Somatics 3: The Breath

We talked of using the breath last month in our journey of discovery. Breath work seems to be where modern somatic work started. Elsa Gindler, considered by many to be the pioneer of somatics, said "It must take place without pressure, it must be elastic, it must be like the gentlest breeze, and it must bring about the greatest possible emptying." She spoke of "open" breathing to her students and taught the use of breathing in every movement.

You may be wondering, as I did, "Why do I need to learn how to breathe; I’ve been doing it all my life!" For me the answer is more about learning from rather than learning to. The breath is the meeting place of our inner and outer worlds, conscious and unconscious, and as such has much information for us. As a practitioner this is where I learn the most about the efficacy of my treatments. Many of the subtle changes brought about with bodywork elude the conscious mind, but I am confident of the effect when I am validated with changes in breath. It is simple and direct and as best I can tell, completely honest.

Another way of looking at it is as a way for the cognitive brain to listen in on the emotional (limbic) and primitive (reptilian) brains. Ever notice how infectious yawns are? Try this experiment: Next time you are in a tense situation with a number of people, maybe at work, quietly take a slow, deep breath and see what happens. Invariably the tension level of the situation will drop, often significantly, and there will be less stress and trauma. Use of the breath is an effective tool in our daily lives that is always available and that we can begin to use immediately.

In his wonderful book Inner Bridges , Fritz Smith speculates on the relationship of breath and molecular vibration of the air we breathe. The energy we absorb from these vibrations is similar to what we get from food, only it is available instantly. Remember a time when you were sick and it is easy to understand. When our nose is stuffy or clogged, we do not get as much benefit from the vibrations because when we breathe through the mouth there is less absorption of vibration. Perhaps this is why nature endowed us with nasal cavities or sinuses to gather vibrations. When this system is bypassed we feel run down and are constantly hungry.

"The breath is the intersection between mind and body. The breath is the most readily available channel for tuning into the mind/body dialogue." This is the foundation for the work of Marion Rosen and many who have followed. I think the ancient sages would agree, for the importance of breath has been stressed for centuries in healing rituals around the world. Even the Bible says God breathed life into man. For me, any new awareness is accompanied by a "breath of fresh air."

Perhaps if we can learn from our breath, our health will improve organically and the next right thing will become obvious.