I've neglected this blog (that's what happens when one tries to purchase a NYC coop and go back to grad school in the same year!). I've been reading and thinking about breathing lately though, and a post on the subject is a good way to head into a new (academic) year.
In the three decades I have been involved with Skinner Releasing Technique, I have tried to incorporate an awareness of breath into my daily life. Many of my students have heard me talk about how one of my goals in life is to drive across New York City without catching or holding my breath. I know this is impossible (so many taxi drivers cutting me off!) but the meditative aspects of the challenge are always worth pursuing. I also notice that when I practice watching my breath while I am driving I tend to arrive at my destination more refreshed.
Now I have a new breath challenge - working on my computer without catching or holding my breath. So, as I write this blog entry, I will try to keep part of my awareness on my breath and when I find myself catching or holding my breath I will let it go.
It is amazing how old the practice of breath awareness is. According to the book Bone, Breath & Gesture (edited by Don Hanlon Johnson), Leo Kofler created a system of breathing for his voice training in 1897 but Delsarte integrated breathing into his movement system even earlier in that century and it was brought to the U.S. by Steele Mackay in the 1870's. But anyone who has experience with meditation knows that the Eastern religions incorporated breath into their practice. In an excerpt of Carla Spreads' "Ways to Better Breathing" in Hanlon's book, she mentions that the Ancient Greeks knew that breathing was a part of the mind, and therefore a part of consciousness. So, even though breathing is an involuntary response, we have been aware of our ability to control it for a very long time.
Checking into my above stated goal (to stay conscious of my breath while writing), I just observed that I lost my consciousness of it while checking my facts for the above paragraph. According to the Skinner work, the fact that I lost my awareness of my breath is not important. What is important is that I became aware that I lost it. Therefore, (hurray!) I am on the right track.
You might try adding your own breath awareness to a part of your day. Don't worry if you don't keep your awareness throughout the task - just keep coming back to allowing your breath to have its own rhythm and noticing when you catch or hold the breath.
Good luck! I'll try another post later with an update on my breath-watching process.