I have a nearly impossible task for you—don’t worry, it will only take a second. Without changing your breath in any way, notice the movements your breathing creates. Did you succeed? If so, you are more talented than I.
For me, attending to breathing feels like tracking a wild animal. I encounter imprints suggesting what has come before—sometimes only a moment has passed, sometimes I discover a fossil. When I do manage to arrive in the presence of my live breathing, it often interrupts its activity to turn a suspicious eye to my intent. A moment where I manage to come with enough quiet to witness my breathing undisturbed is a rare and highly valued gift.
This practice of attending without interferring is a skill we cultivate in Awareness Through Movement®. Moshe Feldenkrais is reported to have said: “When you know what you do, you can do what you want.” To truly know what you do requires the ability to experience without changing. Awareness is a prerequisite for choice.
I find the development of breathing awareness to be a challenging and fruitful practice. Our breathing is enmeshed with our posture, our movement, our emotion, and our very sustenance. Breathing and attention are partners in crime and justice.
When mesmerized by beauty or awe, do you hold your breath? When confronted with disgust, do you withdraw and exhale with force? When intently listening to something small or soft, do you breath little or not at all? When gearing up to face intensity, do you breath with everything you’ve got? Or maybe you do quite the opposite. Or something else entirely.
Breath can be a primary tool for directing our attention, which is what makes attending to breath simultaneously so elusive and so important. Fortunately, perfection is not a prerequisite for reward.
Attend to your breath once again, even if your attention alters it. What moves in your body—your ribs? belly? armpits? spine? What is still?
Now take in the deepest breath you can and hold it. How is your movement different? How has your posture changed?
When holding begins to require effort, exhale all the air in your lungs and hold it out. Did your posture change again?
Whenever you like, relax your holding and allow your lungs to flood with air. Let your breathing emerge and evolve without interference while noticing the movements of your body. Maybe there is an emotional movement—you might feel calm, angry, happy, quiet, or just more or less of what you felt before.
Certainly something is different in you, if you engaged in the little experiment above. The specifics aren’t worth an iota of obsession—they are constantly changing anyway—it’s the noticing that matters. The noticing, the attending to differences, is what increases your capacity to distinguish and discern, to differentiate and choose. All valuable skills in navigating one’s life.
If you find this perspective intriguing, consider joining me for the Better Breathing series in which we will use Awareness Through Movement® lessons to clarify the interrelated parts of our breathing system and the relationships between breathing, posture and movement. We will also disrupt your habitual breathing and chronic postural habits so you may find greater freedom and choice.
Breathing touches every aspect of our lives, so effects of this exploration can be widely varied, though commonly reported benefits include:
And maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll manage to sneak up on your breathing in the wild.
Finding Better Breathing in Awareness Through Movement®
3 Mondays* from 10-11am @ Tribe's Classroom @ 1819
12/19, 1/2, and 1/9
$15 per class - Drop in to any class or join all 3!
*ATM classes take place every Monday at Tribe with rotating instructors. Shannon will be teaching this upcoming 3-week series.
For information about all Chicago-area ATM classes, visit: www.atmchicago.net
Shannon Lynne Sullivan facilitates discovery of better, fuller, freer lives through Awareness Through Movement® and Wellness Strategy. She first began hands-on teaching in 1998 as a professional snowboarding instructor, and transitioned to health and wellness in 2003 upon earning a Masters of Science degree in nutrition from Bastyr University. She is currently a fourth-year trainee of the Feldenkrais Method®. Learn more about Shannon’s work at www.BODIESLEARNING.com.
Three fabulous students of the Feldenkrais Method, Emily Stein (ES), Erin Kelly (EK) and Shannon Sullivan (SS) were kind enough to share with us their journeys and successes with the Feldenkrais Method. They co-teach Awareness Through Movement® on Mondays at Tribe.
In Awareness Through Movement® lessons, students are verbally guided through structured explorations that involve thinking, sensing, moving, and imagining. Lessons consist of comfortable, gentle movements, often based on development, ordinary functionality, or physical relationships between areas of the body.
Classes are $15 to drop-in. Find more info here.
Here's what they had to say:
What are some important things you share with people who have never heard of the Feldenkrais Method?
ES: I think it's important for people to know it's for ANYone. One needn't be an athlete, nor conversely, dealing with some sort of injury or condition, to do the lessons and see benefits. It's also important to know that it's not "exercise", it's learning a way to make whatever your form of exercise is work better for you.
SS: One of the easiest ways to introduce people to Feldenkrais is to say that it's a movement modality, but movement is really just the medium. The method is actually about learning, unlearning and awareness. It's about the process of becoming more and more yourself. And if what you want is to move better, or easier or with less pain, it provides that too.
Would you mind sharing with us your journey of becoming a teacher of Feldenkrais?
ES: I was introduced to FM through dance, which is my profession. As a performer, choreographer and teacher, the method has impacted everything I do in some way. It reinforced many things I had been thinking about and teaching for years, and gave me both a way to delve deeper and a language to share it. It exactly fit my level of nerdiness and fascination about how bodies work. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. It's been a great evolution for me.
EK: I decided to become a Feldenkrais teacher after quitting an unfulfilling job and allowing myself the space to follow my heart and I have never felt more sure of my path in life. I hope to share with others the many ways that Feldenkrais can benefit your life.
SS: After 13 years in health, fitness and personal development, I was having a bit of a professional crisis of faith. I sat down to share a cup of coffee with a friend and colleague, and he said to me, "You should try Feldenkrais, I think you'd really love it." One week later I went to a one-day workshop, and a week after that I started the training. My friend was exactly right. For me professionally, Feldenkrais clarified my big picture and synthesized all my other interests. It has become the primary lens through which I view all of my work, because it is truly a lens of learning- and learning is what I love most.
How has Feldenkrais influenced your life personally?
ES: As an experienced professional dancer and teacher, I had come to accept a certain level of pain, and certain limitations of movement, as just the results of my career. The Feldenkrais Method has shown me that I don't have to accept that, that I can live and move with much less pain and more freedom, and can continue to learn and grow, physically, mentally and emotionally. It has also given me the tools to help my students in the same way, and to help people avoid a lot of discomfort to begin with!
EK: It was chronic back pain that first brought me to the Feldenkrais Method, but it was the profound emotional and personal effects that kept me coming back. From the first moment I laid on the floor and heard the words "now notice what you notice..." I was hooked. The Method spoke to me in a way that no other modality ever had. My life began to change in gentle but powerful ways. My relationships improved, my balance and concentration improved, and stress became more manageable. The pain that once brought me to the Method became a distant memory. But most of all, I began to learn on an intrinsic level how to be kind to myself. Feldenkrais helped me to realize that there was so much more of ME existing with my body.
SS: After years dealing with chronic physical pain, Feldenkrais is allowing me to unwind damaging habits and and find ways of moving and being pain-free. Also, Feldenkrais grounds me better and faster than any other practice I've done. If I'm feeling over-excited, or over-agitated, I can take 10 minutes to move with awareness and come back to an emotional baseline where all directions are possible.
How might others benefit from adding Feldenkrais for self-care?
ES: The Method helps you to do whatever it is you do, better. It starts from a place of empowerment, that everyone can continue to learn. So whether your goals are to climb a mountain, or to reach for a box of cereal without pain, it can help you improve yourself.
EK: The Feldenkrais Method is great for any age, any fitness level, and any body! It is relaxing, empowering, and captivating for curious minds. Most of all, it is very hard to put into words-- come experience a lesson and see for yourself!
SS: I hear that Feldenkrais said about his method that it can help anyone do anything better. I have had great results working with people looking for relaxation, relief from pain or tension, or increased awareness to inform their pursuits. I recommend Feldenkrais to anyone curious to discover more possibility in life.
Anything else you'd like to share?
ES: Visit my website at: http://emilysteindance.com/
EK: I am local to Chicago. I am a passionate tie dye artist. I love riding my bike, singing in the car, and adventuring with my husband. Besides teaching ATM lessons at Tribe in Roscoe Village, I am also available for private lessons.
SS: I am co-teaching Monday mornings at Tribe, and often teach at Tribe's monthly Community Nights. I also teach for students at Black Box Acting's ACADEMY program and in one-on-one sessions. I am planning to offer more classes soon, so if anyone has a particular day or time that they'd like, please let me know! My website is www.bodieslearning.com, and I recently launched another site - www.atmchicago.net - where I'm working to build an aggregate listing of all Awareness Through Movement classes in the Chicagoland area.