I am writing this in Slovakia – escaping the chaos and the drone of London.
For 10 days I have been accompanied by a book by Sandra Sabatini called “Breath”. Sabatini comes from a yoga background and studied extensively with Vanda Scaravelli – a gorgeous Italian musician who with B.S. Iyengar.
Scaravelli developed an approach to yoga which has very strong resonances with the western somatic tradition. It is very, very gentle. It has a strong emphasis on releasing unnecessary tension and connecting to the ground. I am not an experienced Yogi, but most of my experience comes from teachers who are influenced by Scaravelli.
One of the characteristics of Scarvelli’s approach is to never force the body into poses. The poses are “like toys to play with” – they are useful for opening the kinaesthetic imagination and for awakening the body-intelligence but they are not an end in themselves.
And so with the breathe.
Sabatini’s book – written in short, Haiku-like invitations – covers the same thing throughout:
“Do not force the breathe.
Exhaling let it go – fully;
And then wait for the inbreath to come.”
When I first started developing my own Somatic practice and to individuate from my teachers at the time one incredibly influential moments was when I heard this instruction.
“Breathe out fully, and then wait for the inbreath to come.”
I remember lying on the studio floor, waiting and waiting and waiting. It honestly felt forever.
I am pretty sure, objectively, it was longer than a minute. A single minute in the body can feel like a very, very long time.
I remember my body going through different processes. There was panic – my habitual self believing that I would die if I did not breathe in, whether I was truly ready to or not – an impulse to simply suck in the air around me.
But under that…
Under that was this deep, deep, deep stillness.
A part of me, a deeply intelligent part of me just knew – just trusted – that the breathe will come when it comes. And I remember just being able to let go into that stillness, being content to wait a whole age for the inbreathe.
I remember the stillness, and the softening that spread through my tissues with it.
And then, of course, the inbreathe came.
And then the next out breathe.
This became my practice, daily for about 2 years.
At some point, in this time, I remember being shown more traditional Mindfulness of Breathing and Pranayama practices.
They did not feel good in my body. I remember the sense of forcing my breathe, which is actually what I had been doing my whole life anyway. It was reinforcing something that I had been working diligently to let go of. At that time, I did not have the courage to stand up for my practice of just trusting my body to know when to breathe.
When I encountered Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen, reading about Cellular and Embryological breathing – I felt she was describing what I was experiencing. In a class I attended with her, she said:
”I decided to breathe less and less, until, without effort, I began to breathe more and more.”