Thursday, June 1, 2017

Breath as a Medium: Reflection for week 1

This one struck me because I have found breath-as-respite a confusing concept - evidence of a transition between states of emotional coherence/control, an often annoying mechanical function I'm usually pretty happy to ignore since my body can do it without my direct involvement, and the idea of anything as a potential form of expression is a line of inquiry I want to lather myself in, (like a baby with a jar of peanut butter) to unearth how it can be harnessed to help a voice be heard.

Before I took the time to consider my relationship to breath this past week, I had no awareness of the disconnect I was feeling when instructed to go back to the breath, to use the breath, to notice it at all. A piece of my childhood keeps coming up, especially as I followed this question - My stepfather used to shut me in the bathroom when I got upset because I often lost control of my ability to form words through the heaving, hiccuping, strangled breathing, like I was drowning on dry land. He wouldn't release his hand from the doorknob outside until I could breath normally, which sometimes took a very long time. In retrospect, I suspect it was a kind of anxiety attack I was having, and that loss of control and inability to speak up for myself, these shadows of helplessness and shame are the last places I would probably want to go looking for an anchor or sense of connection. As I consider how many times in a yoga class I've instructed about returning to the breath, of finding it, filling a shape with it etc, all respectable statements in light of its lineage - it seems a really clear example of a place where I've repeated motions rather than speaking from or even considering my own experience or relationship to what I am asking a body of individuals to partake in. At work, I make a real conscious effort to never ask one of my crew guys to do something I myself am not capable of doing, so this bit really shook me.

I feel like there is a strong correlation between drawing and practicing asana, layers of focus and awareness, and by flipping one for the other I get to take away the groove a student (of either discipline) might comfortably lean into. For Sunday's teaching game, I played into the idea of the Perceptual Cycle and the limited resource of our Attention, as well as Sam's meditation that involved shifting our states of awareness - I really liked how those shifts were so distinct in the back to back contrast. So I asked my partner to use his inhales to take in what he was looking at, and let his exhales become a gestural release/exploration of the information received via a pen in his hand to the sketchbook in his lap (I blocked his ability to see the paper, an attempt to remove the focus on judging its product, which alters the ability to engage fully in the noticing).

How does what comes in (via environment, senses, interactions) become an expression of its affect on us? How does an inhale transform into an exhale, how does a breath become a movement?

Both of the individuals I taught this week talked about regular difficulty and lack of connection to their breath, when we talked about it afterwards. I had continued the inhale to notice, exhale to move, and they both experienced the drawing mediation described above prior to taking it into the rest of the body. My non yogi friend felt that the literalness, 'concrete' in her words, of pen to paper drew a distinct connection between a familiar action and the presence of breath - and that bridge helped her feel agency, ease, and purpose in the breath focused movements we explored. I wonder if that is one of those things so fundamental it gets forgotten, not just our awareness of it, but our RELATIONSHIP with breathing. How can I take a step even farther back and help build something to anchor to? How can I weave the sensations of breathing and movement together in my language and my daily life? How many ways can I find to bridge between the taking in and the letting go, to maybe see how our individual expressions arise out of the conversation between them? How can I create a dialogue not based on the assumption that the foundation is already there, when I may be trying to build something on top of uneven ground? I may not be the only one who sometimes feels like I'm drowning on dry land. What is the pathway in? Can my words and the space I shape be a kind of divining rod?

I'm also starting to get a clear sense that it is a collaboration, that there is something between the teacher and student being woven, crafted, made real, but I can't quite see the nature of the artwork that we are working on together, whether I am the student or the teacher. At least not yet.

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