Breathing Spaces is blessed to have a global readership which brings new perspectives on the breath to my attention. I was most fortunate to connect with a Danish “psychomotor therapist” by the name of Siff L. E. Skovenborg just a month ago.
Siff shared with me that Denmark has a high level education training program completely centered on a humanistic approach to movement, breath, and body awareness. Of course I was intrigued and asked if she would write an article for BreathingSpaces.
Below you will find her article. I invite you to dialog with Siff either via a comment here, or directly to her e-mail below.
Breathing In A Danish Psychomotor View
By Siff L. E. Skovenborg – psychomotor therapist
Being a therapist and teacher of psychomotricity in Denmark, working with breath and breathing patterns has for years been a special interest for me. Psychomotricity is a therapy with roots in phenomenology and body therapy (Reich and Lowen) as well as anatomy and physiology. The tradition however goes further back than that. The Danish psychomotoric tradition started in the 1930’s and sprung from dance, performance and gymnastics into a manual treatment therapy. The focus has always been to balance the work of the muscles and to increase the awareness of the body so that the bodily impulses could spring more freely and expressively. In that way the view of the body has roots in the humanistic approach.
The body is viewed as a totality – there’s no real division between mind and matter – only when we focus the attention to one dimension it seems to be a difference in expression. The same goes for the breath. The way we breathe is the way we live. Holding or controlling breath is holding or controlling the life we lead. Breathing solely in the belly or the chest is avoiding contact or relation to the emotions or sensations in these areas.
Still there are two ways for the breath to function: autonomic or voluntary. Voluntary is when you control the breath either to increase the expanse or to decrease or even stop breathing for a shorter or longer period. Still we breathe when sleeping, when being unaware or in need for more air for instance when exercising. However the controlled breathing can become a pattern that affects the autonomic function. Doing breathing exercises or being afraid of being in touch with emotional responses can limit where the breath goes, how much air we breathe in or out and how the muscles that make the breathing happen works.
So the work of a psychomotoric therapist is to open for the breathing space and for more autonomic control, so that you get a free, diverse breathing that regulates itself according to the situation. In order to do so, we have different approaches depending on the client’s history and resources (bodily/mentally and socially).
If a client that has learned a controlled breath for example in yoga classes and believes that a belly breath is the only right way to breathe. Here the therapist can choose to educate the client about the physiology of breathing and the autonomic function. If the client has the possibility of viewing a small baby in his or her sleep the variety of breathing can be seen and understood. Then exercises to learn to let the breath control itself can be relevant. Jacques Dropsy author of ‘The Well-Tuned Body’ describes such exercises, that we also use in psychomotricity.
Another example could be a client who is afraid to be in touch with emotions, you need to teach the client to deal with emotions first. We do that by letting the client describe the bodily sensations in a matter of a fact way. What is a matter of fact is the heart beating, the sweat, the pulse, the muscle tension, the breath. If the client tends to talk from the emotions or the mind, the therapist keeps helping the client back to a descriptive approach. When this approach succeeds, the client experiences that the emotion or sensation lingers off. Gradually he experiences mastery of being in the present with the sensation without changing it willingly or forcefully. When this is learned we can start working directly or indirectly with breath.
As a psychomotoric therapist we tend to begin the work with the breath indirectly, as the direct approach can make the client too aware of the breath to let it work automatically. Indirect work is for example manually or through exercises which increase the elasticity of connective tissue around the body, or by doing exercises that demand more oxygen and therefore forces the body to take deeper or stronger breaths. Direct work is breathing exercises, manual treatment on primary or secondary breathing muscles, or breathing awareness. When working directly with breath we almost always return to exercises that help the client to return to autonomic breathing.
Which approaches the therapist chooses, depends on the type of client. Every client is met on his or her own terms and the therapist always strives to engage the client to investigate the bodily/emotional/mental phenomenon together.
For more information you are welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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