Let the Breath Lead the Way | Stephen Hamilton

Let the Breath Lead the Way

I discovered something this morning in my yoga practice about breath, and it occurred to me how imprtant it could be not only for my practice on the mat, but to my life onstage and as a teacher.

I’m one of those controlling types. My morning yoga practice is more often than not a reflection of that persona:  willful and effort filled.  But this morning, a new and sublime experience surprised me mid-asana…. I was in the middle of an extended Warrior II pose, when all of sudden, for reasons I have yet to understand or recreate, I noticed that my by breath had expanded in my lungs in a way I had never experienced, and I had this distinct sensation of the prana sinking deeply into my arms, legs, back.  (Prana is a concept in yoga of a cosmic energy that enters your body with breath and is considered the link between the material and spiritual self.) For the next few minutes, my practice moved easily, organically, full of intention and awareness.  I seemed to float effortlessly on the breath with both the inhalation and the exhalation embodying the movement with a  subtlety and strength I have never before experienced.  It only lasted for about minute, and then I was back to my old ways. But for that moment, I was in a kind of heaven, the same bliss I feel in my most connected times in performance onstage.   There must be a connection.

Relaxed breath is key in powerful acting.  It’s no coincidence that the word for taking a breath has the same roots as the word for access to the artist’s soul… INSPIRATION. Breath creates a dynamic bridge between the left side of our brain – the part involved with speech, linear time and logic – and the right side, the side attuned to impulse, spirit and inspiration.  This is the realm of imagination… the realm of the visceral, uncensored response to the present moment.  Because breath can be a conscious, left-brain function, and an unconscious, right brain instinct, breath moves between both hemispheres – and serves as connective tissue,  key to the nuanced communication between the artist’s intellect and her soul.

What if we could allow the breath to take the lead onstage as I experienced on the mat?  With breath in the lead, could we suspend our usual attempts to control, to think three lines ahead, to worry about what our hands are doing?  What sort of effortlessness, what sort of attunement to the present moment could we enjoy if we could allow the breath to lead us from moment to moment onstage instead of trying to control the experience?

I think that answering these answers will make a big difference in our work, and I am going to continue to look for new ways to make breathing and the quality of breath a leading issue in my work onstage and in the studio with my students.  STAY TUNED!

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