Breathing Space

And in a world that keeps changing,
regardless of how much we might want it to slow down,
learning is the attribute that is often overlooked.
— Seth Godin

Halfway through listening to an ATM® lesson I’d taught and recorded, I was so rattled that I had to stop.

I couldn’t help but think I should have known better.

When I was a teenager, I’d run home from school to watch Lilias, Yoga, and You on public television. Lilia introduced me to breath as a measure of motion and, more importantly, a means of listening to and improving myself. That was before I studied massage, acting, singing, Gestalt Therapy, Bioenergetics, and Ericksonian Hypnosis; before I became a contact improvisation dancer, a NeuroLinguistic Programming trainer, and, eventually, a Feldenkrais® teacher.

In other words, I knew breathing was essential. Yet there I was, confronting the evidence that I had not taken this fact to heart.

I listened to the rest of the recording to be sure.

No doubt about it.

I asked the students to notice their breathing only after I had inquired about every other aspect of their experience. My questions covered the entire gamut — contact with the floor, amount of effort, smoothness and flow, movement of the skeleton, and so on — before I made any mention of breathing.

And that’s not all. After I checked other recordings and started listening to myself as I taught, I couldn’t help but notice that half the time, my mentions of respiration came in the form of an amusing comment or joke.

By saving it for last and by making light of it, I wasn’t giving breathing its due. Indeed, I was inadvertently discounting its importance, unintentionally and unconsciously trivializing it.

Though this was a few decades ago, I remember quite clearly how, once again, realizing my habit didn’t spark a spontaneous change in my behavior. Instead, I became painfully aware of how easily the autopilot turned itself on. In the midst of intentionally practicing different orders of cues — starting with the breath, asking about it second, and so on — I would lapse, forgetting again to make mention until I’d asked every other question.

This realization also got me wondering about the role of respiration and my awareness of it in my ATM practice. My newfound curiosity about respiration launched me on a long apprenticeship that proceeded through various phases and approaches over the years.

This adventure started by going back to the handful of classic lessons I knew and the ones I was encountering as an assistant trainer. I did them again, unpacking them and then doing them at least once more. My aim was to learn from them as a student, using everything I knew to understand the Feldenkraisian reasoning behind them and applying those conceptual frameworks to guide and help me make sense of my experiential learning.

Along the way, I have gotten to know the array of Moshe’s creations that address the subject directly, ON THE SIDE STERNUM BECOMING FLEXIBLE, TO WELD BY BREATHING, BREATHING RHYTHMICALLY, GLUING THE LUNGS, and more. At the same time, I became intrigued by how he used breathing as a device for developing awareness and improving coordination in so many other ATMs and how he made no mention of it in others.

This interest was not merely academic; instead, I made — and still make — exploring my breath a way of getting more out of whatever lessons I am engaging with, on my own and in classes. I found simple things, such as stopping along the way in any given movement to sense if I can breathe easily or exploring see-saw breathing in particularly challenging positions, made for significant differences. 

It was humbling — and, to be honest, a bit embarrassing — recognizing how I had glossed over this before. I realized I’d had a passing kind of acceptance that breathing is vital without taking on all of what that means. Becoming aware of my breath and, especially, whenever I was interfering with it, became an invaluable, instantaneous source of essential feedback. Learning to listen to my breath in stillness and motion proved transformative for me, both as a student and as a teacher.

My growing insight made it possible to monitor and alter my self-use in everyday life and while working with students. As my ability to track my respiration continued to develop, I found myself noticing the moments I interfered with my breath. Above my lower back, at my lower ribs in back, there was this one area that would tense up at first. Recognizing this, I used this place as a kind of listening post or early warning system, alerting me to check my base of support and find an easier way to move a piece of furniture or guide a student, one that didn’t compromise my breath.

Teaching breathing lessons in my courses, I got curious about the students who struggled with them and those who just didn’t seem to like them. My sincere interest led to fascinating conversations, from which I learned a lot and which inspired me to explore new ways of teaching lessons that were more “user-friendly” for these folks.

Asking how to take what I learned working with myself into working with others led to asking how to turn Moshe’s repertoire of breathing ATM classes into structures of FI® lessons. Some sections translated directly into hands-on skills, while others took a good bit of contemplation to make the leap. As I continued to reconsider my range of teaching tactics and strategies, I gradually expanded my repertoire of individual lessons. 

The insights and inventions from this process slowly worked their way into what I was teaching in classes, workshops, and teacher training programs. Then, a couple of years ago, what I’d been learning served as the inspiration for my almost annual Feldenkrais summer camp, A Breath of Fresh Air, and for a new chapter of the advanced MASTERING THE METHOD program called BREATHING BETTER. Earlier this year, I brought together so much of what I’ve come to understand in a new series called It’s a Matter of Life and Breath, which is now available for purchase in the Mind in Motion Online Shop.

Thanks to the pandemic, we moved the second and third BREATHING BETTER modules from in-person to online. That was also true of It’s a Matter of Life and Breath. Facing the challenges and discovering the opportunities of this way of learning led to surprising and enlightening revelations about how we can effectively improve respiratory abilities even when we meet remotely.

It’s been an incredible journey of unearthing my limitations, taking them to heart, and learning from them. I’ve come to understand Moshe’s methodology better, especially his appreciation of the relevance of respiration and its part in optimizing human ability. How I do lessons and how I teach them has changed for the better. I have become a better teacher.

If you want to learn what I learned about working with the role of breath in individual lessons and group classes, in-person and online, you might want to join me this coming Saturday for BREATHING SPACE. In this midsummer seminar, I’ll relay what I’ve learned, share practical insights and techniques you can use right away, answer questions, and maybe even teach some ATM.

To make it as easy as possible for you to attend, I am offering it twice: 

  • Saturday, 07 August 2021
    9:00 to 11:30 AM US Pacific time
  • Saturday, 07 August 2021
    3:00 to 5:30 PM US Pacific time

(You can find out when these meetings are happening in your local time zone by clicking here.)

Clicking on either date above takes you to the form for enrolling. There is no fee for the seminars but, because in the past folks asked about paying something for programs I was offering for free, you can contribute on a pay-what-you-want basis if you feel so moved. This means you are welcome to attend whether or not you decide to donate something.

(When you sign up, you’ll receive information about both sessions; that way, you can participate as best suits your schedule. You are welcome to attend either session or both.)

So you know, I do not plan on making the video available afterward. That means this will be a live event, albeit one that’s happening twice. So if you’re interested, I hope you’ll be able to join me.

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