Just breathe

I went to that breathing class I told you about.  It was billed as a workshop on how to “breathe in four dimensions,” covering not only poses but spiritual topics such as wholeness, awareness and the integration of body, soul, and mind.  My expectations were pretty high as I sailed into the Hochstein School on Saturday with my yoga mat and notebook.

About twenty people of all ages sat on padded chairs lining the walls of a large reception room.  I didn’t recognize anybody except soprano Allyn van Dusen, who was collecting money at the door for the sponsoring organization, the Rochester Vocal Arts Collaborative.   I paid my seven dollars and sank down next to a man with a cherubic face and bare feet.

The teacher, a classical pianist named Kevin Nitsch, stood up and introduced himself.  He had bare feet, too, and wore a blinding, yellow T-shirt and striped sweatpants.  Pillows and blankets stretched out in neat piles on the floor, and I was wondering if I could stay awake if I had to lie down when he passed around anatomical illustrations of human organs.

Lungs look like raw steaks.

I digested this while Kevin covered basic facts about the human breathing apparatus. 

Then things got more spiritual.  The instructor told us that our bodies were like houses, and that there are rooms in our bodies we’ve never explored before, just like those dreams people have where they discover a new room or a wardrobe to Narnia.   

He asked each of us to think about our sternum.  “Where is it?” he asked, pointing out accurately that most of us were slumped, shoulders pressed forward as I am now typing this and you are (probably) reading it, letting gravity direct the body’s posture.

Kevin talked about his experiences breathing while playing the piano, experimenting with exhaling or inhaling through a difficult phrase.  When he plays Romantic composers’ music, he said, he has a tendency to hold his breath.

“Stress drives us to hunch,” Kevin said, urging us to lift our sternums.  We did.

"This will put you in a happier, more childlike place.”

From there he pivoted into the basics of yoga, showing us how to strike poses (cat, cow, baby, child, and so on) and asking us to breathe and notice where the air was going.  It’s not about fitness, he said, it’s a way of being, a state of mindful attention.

The room was nearly silent as we stretched, dipped, and breathed.  In, out, in, out, in, out.  Air curled into my hips, around my stomach, through the soft spaces in my lower back.  I blinked and forty-five minutes disappeared.  It was incredibly absorbing.

So what did I get out of the class?  Two things, which may be helpful to you, too, especially if you sing, talk, or breathe.

First, I learned a pose that offers a brilliant metaphor for performing.  Stand with your sternum lifted, legs apart and shoulders back.  Bend your knees a little and tighten your quads.  Now let your stomach expand.  Go loose around the middle.

“You need bravado, confidence in your body,” Kevin explained.  “But you need that sense of vulnerability, too, a soft, tender place that hums with emotional sensitivity.”

Second, I learned to experiment.  Try it.  Get on the floor.  Roll around and play.  Breathe in and breathe out.  Listen.  Your body knows a lot, if you take time to listen.

The next step for me will be to see if any of this helps me sing longer, more sustained phrases. 







You're right, I was slumping. Almost involuntarily I straightened up as I read that part....

Hi Andrew

Very good!  ;)


I, too, sat up straight as I read. It's amazing how quickly I became more attentive. I look forward to trying out the 'confident and vulnerable' stance! Thanks for sharing this experience with us, I'll keep you posted on my progress!

Hi, Rachel

I'm finding it helps with broadcasting, too, especially the idea of air flowing from different rooms of my body.  I sometimes I imagine I have untapped reserves of air.  It helps me get through longer phrases.