June 2021 Theme – Reconnecting to Breath/Abs/Core

“The missing pillar in health is breath. It all starts there.”
― James Nestor, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

With our June launch, DBP will begin highlighting a body/movement theme each month. We will engage the DBP community through classes, workshops, anatomy explorations and social media posts that explore and deepen our embodied experience of the theme.

Breath and the muscles that support breathing will be the focus for June 2021. Our breath was under assault on many fronts during 2020 – Covid, Wild Fires (in California), Police Violence – and many people lost their breath to illness and violence. Many of us are grieving multiple losses – loved ones, homes, jobs, community. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the lungs are understood to hold grief. As we begin to re-emerge from shelter in place and breath together again, DBP is focusing on the breath, finding deep, expansive breath and the ways our core can support our healing and joy.

I am not an expert in breath. There are experts, and many long traditions in Yoga, QiGong, and other modalities that have accumulated knowledge and wisdom over thousand year old traditions. I encourage you to explore and play with these different practices. A great place to start is with Science Journalist James Nestor’s Breath: The Lost Art and Science of Breath. It is fascinating and informative and gives lots of exercises to try and resources to deepen your exploration. During shelter in place along with reading Nestor’s book I did Yamuna Breath Work, Yang Sheng Gong, Talawa Technique trainings all of which gave me new perspectives on breath as a tool for healing and support for movement.

For years in Yoga classes holding some hard pose went hand in hand with holding my breath, despite teachers cueing me to breathe. I could not understand how you could do both. My experience both personally and in my practice is that finding the breath pattern that supports stability and movement can be challenging. Many of us only breathe into the upper chest, or create a compression down into our abdomen and pelvic floors to stabilize. Many of us don’t fully exhale, many of us hold our breath when we’re doing something hard both physically and otherwise. When we most need our breath – rigorous physical activity or a stressful situation – we don’t have access to it. Additionally, tightness in the upper back, shoulders, chest, and the muscles between the ribs can limit the capacity of our lungs to expand.

Try this to breath work exercise to build lung capacity, stretch from the inside out and begin learning to direct the breath.

Understanding the anatomy

I find that the clearer the understanding of the anatomy of breathing is for both myself and people I work with, the easier it is to feel the breath in the body. Very simply, when we inhale everything expands down – our lungs expand, the diaphragm contracts (moving down), the deep abdominals soften, the pelvic floor muscles gently expand. When we exhale and the lungs empty, the pelvic floor muscles contract, deep abdominals gently engage, diaphragm contract. I like to visualize the breath moving down my torso on the inhale and sliding up on the exhale.

The deep abdominals are an important muscular support for the breath. See the video below to find your deep abdominals and experience how they support breathing.

What I’ve Been Up To

I began 2020 teaching Reformer classes and seeing clients at Center Strength studio in Berkeley, and seeing clients at my DBP studio in Oakland. I was coming off a busy creative year in 2019 with the showing of my Reconstructions Performance Ritual and having my Cipher Study #1 installation/performance piece in Rhiannon Evans MacFayden’s Bodies on the Line exhibit at the Berkeley Art Center. I was completing my training on the Core Align Pilates equipment and continuing weekly participation in Pilates for Rehabilitation course. I was gearing up to serve on the Berkeley Civic Arts grant panel for the third year. I was busy and completely unprepared for what the rest of 2020 had in store for us.

The shelter in place order began on my husband’s birthday. I did my best to make a nice birthday dinner, but we were in shock and afraid and anxious. I was initially consumed with reviewing grant applications, standing in long lines at the grocery store, home schooling, and trying to figure out how to pivot to an online practice. For those of you who know me and have worked with me, you know I rely on my hands for sensing what’s happening in the body and physical cueing. Teaching online was like having my hands cut off. Gradually projects wrapped up and things slowed down.

I found myself watching the faultlines of our system – social, economic, health, political – all coming apart. My creative practice became writing daily prayers. I read, reflected, listened, stared out the window, immersed myself in trainings that centered cycles of nature, the breath, and Africanist movement, aesthetics and cosmologies. As the faultlines in my own assumptions began to fragment, I realized that our future depends on letting go of the American story, and opening the way for different ways of knowing and being. At House/Full’s vaudeville ritual performance in August of last year, Ohlone activist Corinna Gould offered a prayer that reminded us that we human beings are the impatient little brothers and sisters of the plants and animals. What if we truly and deeply believed that? What if we greeted the Magnolia tree or the Crow as a respected elder? What if our equity work was about protecting Black Joy?    

I am more and more understanding that my work is about creating sacred spaces for healing and transformation. Spaces that contribute to a collective dreaming of a new world, build connection to place, open us to the unknown, to ancestral knowledge, to First People’s knowledge, to joy, to reciprocity. This begins with the body.

“I touch my own skin, and it tells me that before there was any harm, there was miracle.”
― Adrienne Maree Brown, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good

The gift of this last year has been seeing that my creative and bodywork are part of the same larger healing and transformational work. I see my work through DBP as not only supporting the reclaiming of our bodies’ innate intelligence, but our capacity to heal, transform and experience joy. I am deeply grateful that I got to study Yang Sheng Gong with Dana Iova-Koga, Pilates for Rehabilitation with Zeina Griffoni, Yamuna Breath Work with Yamuna Zake, and Talawa Technique with Thomas Presto during 2020’s shelter in place. None of these would’ve been possible without virtual space. I began to understand the importance of moving our bodies, listening to our bodies, feeling the rhythms and energy of our bodies, and finding pleasure and healing in movement.

“Transform yourself to transform the world,” Grace Lee Boggs.

Yamuna Body Rolling Theory and Technique

My friend Ying Mei Tcheou shared this article about Yamuna Body Rolling from the Journal of Physical Therapy. The abstract follows. For the full article click on the link below.

This paper provides information about the theory and technique of Yamuna Body Rolling. In order to treat physical problems, using the specialized Yamuna Body Rolling balls, people can target superficial skin, fasciae, muscle fibers, tendons, ligaments, bones, internal organs, and the nervous system by themselves. The extraordinary effect of Yamuna Body Rolling is its multidimensional elongation of muscle fibers. In addition to the regular longitudinal elongation by the conventional stretch method, Yamuna Body Rolling enables the transversal and diagonal expansion of muscle fibers in order to move the body more dynamically. Hamstring, abdominal, and sideline routines are presented as examples for techniques of Yamuna Body Rolling. Yamuna Body Rolling can be applied to functional evaluation and therapeutic uses; therefore, it could provide many benefits in the treatment of different conditions in the medical field.

The Theory and Technique of Yamuna Body Rolling, Journal of Physical Therapy.
25: 1197–1200, 2013. Satoshi Suzuki, ATC, CSCS.