I completed my first full 108 Sun Salutations, and was highly energized afterwards. In fact, I had difficulty sleeping for two days following the session. Something that was particularly impactful was the manner in which the practice affected my breathing. I was suddenly conscious of my breath. Not just occasionally conscious, but it seemed constantly conscious. This may seem like a good thing, but truthfully, it made me feel like I was laboring, or forcing my breath.
I was reminded about the connection between breathing and consciousness. I recalled all the beautiful experiential knowledge I gained during my experience at UQAM in Somatics. One of our texts, Bone, Breath, and Gesture, edited by Don Hanlon Johnson, really changed my life (check out his interview on breathing if you like here.)
I pulled the book off my bookshelf again, and the section by Carola Speads particularly spoke to me. Carola has written beautifully on finding the natural breath. She encourages us to first notice how the breath responds to all sorts of life experiences (emotional, or mundane). It is changing constantly. The goal is to come back into the state of natural breathing as quickly as possible.
Before we can move into natural breathing, we have to recognize how and when we are breathing in less beneficial ways (i.e. shallow, rapid, breath holding). So first we develop conscious awareness, then we discover how to move back into the deep natural breath through a process of experimentation.
To proceed Carola first distinguishes between breathing experiments, vs exercises.
"Most physical education systems use exercises to achieve their aims. These involve executing predetermined, fixed sequences of activities. Improvement is expected to be gained by repetition. The more you repeat the exercises, the better, supposedly the result.
"Such a mechanistic approach is futile as far as breathing is concerned...Breathing varies continuously, automatically and perfectly adjusting to our activities, provided we do not interfere. Though we often do interfere with these adjustments, we cannot inhibit these changes altogether...
"Breathing...changes not only with physical activity, but also with every emotional impact...
"We cannot 'make' breathing as we can 'make' a movement. Breathing can only be provoked, coaxed, induced to change on its own. This can be done by certain beneficial stimuli. After providing a stimulus we must try to let the reactions to it develop as freely as possible. These reactions will be involuntary. They happen to us: we cannot make them; we can only try to let them through. This way of working with breath is what is called experimenting."
Here is a quick run down on Carola Speads experimenting breath.
1. Provide a light stimulus
2. Allow the body to respond
3. Wait for the body to respond
4. Notice the response
5. Try the stimulus again
6. This is experimenting not exercising
She also reminded me about how my consciousness is directly attached to my breathing. I particularly notice this in relation to the "pause" I remember playing with this during those years and noticing how my thinking found clarity during the pause. It is pretty fascinating.
All breath work, according to Speads, has to occur in a natural way, there can be no forcing, or that could simply make things worse. But for me, recovery of the natural breath came with the use of a few deep sighs whenever I was feeling tension. Thank you Carola.
As this month's focus on the physical body comes to an end, I invite you to begin to bring awareness to your breath. The connection to consciousness is fascinating and uniquely human. More will certainly be revealed.