Breath and Substance

Not long ago, I coached a few movement educators who were going to be working with at-risk kids. We talked through a variety of approaches and strategies for allowing the kids to see themselves in the work being offered to them and in the coaching, we reached a point where I needed the educators to move.

We stood.

I invited each to inhale and exhale.

We did it again.

I invited them to change the phrasing, suggesting a dynamic expression of the breath. Though they were completing the task, there was no expression. No authentic expression, at least.

They weren’t willing to let me hear them breathe.

Yesterday, I taught a class at the beautiful, light-filled Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University.

We started and ended with our backs to a white wall, inhaling and exhaling. I invited participants to be aware of their willingness to hear themselves breathe, to listen to others breathe, and allow themselves to be heard by others.

We explored through movement, the option of deconstructing the hierarchy of talking over listening. Deconstructing the values placed on fancy movement over functional movement. Deconstructing the social constructs of us over them or them before us.

When we hear the breathing of others, we are naturally forced to acknowledge their existance. It can be comfortable and/or uncomfortable.

When we hear ourselves, we are naturally forced to acknowledge our own lived experience in the moment. We feel our own substance.

When we allow others to hear us, we validate our own worthiness at a most basic level. It can be, at once, impersonal and thoroughly intimate. We act on our own substance.

Are you listening to your own breath, voice, intuition, patterns of action?

Are you listening to others, willing to feel the connection before searching for separateness?

Are you allowing yourself to be heard, acknowledged, and valued?

Listen. Then assert.


Author: Heather Vaughan-Southard

HEATHER VAUGHAN-SOUTHARD is a connector. She uses somatic engagement and creativity to inspire change in people, perspectives, and practices within classrooms, therapy rooms, and boardrooms. She is a presenter in the fields of education, social-emotional learning, somatic practice, and the arts.

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