Today at the Life Centre in Romiley we had breathing lessons.
Feldenkrais lessons, breathing lessons.
And yet Feldenkrais breathing lessons are not lessons in the sense of teaching you how to breathe. Or even how to breathe better. They are not presenting a model of right breathing or wrong breathing. So this afternoon’s workshop: 3 lessons, three breathing lessons. Not teaching you how to breathe correctly. So what’s that about?
It’s about the wondrous joy of the Feldenkrais Method. It’s about a gentle exploration of moves. Of moves you make every day. Done with a twist. Or moves you rarely make, or rarely make with awareness. Moves you make and hardly ever pay any attention to. It’s about making very small movements and being guided to pay attention to aspects of movements. Which, somehow, sometimes seemingly miraculously, liberates from old patterns, introduces new patterns, softens stuckness, transforms movement into flow. It is a synergy of mind body movement using awareness, healing power of attention and extended neural networks.
In each of today’s lessons we were guided to pay attention to a widening, lengthening zone of attention. We might have started just noticing our breath as it moves through our chests. Is it the body breathing the breath or the breath breathing the body? No matter. Breathing body mind, movement ripples and inhalation flows to exhalation. Our attention noticing this flow.
Then the serious attention work begins. None of the moves made are strenuous physically. Mostly we are on the floor, legs long or feet standing, though in the second half of the afternoon we are resting on our side, moving gently and noticing. Not physically strenuous. But requiring attention which can make the activities demanding. The brain work and the attention to body movement can be tiring. The nervous system and neural network is connecting and attending in novel ways and that focus uses brain power and energy. Rests during lessons allow these re-wires to sink in.
After the first short lesson participants commented about the changes in their perception, in the way they felt in their body and the way they moved and held themselves in space, an increase sense of being grounded. Walking lighter, feeling taller. Shoulders softer. Relaxed. Energised. Something transformed. Something learned. Not told to do or be in a particular way. Just given the opportunity to pay attention to the movements of the breathing body. Giving the body new experiences, new choices and leading to the liberation of new more relaxed ways of being, breathing, moving.
If you’d like to get a flavour of this approach, you really have to taste it. You really have to be there and experience it for yourself. However, here’s some of what I recall about the moves we made that, over the afternoon, allowed a release from constriction, from any tightness and to a transformative sense of breathing into your being, breathing into your own space, sensing the space around as somehow more generous, feeling better, more connected. All arrived at in a gentle, non-prescriptive way. Take away what you can of this improved connectivity and ease and flow.
First standing, breathing. Breath. Some shifts courtesy of visualising. (Anatomical inaccuracy warning) visualise breathing through left side.So left side expands with inbreathe and contracts with out breath. Repeat with left arm raised, hand in the air. Repeat on right side.
Then lie on blanket on the floor. Repeat. Now contact with floor offers more information. So noticing. Guided by Veronica we notice how the parts of the body move as we breath in and out. We slowly, gently and with small movements, focus on the expansion and contraction of one part of our rib cage, then another part. Hands stretched from clavicle to back of neck. Breathing into upper chest. Releasing out breath. Feeling any movement. Slowly gently moving and breathing with hands in different positions. Noting movements then of different parts of torso as breathing happens.
After this we are guided to breath in particular ways. Again this is done lying on our backs, with feet standing, knees bent, sometimes with one leg long, sometimes the other.Try breathing with the inhale taking place and allowing an expansion of the upper chest. A number of times. Rest relax. Then try breathing so that with an exhale the chest expands. Just notice. Do this for a few gentle repetitions before breathing and allowing lower torso in pelvic area to expand with in-breath. Pause. Try with pelvic area contracting with in-breath. We are guided to explore combinations of movements. Hands on side of rib cage. Allow touch to develop awareness. As breathing happens can you allow the space between the ribs to expand? Those spaces, the intercostal muscles. By just paying attention and breathing…and maybe not really knowing quite how it’s working, slowly over the course of the session, these areas relax, expand, offer new opportunities. The process of relaxed expansion into a real sense of your own being moves our breathing body mind into new, perhaps better, possibilities.
After this gentle exploration we move outwards with the connections between breathe and body. Exploring synchronising movements of the pelvis with movements of the chest. A slight lift of the pelvis. A slight lift on the left, relax down. A slight lift on the right, relax down. Sensing the rocking of the golden ball (see notes on previous workshop). Then going through the carefully co-ordinated chain we add in a slight roll of the head. With head slightly to left. Repeat moves and breathing pattern a few times. relax. Head to right and repeat and notice. Relax.
In subsequent lessons we move through a chain of instructions that expand our awareness and take our connections through out torso, to our arms and legs.
For example, resting on our sides with our knees bent, we are guided through a chain of movements of gentle in breaths taken as we move from the hip so the knee slides away. Gentle out breath and bring the knee back. Stretch out the top leg and breath in and roll slightly forwards, out and slightly back. Noticing what is happening as the rib cage gently expands and relaxes.
Our last lesson involves lengthening and also some gentle twisting. Particularly helpful for cross lateral movements and release of tension.
It began with the standing breathing into right side then left side exercise above. This was developed on the blanket. On the back visualising a breath expanding into the body, the length of the body, in at the feet unto the head. Feeling the whole side expand with an in breath and relax with the out breath. Experimenting, exploring.
Then we move onto our sides. On side, arm long (extended beyond head but resting on the floor), top leg long, breathe in. Expand with the breathing in: feel breath move through length of body. There were many little tweeks to the instructions. I recall, on left side with left arm long and right leg long. Right arm bent and flat of palm in front supporting. Synchronising breathing with an expansion and contraction. Then adding in a rolling forward with in breath and back in line with out. Roll back with in-breath and then return to line with out breath. Many tiny shifts in pattern of movement. Leading to a move with also right arm long and the rolling breathing movement, first from midline forward and back to midline. Then backwards roll synched with in breath and rolling back to midline. Noticing where there’s movement, in the ribs or back or pelvis. Lengthening and twisting in this gentle exploratory way allows and enables, not just a shift in how I inhabit my body and connect to the space around me, but also seems to be a way to let the body to experience a real sense of open spacious awareness.
Each of the 9 participants expressed something of their sense of changes in their experience of moving, their comments accompanied by a kind of delight, a joy in movement, a sense of oneness and connection. If you’d like to experience this for yourself, there will be a workshop you can join in the autumn.
Dates for September and beyond to follow.
In the meantime, please get in touch with ideas about themes for our future series of workshops at The Life Centre, Romiley.