You Are Your Instrument: The Power of the Breath, part 2

In last month’s blog, I explored the idea of noticing your non-doing breath. Not long after I sent it out, one reader wrote to ask: “Can you give us tips on how to incorporate breathing techniques into daily life?”

Absolutely!

First, let’s finish talking about the “Whispered Ah.” if you haven’t recently practiced paying calm attention to your breath, allowing the air to go out, to pause, and then allowing the air to return into your lungs, take a read through the second half my post “The Power of the Breath, Part 1” and see what you notice.

A couple of important notes before we begin:

  • Practicing breath in this way ALWAYS begins with an exhale. Many people find it hard to first let air out of the lungs without taking a preparatory breath in. Pay close attention to how you start, pausing in your thinking to calm the habit of breathing in before you breathe out. It may seem counterintuitive, but unless we have had the “wind knocked out of us,” we always have a little air in our lungs.
  • Your whole-self coordination is always the foundation of breathing. Give yourself time and space, thinking of allowing your neck to be easy, your back to release into length and width.

On board? Okay, here we go! I suggest you read through the process once or twice, breathing neutrally, before trying it.

  1. Allow whatever breath is already in your lungs to go out on an exhale, no matter how much or little, even if it’s only a teaspoon of air. You don’t need to breathe in first!
  2. Close your lips and pause. Don’t “take” a breath. Wait until the air “wants” to come in (your nervous system will take care of this, don’t worry!)
  3. Allow the air to return through your nose.
  4. Think of something genuinely funny so that you smile inside your mouth and a twinkle comes to your eyes. (If you can’t think of anything funny, find a 2nd grader and ask them to tell you a joke – those groan-inducing elementary school jokes or perfect. Here’s a favorite: Q: What did the snail take with her on vacation? A: Her sluggage. Get it? Slug-gage?)
  5. Allow the jaw to release from its joint just in front of the ear, and let the tongue rest freely forward so that the tip of the tongue rests behind the lower front teeth.
  6. Then allow your air to release out of your mouth. It will sound like a whispered “Ah.”
  7. Pause, and repeat from step 2.

 

Fun facts about coordination that help with whispered Ah and breathing in general:

  • As you exhale, your spine gently lengthens. As you inhale, your spine gently gathers. You do not need to “do” this lengthening and gathering. It will happen if you allow it.
  • You Have Time. You don’t need to rush. But you also don’t need to breathe slowly, or at any particular speed. Don’t make the mistake of trying to “lengthen your breath.” Your speed of breath may change, but that’s not the point. Breathing freely can happen almost instantaneously when we don’t interfere.
  • Free breathing doesn’t “look” like anything. It looks (and probably feels) like you sitting, standing, or lying down in a calmly springy way. You don’t pull or push on your chest, your head, your shoulders, your abdominal muscles, or anywhere else. I just did a search for stock photo images of “breath,” and in every single photo, the people were pulling their heads back, or scrunching their shoulders, or doing yoga poses. I couldn’t find a person breathing while using their head neck and back well. Why? I suppose that while it feels incredibly powerful and liberating, free breath isn’t very exciting to watch. Notice if you try to “do” something with or manipulate your breath based on an idea you have about what “good breathing” looks or feels like.

Here’s an image I chose to show what free breathing looks and feels like to me. I took this on a walk near the Winter Solstice in 2015:

 

 

Or maybe these, two pictures of the same winter grasses at sunset, with different exposures. Perhaps these are the breathing phases “exhale” and “inhale” respectively:

Sunset as Exhale. Ease in breathing with the Alexander Technique. Sunset as Inhale. Ease in breathing with the Alexander Technique.

I like to do Whispered Ahs in groups of three. I find that gives me the space to work on my self without pushing, and it doesn’t take too long. After you practice it, you can do Whispered Ah anywhere you are: while walking, while waiting in line at the grocery store, while dealing with a stressful situation at work or home. Here are a few of those ideas for daily life:

  • Spoken Presentations and Vocal Performances. Before you begin to speak or sing, Breathe Out. Exhale first. Pause. Allow the air to return. Use a series of whispered Ahs if you like. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it, and more than likely no one will even notice.
  • Instrumental Performances. Breathing is just as important for instrumentalists, even if you don’t make sound directly with your air. Breathe Out. Pause. Allow the air to return. Then draw your bow on the strings, press the keys on the piano, etc.
  • When you’re stressed. Feeling mental and/or physical tension? Breathe Out. Pause. Allow the air to return.
  • Parenting. See “when you’re stressed.” Before reacting, Breathe Out. Pause. Allow the air to return. I’m still working on this one (and my child just turned 8…)
  • While Waiting. In line at the store, on hold on the phone, while your tea is steeping… Breathe Out. Pause. Allow the air to return.
  • If you’re feeling resistant or sluggish. Try three whispered Ahs instead of “forcing yourself” to go on with an activity you don’t feel like doing. Does your state of being change?
  • Pick an activity. Choose any daily activity – sitting down at the computer, cutting veggies, folding laundry, reading, walking, playing music, exercising. Each time you do it notice if you hold your breath while doing these things. If you are: Breathe Out. Pause. Allow the air to return.
  • Answering the phone/Making a phone call. You have time to exhale before answering a phone call. It may feel strange at first, but the extra time will benefit you (and likely the person you’re going to talk to!) Breathe Out. Pause. Allow the air to return. Then say “Hello.”
  • Conversations. Similar to above. Wait before answering. This similar to “practicing the pause.” You have time. Breathe Out. Pause. Allow the air to return.

Your breath – and the way you choose to use your breath – has immense power. You can access that power any time, any where.

If you explore some of the breathing ideas in this post, I’d love to hear from you about your experience!

May you have peace in each breath. 

%d bloggers like this: