Inspirare: The Sacred Breath

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Over the past ten years of teaching, I have observed and taught breathing to hundreds of students.  It's easy to think that this would be the easiest element of learning to sing or work with the voice as it's something we all do subconsciously every day.  Yet, I find just the opposite. Because somewhere along the road of growing up, most of us begin to restrict what once was delightfully free.

The infant who could coo, laugh, and cry for hours and breathed deeply as a matter of routine all too quickly gives way to the child who learns body consciousness, senses judgement from others, or self-censors to protect herself.  By the time many of us are adults, we've held our breath for so long in an effort to control our emotions, our words, and our bodies, that the natural process needs to be completely relearned.

Relearning often leads to not just retraining the muscles to function in a natural, efficient way but also to releasing those very emotions, words, and physical connections that were resisted for so long.  Scary, sometimes painful, but ultimately healing as the truth is brought to light.

I was struck recently by yet another connection between breath, release and truth in reading Nancy Roth's book, The Breath of God.  In it, she illuminates that "inspire" and "spirit" come from the same Latin roots of "spirare" and "spiritus".  Breath and God, or however you define the Universal Life Force, are etymologically linked.  She goes on to talk about how conscious breathing can be a form of prayer, as can song: “Prayer is letting the Spirit of God breathe within us.”  From a more universal understanding, breathing and song are a way to connect with our own sacredness.  Both within and without.

This has certainly been my experience, both personally and as a teacher.  Unlocking the breath brings with it an unlocking of emotion, of things held, of deeper truths.  Sometimes we're painfully aware of this release, other times less so, but always, shifts happen.  Releasing the abdominal muscles and expanding the rib cage opens us up to receive the abundant gift of oxygen all around us, but it also creates an opening.  An opening for inspiration, for spirit, for surrendering into the realities of life.  And with each exhalation we have the opportunity to join with this force, shaping our voice and our lives into authentic expressions of our uniqueness.

To begin to explore your own inspirare, try the below exercise:

  • On a 'ssssss' sound, blow out ALL your air while pulling your abdomen up and in.
  • Pause and hold your breath for 3 counts.
  • Release your abdomen and allow air to rush in to your body.
  • Repeat 3-4 times.
  • Notice.
    • How does it feel to simply let air rush in instead of actively trying to suck it in?
    • What parts of your body respond and expand as they fill with air?
    • As you let go of holding your abdominal muscles, do any thoughts or emotions arise?

Share your experiences in the comments below!  What did you notice?