The Art and Breath of Stillness
Oh to be a muse...
When local artist, Kate Goddard asked if I would pose for her art group I jumped at the chance.
Little did I know how much the process was like a meditation. Kate said beforehand
"Sitting for artists is actually quite hard - most of us are not used to sitting still. Let's start with 3 minutes and build up the time you sit from there... ".
I thanked her for thinking of me and asked whether it was ok if we pushed it as I was used to sitting still for up to an hour. She agreed to increase it to 10 minutes saying that was all she was comfortable with. The group hadn't done more than 10 minutes themselves, sketching vases and fruit. "Looking out for them was just as important as looking out for the muse" she quipped.
And so the timer began.
It isn't all what it seemed
After about 3 minutes I began to understand why Kate was looking out for me. I may be able to sit relatively still for an hour with eyes closed but with them open is a completely different matter. Of course I was allowed to blink but even so my eyes started doing weird things. The best way to describe it was feeling myself go in and out of embodiment - almost like I might be about to faint or fall asleep.
Tuning in, it had something to do with being the focus of others people'sattention. To have many sets of eyes observing, analysing and pulling my form apart was a bigger deal than I had imagined; Something I had not experienced before. I knew I was going to be ok but it wasn't comfortable. A change of focus felt essential.
Using breath for focus
With eyes open, I began to breathe deeper, fuller and through me... to the depths of my seat bones. Slowly, so it would be difficult to see what was going on (Otherwise I would look to be panting!)
The more I became aware I was being watching, the deeper I began to breathe. In this way, breath helped me to stay present and continue with the exercise.
In the end both the group and I were quite happy going for 25 minute sitting periods. The lead artist became excited commenting she hadn't experienced being able to work with someone in this way... she could support the class and then leave them to it. "time to get my own pencils" she said, pulling out another easel and some paints.
Watching them all work was amazing. Everyone had different ways of observing and interpreting. (image displayed is Kate's)
A case for counting
What breath is helpful for this moments where we require stillness?
I recommend a 'counting' technique. There are endless ways of doing breathwork using counting. We are able to find the one that suits us best. If you would like to try one, I have written a count breathing technique below:
1. Start with an exhale to clear the air in your lungs. Let an inhale happen naturally and count it as you do so until you no longer need to breath in. Hold for 1-2 seconds and the let the exhale out fully, keeping the counting going (aim not to push/force the end of the out breath).
2. Hold the complete exhale for 1-2 seconds before breathing in.
3. Continue in this way counting the in and out, with a gentle "hold" in the full 'in' and complete 'out' (1-2 seconds should be fine).
That is it... quite simple.
You can do this for 3-60 minutes plus.
Tips and tricks:
It becomes an interesting exercise of observation as your ability to breathe can change through out. I started with an IN of 4 seconds and OUT of 5. This changed to 5:8 (in:out), 6:8, 8:10... all the way up to 15:17 (roughly 1.5 breaths per minute [BPM]) before it went backwards to a steady 10:12 (roughly 3 breaths BPM)
Haven't done much breath work? Don't worry if you stay under 5 seconds for both the IN and OUT. This works out to be 6-8 BPM) which is great going and will start to see you changing your resting breath in the long term. (The average person usually breaths quite shallowly at between 15-20 BPM.)
If you are breathing at over 20 BPM then this is a great (and important) breathing technique for you to do. Over 20 BPM is quite high and shows your respiration is quite inefficiently. This means the rest of your body is working over time for the amount of oxygen you are actually getting into your system. It is comparable to keeping your car in second gear!
What if I have a breathing problem?
If you have a pulmonary issue or disease... this can also be a good exercise.
Recently I worked with someone who had COPD, we were able to get to 15 BPM from close to 28 BPM by doing some simple exercises and change of focus. It changed his day! (Feel free to message if you want to know more about this)
It is helpful to be close to a ticking clock as this makes counting exact and enables one to focus more easily.
Your breath should never feel like a gasp or stressful so keep the breaths per minute to what feels comfortable... focus not on reducing your BPM but more on how your BPM changes.
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