Breathing, the most fundamental movement of the human body, often remains an imperceptible part of dance, even to the dancers. Yet, its role extends beyond merely fulfilling a physiological necessity. Breathing can be a profound source of inspiration, influencing the creation of movement that is deeply emotive, its quality, and its phrasing. Awareness of breath can turn each dance performance into a vivid expression of the present moment.


Breathing and dancing

For me, breathing is the core of a holistic approach to life and art. My studies in somatic systems, alongside dance, have cultivated a sensitive awareness of breath as the cornerstone of dance. Breathing has transcended from being an automatic function to a critical element of my practice that I consciously engage with. Aligning my movement with my breathing enriches the dance experience, making it feel more complete and vibrant. Through this blog, I aim to share thoughts and experiences that have been inspirational in both dancing and choreography.

In Taking Root to Fly, Irene Dowd observes, “Fortunately, most of us don’t pay any attention at all to our breathing when we are dancing strenuously, so that the wisdom of our body takes over.”

I wholeheartedly concur, with a caveat: this principle holds true provided that the ‘wisdom of our body’ isn’t compromised by improper postural and movement habits that can also impede breathing. It’s crucial to be mindful of our breathing patterns as we move, as this mindfulness significantly influences the quality of our movements. This doesn’t imply controlling our breathing but rather fine-tuning the synergy between body movement and breath.

I will not delve into the intricacies of functional breathing or enumerate the benefits that harmonizing movement and breath offers to dancers. In contemporary dance, the body is perceived as an integrated whole, often placing breathing at the core of its practice. My personal approach favors abdominal breathing as the foundational technique for exploring the expressive potential of breath as a dynamic element in dance. This preference aligns with the range of topics I intend to explore in this blog, as it facilitates a comprehensive experience of the aspects I wish to address.


Breath from an epistemological standpoint

Breath has historically been intertwined with notions of life force and divine influence. The term “inspiration” is derived from the Latin word “inspiration”, originating from “inspirare”, which translates to inhale or breathe (“in” meaning into, “spirare” meaning to breathe). This term has been interpreted both literally, as the act of inhaling, and metaphorically, symbolizing the infusion of life or spirit. Interestingly, this also reveals the root of the word “spirit”, directly linking it to the essence of breath.

In the medieval era, the act of breathing was synonymous with the soul or life force – the unseen energy vitalizing the human body. Consequently, the term “inspiration” extends epistemologically beyond the mere physical act of breathing, encompassing a process through which an individual is believed to receive divine guidance, wisdom, or insight. This concept is rooted in the belief that humans derive creativity and knowledge from a higher plane, referred to in various cultures as the Cosmos, God, Tao and so on.

In Slovak, the direct linguistic connection between the words for “breathing” and “inspiration” is not apparent, a contrast primarily found in the Romance languages, which have evolved from Latin. This linguistic heritage was adopted by English in the form of the term “inspire”. The meaning of “inspire” encompasses creativity, motivation, and moments of sudden clarity. To inspire signifies to stimulate or encourage, metaphorically infusing someone with energy or thought. Additionally, inspiration is perceived as the impetus behind creative endeavors that transcend ordinary actions or thoughts, often linked with the realms of philosophy, art, or science.

Perceived as a conduit between the personal and the universal, the concrete and the ethereal, inspiration embodies the timeless human yearning for connection with a realm beyond the immediately tangible. It signifies a longing to grasp something that transcends our immediate reality, infusing deeper meaning and purpose into our lives. Thus, inspiration is a concept that mirrors the human drive for knowledge, the expression of creativity, and the pursuit of a fulfilled sense of life’s overarching purpose.

In the 20th century, a scientific worldview prevailed, sharply delineating the individual from the universal and relegating the mystical concept of the “breath of life” to the realm of personal belief. Despite quantum physics challenging this rigid separation, its nuances remain elusive to many. In the practice of breathing exercises, we might vaguely refer to “an influx of energy or life”, yet shy away from interpreting this as a profound union of the self with the cosmos. While rationally acknowledging that breathing unites us through the shared act of inhaling the same air, we seldom recognize it as the core of our existence or a testament to our interconnectedness with all that is. Art, transcending the limitations of scientific discourse, offers a liberating space for such exploration, especially dance, with its intimate fusion of physical sensation and imaginative expression.

The dimensions of breathing I intend to explore transcend everyday awareness. Engaging with these practices fosters a unity between body and mind that diverges from conventional education and experience – it’s something we weren’t taught in school. This process demands concentrated attention and the awakening of innate abilities that often remain unexplored. Grasping their true significance and application in artistic expression is not immediate. It requires dedication and discipline, qualities that dancers are inherently familiar with and prepared to embrace.


Breath and awareness of flow

Diving deep into the perception of breath as an unending current of existence can usher in a transcendent state, where consciousness expands beyond the bounds of everyday awareness. The rhythmic dance of inhalation and exhalation becomes a symphony of being, intertwining with the fabric of the universe. The breath, though quiet and nearly invisible, is a constant presence. It embodies both the symbol and the substance of life. Dancers attuned to the finest nuances of movement and sensation can achieve such profound experiences by fully embracing the breath’s flow, allowing it to reverberate through the body in harmonious resonance.

Attuning oneself to the ebb and flow of breath demands an enhanced sensitivity and a broadened perception. When we start to view inhalation as an intake of rejuvenating sustenance, the breath transforms into a wellspring of vitality, nourishing both body and mind. Recognizing exhalation as our way of connecting our inner selves with the external world, offering a piece of ourselves – including our burdens and troubles – enriches this exchange with a sense of release and tranquility. This continuous cycle of receiving and releasing cultivates a profound sense of clarity and peace within the perpetual rhythm of filling and emptying.

This inherent rhythm, when it flows serenely and profoundly, endows the body with a dynamic resonance, instills tranquility in the mind, and awakens inspiration within the soul. The act of breathing, fundamental yet profound, unlocks the gateway to our receptiveness, fostering a connection with our deepest essence, its inherent peace, and intuitive wisdom. Ultimately, this is the essence and aim of breathing exercises across various spiritual traditions. (From a scientific point of view, this phenomenon is related to the activity of the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system.)

Exhalation not only facilitates a gentle expansion into the surrounding space but also establishes a grounding connection with the earth. It enables both body and mind to expel unnecessary residues, preventing the accumulation of harmful waste within. This soft undulation of breath continuously molds our existence, moment by moment. It rests upon us to ensure that this flow resonates harmoniously with our inner emotions and the external world, or else risk it stagnating, leading to blockages that disrupt the seamless current of life.

Experiencing flow also signifies an inherent surrender to the present, embracing the transient nature of our existence. Allowing the breath to move freely is akin to acknowledging and accepting the impermanence that defines the human condition. This realization, while enigmatic and elusive until life’s final moments, can offer profound liberation.

Inspiration for practice: Picture your lungs as a ‘duvet’ tenderly buoying your heart, providing a soft, trusting embrace. Reflect on the quality of movement this imagery evokes within you. How might you translate this sensation into movement or dance? This concept invites you to recognize that attuning to your breath isn’t about exerting control but rather about mindful observation of its natural rhythm, ensuring the breath’s flow remains undisturbed and free.


Breath and space perception

Practicing conscious breathing is a journey towards developing a keen awareness of spatiality through the body’s sensations. Typically, we perceive space visually, estimating its three dimensions to navigate it with ease. However, directing our focus to the rhythm of our breath offers a distinct spatial experience: it cultivates an awareness of the body’s internal space through kinesthetic sensation. Breathing reveals that our body is far from “empty”. While we all know we have various organs inside our bodies, their presence often goes unnoticed when they function healthily – almost as if they didn’t exist. Thus, feeling the breath enhances the awareness of our own body from within.

Breathing, initiated from deep within the body, manifests as an expansion and contraction within the body’s inner space, particularly in the chest and abdominal cavity. This expansion of the inner space can be perceived as a subtle radiating of the body from its core outward into the surrounding space, while the contraction feels like a drawing in from the periphery to the body’s center. Thus, the act of breathing forms a bridge between us and the external environment, extending beyond the confines of our skin.

The breath also enables us to attune to the scale of the body’s kinesphere – the personal bubble encompassing the space within reach of any extended part of the body, as further explored in my blog here. This awareness becomes particularly evident as we fully extend the parts of the body, such as limbs as well as spine, in stretching movements, or conversely, draw them inward towards the body’s core, adopting an embryonic pose. Both types of movement can yield deep satisfaction when they align with our innate desire to either extend ourselves into the world or retreat inward to our essence.

This facet of the interplay between space and breathing ties into another dimension: the direction of our attention, whether it’s projected outward towards the environment or inward towards our inner selves. The symbiotic relationship between these inner and outer realms is fundamental to the harmony of our well-being. An imbalance occurs when our focus is exclusively inward, engrossed solely in our own existence, or outward, preoccupied only with the external world. Such one-sided attention disrupts the natural equilibrium essential for our healthful functioning.

Breathing serves as a powerful tool for discerning and modulating this balance. The metaphor of imbalance is akin to dwelling in either the in-breath, representing an inward focus (oneself) characterized by perpetual reception, or the out-breath, symbolizing an outward focus (others) characterized by continuous giving. While the intricate interplay between physiological processes and the realms of emotion, perception, and cognition may not be widely understood, dancers frequently grasp and intuitively apply this knowledge.

Inspiration for practice: Visualize a stream of breath traveling up and down through your body’s inner space, seamlessly linking your head, chest, and pelvis. Integrating inhalation with downward movement and exhalation with upward movement offers distinct sensations and fosters varied states of bodily awareness. Contemplate how this internal flow can be expressed in your movement or dance. What unique qualities emerge in your dance or movement when guided by this concept?


Breath and sensation of weight

The metaphor of giving and receiving, as applied to breathing, can also illuminate another facet of our psychophysical being – the sensation of weight, which, though not immediately apparent, is intricately linked to breath. A brief engagement with breathing exercises quickly reveals this connection: the sensation of weight and the profound relaxation of the body are closely associated with calm, deep breathing.

Deep relaxation in the body is often experienced as a sense of heaviness. This sensation arises from the deactivation of the anti-gravity muscles, allowing the body to fully succumb to gravity’s pull – a force we’re usually unconsciously resisting. Embracing this influence, rather than continually striving to counteract it, can offer a profound sense of freedom. It also brings into focus the supportive presence of the floor beneath us, a constant force of support that, despite its omnipresence, is seldom acknowledged in our conscious experience.

Commonly, we’re unaware of the support the floor provides, often failing to leverage this to our benefit. In an attempt to counteract gravity, we rely solely on our own strength, inadvertently depleting our energy reserves. Embracing the floor’s support – the literal support of the Earth – not only conserves energy but also instills a sense of grounding in the present moment. This grounding is vital for both physical and mental well-being and enriches the performative quality of dancers, imbuing their presence and movements with a profound sense of “being” in the here and now.

How does breath facilitate our awareness of this connection? It serves as a reminder that following an exhale – a grounding and releasing action – comes the inhale, which brings energizing mobilization. This cycle of release allows for the creation of space, enabling us to recharge, refresh, and move dynamically with a sense of inner equilibrium. Despite its simplicity, this fundamental rhythm is something we often overlook in the midst of dance.

When we grasp our “here and now”, we can propel ourselves from that foundational support into the realm of dynamic movement, guided and nurtured by our breath. This understanding serves as a catalyst, leading us towards a more nuanced appreciation of the interplay between breath, balance, and movement – encompassing the physical, emotional, and intellectual dimensions. From this synergy emerges a dance characterized by its power and sensitivity, vibrancy and subtlety, strength and gentleness, intensity and lightness, constancy and boundlessness.

Inspiration for practice: Picture a flower nestled at the center of your navel, its petals gracefully opening with each inhale, drawing in light and energy from the surroundings, and gently closing with each exhale, radiating that energy back out. Feel how this visualization can subtly shift your center of gravity, igniting movement throughout your body. Observe how the quality of your movement or dance transforms as the flower’s rhythm of opening and closing becomes more vigorous, embodying an intense organic vibrancy. How does this affect the dynamics and expressiveness of your dance?


Breath and experiencing time (rhythm)

Breathing offers dancers a remarkable avenue to experience time, as it embodies a lasting movement that intuitively adjusts its duration to meet our needs – a subtle dynamic we often overlook in everyday life. However, in the realm of dance, this adaptive quality of breath can be harnessed to profound effect, serving as a powerful instrument for bringing the body’s expressive vitality to life.

The temporal aspect of breathing is intrinsically linked to our emotional state, as different emotions can significantly alter the rhythm of our breath – shortening it in moments of tension, and elongating it during states of calm. This modulation occurs subconsciously, governed by the autonomic nervous system’s intricate mechanisms. Yet, we possess a remarkable ability: the capacity to consciously regulate the length and flow of our breath. For dancers, this capability yields two profound advantages. Firstly, by deepening their breathing, dancers can alleviate stress and enhance their psychophysical well-being. Secondly, they have the opportunity to refine their performative expression in a distinctive manner, leveraging breath control to infuse their movements with a deeper sense of the flow of being.

Among these advantages is the organic musicality of movement, anchored in the present nature of breath. Breath, always occurring in the present moment, anchors us firmly in the “now”, making it an exceptional tool for deepening the performative experience of immediacy. When dancers become attuned to the temporality of their breath – its fleeting yet constant presence – they can engage with it in a manner that is both playful and joyful. This spontaneity gives rise to an expressive movement quality, as our emotions and breath are deeply intertwined. Thus, exploring the myriad ways to vary the melody and rhythm of breath in harmony with bodily movement and its experience opens up infinite possibilities. The dance and breath become one; each breath shapes the dance, and the dance embodies the breath.


The choreographic exploration of breath as a force that shapes dance

The synthesis of the aforementioned insights culminated in the creation of a choreographic sketch titled Dance of Breath. Through a deeper understanding of the phenomena of progression, spatiality and temporality through embodied breath, the choreographic exploration led to an expansion of the expressive qualities of the dancers’ movement.



In this short sketch, breath serves as the primary catalyst for each movement executed by the dancers. We began by exploring the manipulation of breath’s tempo – shortening or extending its duration, and introducing pauses where breath is momentarily held. We then explored the possibilities of initiating stronger or softer pulses in the inhalation or exhalation, experimenting with different rhythmic and dynamic phrasing of the breath and its effect on movement.

Our initial focus with dancers Silvia and Chilli centered on the perception of the body’s inner space, observing the pathways of breath as it navigated through the choreographed contours of inhalation and exhalation. We then transitioned to allowing the breath’s movement to permeate the entire body, exploring its capacity to animate the body as a whole. Particular attention was given to how the spine adapted to the modulation of breath, noting the resultant shifts in the alignment and interaction of the head, chest, and pelvis. This exploration extended to the upper and lower limbs, integrating the mobilization of body weight into the overall movement.

Right from the outset, we incorporated the sound of breath into our choreographic process, recognizing that its audible presence more acutely captures the dancers’ (and audience’s) attention. This audibility facilitated the dancers’ ability to synchronize their breath sounds with body movements more intuitively. Additionally, vocalizing the breath heightened the awareness of the integral connection among the head, chest, and pelvis. Acknowledging and feeling this interconnectivity, along with the openness of these internal bodily spaces, significantly improved the dancers’ capacity for organic movement coordination. This, in turn, enriched the movement’s expressive qualities and dynamism.

Vocalizing the breath paved the path for dancers to explore additional layers and dimensions in the nexus between movement and breath. Breath consistently served as the primary catalyst for movement, guiding every part of the body through its impulses, intensity, and duration. Simultaneously, the characteristics of the breath – its length, intensity, and emotional nuance – became the principal mode of communication, enabling the dancers to forge a movement dialogue amongst themselves.


Dear readers, if you share your thoughts and experiences with me I would greatly appreciate your comments.


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