July 10 – September 11, 2013. $200 for 10 weeks, or $25 drop-in. You don't need to be able to read music! Wednesday evenings from 7-8:30 p.m.

June 6, 2013

Embracing the Weird, Part 2

Lie on the floor with a book on your belly. 

Many remarkable things happen to us between the time we’re born and the time we get to kindergarten, but the one that blows my mind is how we un-learn how to breathe. 

If you have the joyous opportunity to watch an infant breathe, you’ll notice that the chest moves freely, the shoulders are relaxed, the belly expands and then softens, expands and softens. Calmly. Simply. Beautifully.

If you ask a kindergartner to take a deep breath, though, they do exactly the opposite: they suck in their belly, raise their shoulders, arch their back, lift their chest, and look like they’re going to explode as they hold their Deep Breath for you. This Deep Breath in reality is about as shallow as they come. Sucking in the belly, arching the back, raising the shoulders, all of this decreases the amount of available space in the lungs for air. We feel like we’re accomplishing Something Important, but in reality, we’ve just made doing anything with that breath countless times harder. 

This can be a hard pattern to unlearn. For one thing, our culture highly values the puffed-out chest and the tiny waist – what I call the Superhero Stance – which is basically useless for singing. Many of us have held our bellies in for so long that it’s actually effort to release them. This is when it can be useful to lie on the floor with a book on your belly. 

Lie on the floor with a book on your belly – a good book, hardback, kind of heavy. I like Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. It’s a good read, too. 

But I get ahead of myself. 

Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Let your arms rest at your sides, or gently outstretched, comfortably. 

Lie there for a moment and notice that the earth is holding you up. For at least the next moment or two, there is no where to go, nothing to do except breathe, and notice that the earth is holding you up. Let your shoulders rest on the floor. Let your back rest on the floor. Notice your head, your neck, your chest. Let them all sense their relationship to the floor, to the earth. Let the earth hold you up. 

Now, place the book on your belly. 
Breathe in, let the book go up.
Breathe out, let the book come down. 

Notice whether your chest rises first. Try to let the belly rise first. It might feel like pushing the book up with your abs. Breathe in, book up. Breathe out, book down. 

Notice whether your shoulders are trying to help (they can’t actually). 
Notice whether you’re arching your back (no need for that, really). 

If you feel like you’ve got the hang of breathe in, book up; breathe out, book down, try it without the book. 

Breathe in, belly up. Breathe out, belly down.

Do this for as long as you like. Notice what you notice. 

Work toward a silent breath in, an easy breath out, and maximum ease everywhere else. If it's easier with the book, use the book.

Let this kind of breathing become second nature to you. It will take practice, but five minutes at a time, once or twice a week will teach the body quickly. Then, you can try it standing up. 
Quick recap: Lie on the floor with a book on your belly. Breathe in, the book goes up. Breathe out, the book goes down. Let the earth hold you up. There’s nowhere to be but here. 

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