challenging and fruitful practice. Our breathing is enmeshed with our posture, our movement, our emotion, and our very sustenance. Breathing and attention are partners in crime and justice. 

When mesmerized by beauty or awe, do you hold your breath? When confronted with disgust, do you withdraw and exhale with force? When intently listening to something small or soft, do you breath little or not at all? When gearing up to face intensity, do you breath with everything you’ve got? Or maybe you do quite the opposite. Or something else entirely.

Breath can be a primary tool for directing our attention, which is what makes attending to breath simultaneously so elusive and so important. Fortunately, perfection is not a prerequisite for reward.

Attend to your breath once again, even if your attention alters it. What moves in your body—your ribs? belly? armpits? spine? What is still? 

Now take in the deepest breath you can and hold it. How is your movement different? How has your posture changed? 

When holding begins to require effort, exhale all the air in your lungs and hold it out. Did your posture change again?

Whenever you like, relax your holding and allow your lungs to flood with air. Let your breathing emerge and evolve without interference while noticing the movements of your body. Maybe there is an emotional movement—you might feel calm, angry, happy, quiet, or just more or less of what you felt before.

Certainly something is different in you, if you engaged in the little experiment above. The specifics aren’t worth an iota of obsession—they are constantly changing anyway—it’s the noticing that matters. The noticing, the attending to differences, is what increases your capacity to distinguish and discern, to differentiate and choose. All valuable skills in navigating one’s life.

Breathing touches every aspect of our lives, so effects of this exploration can be widely varied, though commonly reported benefits include:

  • Relaxation of neck and back tension

  • Effortless and dynamic posture

  • Increased ease of movement

  • Enhanced emotional regulation

  • A greater sense of calm and well-being

  • Deeper rest and recovery

And maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll manage to sneak up on your breathing in the wild.

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