The Art of Breathing

“I often ask myself if efficient breathing begins with dynamic alignment or if balance and coordination rely on efficient breathing? Wherever you begin, developing a kinesthetic awareness of the breath is vital for life.”

– Jessica Wolf

There is no habit more indispensable than breathing. It is as fundamental to life as the beating of our hearts. Because we usually take breathing for granted, we tend not to realize the harmful effects faulty breathing can have on us, or the freedom we can gain by improving how we breathe. But breath, involuntary in its nature, is something we can influence. Most of us begin life breathing fully and without strain. For many reasons, our natural breathing abilities and rhythms are often compromised as we move through life. The Art of Breathing is a method that helps to regain vital and healthy breathing.

Art of breathing

Too many people think they have to do something to breathe. We’ve been indoctrinated with suggestions like “take a deep breath,” “breathe into your belly,” “don’t let your chest move,” “hold your ribs out,” “relax and breathe.” Actually, nature regulates our breathing. The respiratory system is reflexive and under autonomic control. Any attempt to override the natural rhythm of the breath will feel forced and therefore have the effect of producing tension. Breathing happens spontaneously in response to all our thoughts and feelings.

“Breath is the life; and breathing capacity (vital capacity) is the measure of life.”

– F. M. Alexander

The renowned actor F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) initially promoted his work as respiratory re-education, which was the original cornerstone of his teaching. At about the time Alexander died, another man was making significant contributions to the science of breathing. His name was Carl Stough (1926-2000), a modern day pioneer in the science of respiration. He identified a particular coordination that allows the respiratory system to function at maximum efficiency with minimum effort. He called this breathing coordination.

The Art of Breathing is my body of work that integrates the discoveries of these two distinguished men. I chose the phrase The Art of Breathing from an article by F.M. Alexander published in The Auckland Star, New Zealand, in 1895. Alexander called himself the founder of a respiratory method, and was affectionately referred to by his pupils as “the breathing man.”

In the context of an Alexander lesson, I help identify postural and movement patterns that may interfere with the involuntary nature of the breath. I’m talking about detrimental habits such as bracing and slumping, to name two common examples. Most people are unaware that such habits can damage the on-going rhythm of breathing. The body is designed in a particular way to move air out of and into the lungs. The muscle that performs this function is the diaphragm, the primary muscle of respiration. When we interfere with it, we weaken it. That’s when our breathing problems begin. Although the diaphragm is involuntary, there are ways it can be redeveloped. By promoting a long and relaxed exhale, the resilient activity of the diaphragm can be restored, facilitating reorganization of the whole body. The benefits of this work are extensive; gaining access to the breath for the actor, restoring the strained voices of singers and developing ease and correct functioning for patients with respiratory illness and people in pain.

Using techniques from The Art of Breathing, you can find freedom and comfort in your breath and gain mobility in your body, clarity of your voice and freedom from constrained emotion.

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