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After the subtle but powerful Feldenkrais lesson my friend Helena gave us, our host Pix wanted to do a breathing lesson for next week. Helena suggested I could teach the lesson so now my brain is going into overdrive as to what to do. Part of this overdrive meant I revisited lesson 4 from the “Awareness Through Movement” book, “Differentiation of Parts and Functions in Breathing.”

This revisit was way overdue. I was fairly familiar with the action of see-saw breathing but doing the lesson again, some years later with lots more experience, was almost an entirely different experience. I recall last time I did it it was difficult and again I found it somewhat strenuous physically and emotionally. I rushed through it a little again, really wanting to experience all the variations, but I think this lesson could be stretched to maybe 1 hour 15 mins.

This time I also went into the lesson having read a rather long article by a Feldenkrais teacher discussing the differences between abdominal/belly breathing and this see-saw breathing, as well as his whole paradigm shifting journey towards finding better breathing. The first instruction of Feldenkrais’s lesson is to observe while lying down the movement of the breastbone away from the spine (towards the ceiling) as you breath in. As a result of learning and habit, my default breath has almost no movement in the breastbone. In a way, there was nothing to observe with the breastbone! When one moves the breastbone as one inhales, the movement is similar to a slow hiccough, something which I learned from Robert Sussuma.

Its opposite, exhaling and expanding the abdomen was interesting. Here was a nuance I missed the first time round and now I paid close attention. The instruction is to aim to expand the stomach evenly on all sides, especially towards the back (floor) and the sides. I played with this many times attempting to get this movement more and more even. This movement is similar to a slow cough.

These movements are then done holding the breath. Inhale without breathing, exhale without breathing. Then when you inhale and exhale alternately in this way, you begin to do see-saw breath. You can do the see-saw movements while breathing, so you separate the function of breathing from the see-saw. Then in order to breathe you have to move in a way that is likely non-habitual. The instruction by Feldenkrais is to breathe normally while see-sawing but you can also have several see-saws to one inhale-exhale cycle. You can also do the opposite where you have several inhale-exhale cycles to one see-saw.

The subsequent variations can be fun. I found the variations on the front to be most difficult, especially when attempting to exhale while doing the see-saw movements. There’s something about the restriction of the ribcage in the front due to the floor that makes it more difficult for me, whereas I find this easy when lying on my back.

The side lying variation is not clear where the legs should be placed. So I alternated with knees bent (more stable) and legs long. In any case, the way the ribcage moves in this variation is weird and fabulous.

(Skipping the forearm variation here)

The kneeling head on ground variation I find to be genius. Reversing gravity’s effect on the lungs makes the way the torso reacts to the see-saw breathing reverse in a few ways. You could extrapolate this principle to a headstand, handstand, or standing and folding at the hips, head and neck and arms dangling down and see-sawing.

It’s an intense lesson at times. If you’re not careful, the see-sawing can be tiring. I find it takes some careful practise in order to make the see-sawing smooth and less effortful, particularly near and at the apex of the movements. Changing direction often happens quickly so I have to pay special attention to make it graceful and smooth. There’s a lot of breath holding too and forgetting to breathe sometimes makes it emotionally disturbing. Then there’s the upside down variations and the blood flowing to one’s head can be an unpleasant sensation.

As for the lesson I will teach, there is little point for me to teach the lesson as is. I will use the see-saw as a starting point but from there I will incorporate voice – speech and singing. Though the see-saw lesson can have profound effects on the voice, incorporating voice directly with the see-saw can make the connection between voice and breath clearer rather than something that will sort itself out. One interesting thing to note is that each half of the see-saw can be related to (apparent) schools of operatic breathing technique. The inhale/hiccough half is the Italian school and the exhale/cough half is the German school, as demonstrated and caricatured by Salvatore Fisichella here.

[a bunch of sleep cycles later]

In that video, Fisichella describes maintaining the elevation of the ribcage and having the action of the diaphragm go up and underneath (at least according to the translation and gestures of Jack Livigni). It occurred to me on the loo that in this elevated ribcage posture, you can do the exhale/coughing movement. I tried it and it was fairly clear and not that difficult to do. Its opposite, maintaining the exhale/cough position and doing the inhale/hiccough movement is more difficult. The movement is not as clear. Then you can initiate both inhale/hiccough and exhale/cough movements at the same time. Then you can do these movements in the variations listed above. Fascinating.

I’m not sure where this is leading because I lack the anatomical and biomechanical knowledge. I’m also not certain my intentions to do certain movements are actually creating those movements or something else. In any case they are unusual patterns of movements and worth further investigation. Hmmm…

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