Dance of Breathing 1 – a pure improvisation activity

Purpose of the Activity

In this activity we focus on the very basic/even primal aspect of breathing, and begin to relate it to being “present”, to “presence” and to improvisation.

It’s an activity to be done individually, can also be done alone, and I recommend plenty of time for detailed after-activity reflection and discussion.
The activity explores the border between controlled and habitual breathing – between conscious and sub-conscious, between thought action and instinctive action.
Each person finds a space and sits on a chair or on the floor.
The activity is carried out in silence with calmly spoken instruction/guidance by the facilitator.
Phase 1
Sitting in silence, eyes closed, calm and minimal movement. Become aware of one’s weight on the chair or on the floor. Allow thoughts to arise and pass.
2-3 mins
Phase 2
Become aware of one’s breathing – the feel of it, the pace and rhythm of it.
2-3 mins
Phase 3
Bring your breath under control. Direct it a little. Stop it for a moment or two. Start it. Play with it (Not deep breaths – no hyperventilating!). Play with longer or shallow breath. The key point is to identify the exact moment when you make a conscious act of will to take control of your breathing. Then let go slowly and just allow breathing to continue. Come back to calmness as in phase 1. You can also introduce a topic of thought that can allow one to “forget” that we are breathing – then breathing becomes subconscious again. A topic might be: what I did yesterday.
5 mins
Phase 4.
Stand up, open one’s eyes and start to walk around the room encountering others. Allow this to happen gently, slowly. As soon as one’s eyes meet another, or one feels some kind of contact with another person, stop your breath for a moment and then bring it back under conscious control – improvise your breathing in relation to your encounter with another. Just be aware of it, and allow yourself the choice to control your breathing. Then as before, just enjoy the encounter and let the breathing become subconscious again.
10 mins
Phase 5
Continue this gentle play until you settle back into a chair or sitting on the floor and repeat the other phases or come to the end of the activity. We can go through three cycles of this activity into an intense and long-form hour or more version of it.
10 mins
Key points
– keep the activity gentle with calm, clear instructions through the phases
– allow yourself to enjoy the play with breath as a kind of “dance” with yourself
– really explore the threshold between breathing that is subconscious and breathing we make choices over. Particularly focus on the point where one becomes the other – is it sudden, clumsy or fluent?
– what influence do others have on our breathing and are control of it?
– how does breathing affect our thoughts and emotions and vice versa?
– what role does our will play in how spontaneous we are?
Breathing is one of many processes of life that mostly run “in the background” – but we can bring them into consciousness and even influence or control them. Physical movement is another. We are often moving all the time and this can be more or less conscious. There is also a place where we can think about what we are going to do, and then do it. There is a place where we just do it. And there is a borderland between where we seem to think and act almost in real time. Breathing is a good place to start to find that special place where we come closer and closer to the present – and where we are able to control AND somehow allow flow at the same time.
This isn’t a neat exercise and will be different for each person. Explore it and allow each person to reflect on it in depth. Some people can let go quicker than others. Some fall back into habit very quickly. Others find it impossible to let go at all – unless it just creeps up on them over a long time. We can have a kind of waking insomnia about allowing our breathing to settle back into subconscious flow.

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