The Art of Breathing

The Art of Breathing

Jessica Wolf’s programme of Breathing Coordination

Angela Bradshaw MSTAT DMU DCR(R)

My Post Grad Certificate in Jessica Wolf’s The Art of Breathing

My Post Grad certificate – 1 June 2018             Angela Bradshaw MSTAT DMU DCR(R)


As I got into my car to drive myself home, following completion of my 60 hour Post Grad certificate in Jessica Wolf’s ‘The Art of Breathing’,  Steve Wright was playing Kate Bush’s ‘Wow’ on the radio – one of my all time favourites!

What serendipity, within the body of the song is this phrase

When the actor reaches his death 

You know it’s not for real, he just holds his breath’ 

Essentially that’s what we’re all doing when we hold our breath, we’re losing vitality, literally dying a little death.  With this amazing work, you can learn how to cooperate fully with the breath, allowing breath to flow through you efficiently, easily, uninterrupted.  We are then fully fuelled in life, fully alive, through the ups and downs of our lives, the events, the surprises, shocks, the mundane and everything in between. 

In every activity breath is required, and in sleep too, breath is required.  In every moment of your life you are breathing. Breath = life. That’s stating the obvious really.  But sometimes,  hiding in plain sight is a way of evaluating how well you breathe.  Have you ever considered this before?    How well you breathe has a huge impact on how well you’re fuelling your systems with oxygen and  therefore how well you recover from challenging activities, eg walking up hills, ( Kate Bush has reappeared in my head with ‘Running up that hill’ some of these lyrics are also appropriate)

‘ And if I only could

I’d make a deal with God

And I’d get him to swap our places

I’d be running up that road

Be running up that hill

With no problems’

When we understand how to consciously cooperate with our breathing pattern, allowing it to move in a perpetual cycle of motion, uninterrupted, we’re so much more vital.  Our diaphragm is able to move unimpeded, efficiently guiding the stale air out of the lungs, to prompt a full and easy, natural inhalation, that’s perfectly orchestrated with the demands our whole selves are experiencing in that moment.

The diaphragm can’t be directly influenced.  But we do have conscious control over other parts of the respiratory system, which fortunately means we can indirectly positively influence the ability of the diaphragm to move.  How efficiently it is in its movement during the respiration cycle.  By allowing our ribs to move fully, keeping our abdomen soft and available for movement, this then means the diaphragm is able to move unimpeded and in a more balanced fashion within the torso. One of my colleagues describes the diaphragm as ‘the conductor of the orchestra’ which I think is a wonderful phrase. It enables us to understand the importance of the role of the diaphragm and what happens if the orchestra isn’t listening to the conductor…..we get chaos in the respiratory system! And if one faction of the orchestra is out of time with another, we get noise, not beautiful music!  Timing is important too.  Naturally our breath works in perfect harmony with our selves, our environment and emotions and physical state and demands we have on the physical self. 

If we have faulty breathing patterns, or misuse our respiratory system in some way, we have a detrimental effect on our ability to breathe well.  Faults come about for a variety of reasons.  They can be postural.  Literally squishing the lungs with poor posture, reducing their potential to receive air as the breathing space is reduced by a poorly arranged skeletal system. Posture is very important.

Disease can also affect the way we breathe.  Respiratory disorders such as asthma affect our breathing patterns and can set us up  with ways of breathing that are no longer natural. Trauma to the chest can obviously impact our breathing efficiency negatively too to varying degrees.

Jessica Wolf, on qualifying as an Alexander Technique Teacher immediately then spent 20 years being mentored by Carl Stough in Breathing Coordination.  Carl was affectionately called Dr Breath by his athlete students – this was a great indication of how much they liked his work and how beneficial it was to them as they learned how to cooperate with their own individual breathing patterns and rhythms as they were running and also as they were recovering too from practice. They noticed their ability to recover from training improved dramatically once they applied his work to their own discipline and style in training. Their times improved too.

Carl also worked with patients suffering with emphysema.  He managed to get patients off oxygen and into mobility again by teaching them the ways they could help themselves to aid the movement of the diaphragm.

Carl’s original interest in priming the diaphragm was through the voice.  As a choral conductor he wanted his students to be able to produce the best sound.  An inefficient diaphragm affects the vocal tone and strength.  By working with his students individually, he was able to teach them how to strengthen their diaphragm, by learning how to coordinate their breathing naturally again.  Their voices naturally improved as a consequence.

Interestingly F.M.Alexander was known as ‘The Breathing Man’.  Both men were geniuses in their own right and happened to notice the importance of Chest Poise in the efficiency of breathing.  Both men used hands on guidance to aid their verbal instruction when working with students.

Jessica has managed to distil her 20 years experience with Carl and extensive Alexander Technique teaching into an accessible programme of simple effective procedures to enable easier breathing, and an ability to improve the efficiency of the diaphragm.  This has a positive effect on the vocal tract too.  The Art of Breathing enables us to prime the diaphragm.  We then are able to exchange breath capacity for coordination/ this helps us speak on the breath more efficiently, using the breath as a support.  We can sing phrases more efficiently too with reduced need to ‘take breath’ – we get better at trusting the breath and allowing the body to organise how much we breathe we need for a particular activity.

Alexander’s own procedures are also very beneficial in restoring a more natural breathing rhythm and pattern to return.

With Jessica’s Art of Breathing we can find additional ways of cooperating with the breath in a myriad of ways in very differing circumstances.

The personal benefits I have noticed since working with Jessica in this way, for around 68 hours so far, has been an ability to find the reflexive breath.  Breathing is now so much easier!  My chest poise has improved too and is easier for me to find, return to and rely on also.  A previously difficult spin class, was a breeze this week as I wasn’t over managing my breath, just allowing it to come and go with the changing demands of the class, hurray! And in yoga I’ve noticed that if I just follow my breath, the poses are easier.  I’m not forcing anything, just flowing and binds are becoming closer to being achievable. I have never managed a bind to date in all of my years of yoga ( about 20 years), but now I can see it will happen as my whole self is more flexible. Allowing movement, and suspension of the skeletal system, aided by my natural breathing pattern and rhythm enables so much! Hallelujah.  I’m amazed at what I can do and at this age…..I’m going to be 50 years old this year.  A golden oldie!! But full of life and wonder at what the human body can do, is capable of and how it opens the door to ourselves in incredible ways.

What has been most enjoyable is having a release in the jaw, that allowed my true voice to come forwards for the first time, without apology.  It feels good to be me!  Naturally me. 

How does that sound?

How would you like to be fully natural, naturally you on every level, starting with the breath?

Please get in touch with me if you’re interested in opening the door to yourself.  I’d highly recommend it in this day and age of forcing, struggling and trying too hard at life.  Lighten up, find your breath, let it take you into your actual natural flow.  Then life feels abundant, easier, more you…..

I’d recommend a course of lessons to really effect a positive change.  3 months of hour long lessons would be a good starting point if you’re keen to treat yourself to a natural holistic programme incorporating posture and breath, to aid easy movements, free your voice, expand your ability to care for yourself on many levels, spiritually, emotionally, physically.

It’s a breath of fresh air!


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