Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Breathing is more than respiration

Recently, I got a notice from Facebook: "Tom tagged you in a post".

I get excited and a little nervous when Facebook tells me I got tagged. (What did I do now...?)

The post:
"'Tom, you're not breathing.' - Jessica Warchal-King

I woke up today remembering this quote. Although most of the time I was in ballet class with this constant reminder, it is very important to do this outside of class. My focus on my position and my awareness to space allows me to forget the essential part of my being, my need for breath. My place in my current world and at the barre. 

So just remember, like ballet, you WILL move into the next phase, the next motion of movement. You just need to breathe through it. Find your center and lift.'"

Serendipitously, Tom posted this on a day when I needed to remember to breathe. 

I responded, reflecting both to him and myself: 
"Dearest Tom, our breath is a part of our internal support system. It connects us with our physicality, calms the mind, and also creats a connection between our internal world and our external environment. Sometimes we stop breathing as a way of protecting ourselves from fully experiencing the present moment, in all of its moment-ness. Ultimately, this just creates more internal tension. Breathe. Breathe deeply and intentionally and flow through the movement and the dance of life. (And thank you for this reminder. I also often forget to breathe.)"

The critic says, "But you're always breathing. If you stop, then you'll die."

Yes. Of course. But the way we breathe is effected/ affected by our emotional and physical state. And then the ability of the body to get oxygen further effects/ affects our emotional and physcial state. 

For example, Kun-Yang often tells me to breathe. As a young dancer trained in classical ballet and Western cultural techniques (social and movement based), I was taught to catch my breath in my chest, suck in my stomach, and to minimlaize my chest movement. Simultaneously, I was to open my sternum and project to the last rows of the theatre. Often in dancers, as it did in me, this dicotomoty of imagery creates spinal alignment complications which then creates challenges to efficiently and effecitvely executing dance movements. 

In some forms of Chinese classical dance, students have entire classes on how to incorporate their breath into movement. Kun-Yang understandings this training. I do not. 

And so I have embarked on my own journey of breath training and awareness and how the way I emotionally and physcially respond to situations is directly related to my breathing. 

Any research on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems demonstrates this. As does the fight or flight mechanism. 

I've noticed that my breath is my protection. I still my breathing as if to still my body - like an animal waiting in the tall grass for the impending danger to pass. 

The way I perceive "danger" comes in many forms and is often that - the way I am thinking of the situation. For example, when I am taking a class and the teacher does not warm up the class in a way which I feel safe and prepared to move onto more difficult combinations. I fear injury and therefore view the class as dangerous. I modify the movement, but also modify my breath because I'm frustrated because of my investment of time, physical, and financial, energy. I can fight or fly. Or, I can take a step back and learn from the experience. I participate in a different way or stand to the side and utilize some of what the instructor is saying and ignore the parts that don't work for me. As a professional, I do have a ton of physical experience both positive and negative that has prepared me to self-teach. Dancers have a responsibility to our bodies and sometimes that means critically thinking about the tasks in question and (politely, respectfully) disagreeing with the instructor. We've been trained to think on our feet and be cautious, yet fearless with our instrument. Most dance teachers are not trying to harm their students, but because dance is very physical, sometimes we get hurt. Part of our training process is understanding the needs of our body and paying attention to them - when to push and when to be patient. 

Danger is also very real outside of the dance studio. In US society today, as an educator, I need to be aware that at least 1 in 4 female students will experience sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or another form of domestic violence. The body has been violated and is therefore in constant fear of repeated danger. I have more to say on this, but this is not the post. However, it would be irresponsible of me not to recognize the physical, emotional and psychological danger that young females face. As an educator, I need to realize that young women may have a complicated relationship with their bodies that may effect the ability for them to connect through their breath and physicality. (And I realize this also occurs with young males, but my primary population is young females).  

"Danger" could be emotional. "Leave your baggage at the door" as always been a mantra of mine. And I often don't bring my personal stories into professional situations. But I've come to realize that said baggage could remain in the ways that I function in my body. And if I'm dealing with something emotional that is inhibiting my breath, it's inhibiting my breath in all situations. I can't separate my administration body from my social media body from the body that enters the studio to dance. They are all one body and the breath from one will carry to the other. If I'm true to my calling as an artist and holistic practitioner, I need to recognize that all of these bodies are interrelated and that I don't need to compartmentalize all of my experiences. Life is messy. Bodies are messy. Breathing can be really messy, but a constant and a point of grounding.   

When do you breathe or not breathe? 

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