Think for a moment. When was the last time you remember when you felt surprised about something?
If you’re wondering, “What’s so interesting about breathing?” then think about this: breathing is the most essential activity for living. Changes in activity, position, muscle tone, and emotion will be reflected in your breathing patterns. Many people are restricted in their breathing and are not aware of it. A change in the ease or depth of breathing can be a profound experience, leading to improvements in physical functioning and a lift of the “brain fog.” And of course, singers, instrumentalists, and athletes need optimal breathing to perform at peak.
My friend Julie Francis, teaching the class, set the scene with a quotation from Fritz Perls:
“Anxiety is the absence of exhalation.”
Indeed, the next time you are feeling stressed, pressured, or rushing, tune in for a moment to notice your breathing. Chances are, you’re holding your breath. Resuming your breathing will lower the pressure you feel. If you continue breathing, you’ll find that you can do something quite quickly without feeling hurried.
Julie then asked whether we had ever been told, as she had been, to “Bite your tongue!” The shift in the emotional tone in the room was palpable for an instant, as everyone accessed a painful memory of having been squashed, stifled, discounted, or controlled. I remembered hearing that, or its eqivalent, at times when parents, spouse, or other authority figures became uncomfortable with my annoying habit of telling the truth.
So we did a little experiment, which I’ll invite you do participate in now, if you’d like to. Just sit quietly for a moment and notice your breathing. It will change a bit as soon as you begin to pay attention–don’t worry about it. Just notice the pace of your breathing, and the depth you feel.
Then, slowly and really, really gently: place the tip of your tongue between your teeth, and softly hold it there. Continue to sit quietly, and return your attention to your breathing. See how it is to breathe. What do you notice?
. . .
I was dumbfounded. I had accessed the anxiety and the shame of being told, “Bite your tongue!” and was anticipating tightness, unpleasantness, and restriction in my breathing. Perhaps you were, too. Are you surprised to find that your breathing relaxed and became deeper? THAT was completely unexpected, and one of the biggest surprises of the week.
Why does this hurtful comment, “Bite your tongue!” apparently contain some beneficial folk wisdom? It’s been shown that holding the tongue in this position relaxes the tone of the sphincter muscles, which all share a profound neurological connection. The entire system begins to calm. To gently hold your tongue between your teeth can help visceral pain and pelvic floor pain. When feeling angered, or perhaps in that moment just before saying something you’ll regret, take a moment to (gently) bite, or hold, your tongue. Your cooler head will prevail.
People who live with fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, increased pain, chronic fatigue, balance difficulties, brain fog, memory loss, anxiety, and depression, tend also to chronically suppress their breath. Every Feldenkrais lesson, whether directly or indirectly, improves breathing.
No matter how accomplished one is in a certain field, there is always more to learn, more to experience. There is great benefit to be had from viewing the “old familiar” from a different perspective, to question assumptions and try something new. There might be a cool little surprise waiting around the corner. Notice your breathing, and begin.