Breath and Heartbeat

By Charlotte Selver

This article is based on an excerpt from the newly published audio tape of Charlotte Selver’s August 13, 2001 class on Monhegan Island, Maine.

Curtain blowing in windowJust as our heart beats, breathing can happen without effort, without being directed. The air exchange happens all by itself. When the exhalation wants to become deeper, let it become deeper. Don’t direct it. Even the slightest attempt to breathe is unnecessary. It happens by itself.

Do you feel your heart beat right now? You may want to use one of your hands to feel it. You don’t have to tell your heart “beat.” It beats by itself. Wonderful! My heart beats! Enjoy it! Here it is, a sign of life. You have no duty, it beats anyhow.

You can even feel how it’s easiest for your heart to beat just by being peaceful, feeling the natural movements of your own heart which you don’t create. How do you have to sit, for example? Where is it easiest for your heart to beat? Some people slump and that’s not easiest. Some people straighten up, and that’s not easiest. Where is it easiest for you? Just you. This one person in the world which is you.

In the same way, you could be permissive to breathing. As I look out the window right now I can see a tiny breeze outside. Perhaps one or the other of you can see the fine way in which the breeze moves the curtain. The muscles inside are like that curtain, if you permit it. Like the curtain is moved by the wind, so we are moved inside by our breathing, without doing anything for it. If you gently give up doing it, you will experience that it comes all by itself. We should not be the educators of breathing. Breathing should teach us how it wants to be – without our admonishing it.

There is this wonderful nervous system which we all have, from our foot soles up to the top of our head. Everywhere it feels. You can feel whether here or there your breathing is going on, without your doing. Or, as Elsa Gindler would say: “Don’t hinder it.” When you don’t do it and don’t hinder it you will feel what happens. Something is going on. From moment to moment, whether you are asleep or awake, there it is. So you don’t have to worry about breathing. Who enjoys the idea? No worry! Breath and heartbeat. There they are, and you feel there is something happening – beating in me and living and doing something in me. And I don’t do it.

I would suggest when you wake up in the morning that you don’t jump out of bed right away. Lie there for a little while as you move from sleeping to being awake and feel how breathing goes. You can learn a lot from it. And you can feel also when you are doing breathing. Many people have learned to do breathing. It’s terrible. It’s as though we spit creation in the face. Breathing goes all by itself, no matter what we are doing.

I remember one time in class with Elsa Gindler we worked very quietly, and I fell asleep. I woke up and I thought, “Oh, I fell asleep.” And my next thought was, “Nobody could see it.” I had my eyes closed. But when I opened my eyes there stood Elsa Gindler right next to me and she asked, “Was it good?” That was a great moment. I will never forget that.

Without us knowing, breathing goes on and on. Thank God! You can hinder, but you have to permit at least a little bit of it. When you do too much, you become unnatural; when you do too little, you become stingy. You can feel for yourself what you need, and just allow it. You trust your own feeling. You might feel that you have always denied breathing, that you have always hindered it. Many children, when they are afraid of their parents, don’t dare to breathe, really. They don’t know it, but they hinder breathing.

You can feel the slightest bit of unnaturalness when you do breathing, even just a tiny bit. I warn everybody who wants to work on breathing to give up these ideas of how breathing happens – just be very quiet and feel what happens by itself. Feel where inside you can feel it, when you are not ambitious, where every little bit of this fine movement, which keeps us alive, can be felt. You can’t be sensitive enough for this. We often don’t feel spontaneous breathing because it is very gentle and comes without any ambition.

And so it goes on from moment to moment to moment to moment, as you see, for more than a hundred years. There is nothing that has to be done. You only have to feel whether air is going through you. Do I let it? Do I close the doors or do I let my inner doors stay passable, open? Even the slightest inner movement of air exchange can be felt. And nobody has a duty. Be sure not to watch, just be peacefully open for what happens.

Has anybody been at the birth of a child? Everybody is waiting. The baby comes out of the mother and then somebody shouts, “It breathes!” And it didn’t know at all what breathing was, you know. It just happened anyway.

What I hope you will learn is giving up exercises and becoming more natural. Whatever you do, don’t make an exercise out of it but allow it in its own juiciness. Your heart is beating, your breathing is going without you doing it, thank God. Be there for it – in your natural self, not as an exercise. With this constant exercising, one degrades oneself, one degrades one’s possibility. But being there for something is something other than exercising something. Feel how your heart is beating right now and your breath is going right now, when you are not trying to influence it, when you allow it to have its own way of reacting.

As far as I am concerned every moment is a new moment, and I don’t exercise it, no matter how long something takes. One can feel when something comes by itself, naturally, and when it is induced, when one does do something to make it be such and such. Allow things to become more spontaneous. Being new, be there for it. This is sensory awareness work. It’s supposed to prepare us for life, not for exercises.

Featured image by Robert Smith

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