I remember once being in the classroom with one of my teachers, listening to a list of muscles known as "Respiratory Muscles"; with so-called Primary and Accessory connotations. It made less sense to me than it should have done. I've been to conferences where people "demonstrate" how to use the breath in elite sporting performance. In the last two decades or so, if I took any of them as "the answer" I would be schizophrenically attempting to make sense of the most natural and fascinating "function" of the human form. As far as I can work out, we don't know ourselves as individual muscles, since they never move as isolated units; much less breathe as such.
Then we have the Yoga Classroom; where we learn so much about the different named breathing exercises and I've seen all hell break loose when people get distressed or overwhelmed by forcing breathing patterns, or trying to adhere to a count. Have you ever seen a dog or a cat or a dolphin breathe to a count? Do you imagine they need to know which muscles are which, to swim faster, run quicker or do their thing?
Sorry, but the body doesn't work like that. We are breathed, we breathe, we impose on breath - because we can, to an extent. We also have the license to make it up, so I think we have to be careful about what we choose to teach and practice; when and for what reason at the time. One size does not fit all and it is yet another expression of our innately intelligent physiological architecture. It seems like part of our body language; from the form to us, in a conversation about what we want to do, or per-form.
I wonder if the breath is more like a sensory system than it is a mechanical function, reducible to its component parts? A lot of the breathing exercises we inherited from various Yoga lineages, were designed for specific things. These included helping focus the mind, or manage the desires and urges of restless meanderings, when study or concentration was required. Some were for boys only. Sometimes girls work differently.
I have had the privilege of working with Angela Farmer and Ben Wolff, two people who teach outside the box and, while they have very different styles and practices, are both so very intelligent about the nature of breathing. I can't recommend either of them highly enough. If you have a chance to experience their workshops, take it. They're about "life" and "being alive" as much as they are about the breath!
They give me confidence to follow the thread of the anatomy of how we actually breathe. The body doesn't know itself as organising separate breathing muscles from the movements we do. It integrates the most exquisite pulsations of varying degrees to gradually meet the demands of what we call upon it to perform. Indeed, the fascial matrix and architecture of the breath resembles a Hoberman's Sphere more than anything. It is less a mechanical function, than a marvellous instrument; tuned to a huge variety of symphonies and orchestrated wisely (or not) by how intelligently we work with it, or play it. I'll be exploring this in the summer; can't wait to see what unfolds. More later!