Atemübung – Breathing Exercise

Atemübung – Breathing Exercise


Maybe it needed to be a song. On the other hand, they had already done that. A poem crossed their mind, and they had to laugh (they often have to laugh). It could have been a lot of things. But then, it could only have been one way.      

It was going to be light and vital and alive. Airy. 

Some words had been marinating, others came out of nowhere and to nowhere.

They wrote so that they could breathe. And to learn how to. 

German and Russian –– their thoughts met with the sound of translation. It was a kind of birth.
Exactly half natural, half medically intervened. What are they exhaling like that for? 

Their styles, their souls, the shape of their lungs. Atemseele.1

They wrote:


“Breath gives everything away about a person. It contains everything. All habits, everything inside…It’s the most intimate song.”

 This was my mom’s response; it came straight from the stomach. She was answering my question about the nature of breath. 


She also told me that she has been observing that she takes a big breath right before singing. But we don’t do that before we speak. We do it too right before we go underwater. To her it feels counterintuitive. 

Your mom’s story made me remember a four-piece ensemble of classical musicians that came to present at my elementary school. After playing a few pieces, students were invited to ask questions. 

One girl asked, “Why do you all take a deep breath at the same time you start a song?” 

“That’s a very good question,” a musician replied, “we all take a breath to show each other when we start counting the time signature. But you could also say we do it to connect with each other before we begin.” 

Oh… I think this is what my mom was trying to tell me, that those big breaths do not not serve the purpose of giving us more air. Instead, before singing, before diving a big breath serves as an entry, a beginning. 

Yes (inhales deeply)

This initial breath…It feels so crucial to me…

It makes me think of when I’m onstage, about to sing, and there’s people there, and my mind is racing and I’m nervous and then (breathes)
It’s almost as if the breath is the first note.
That’s me going into the song. I’m not thinking, I’m just in it.
The breath has started me off…one can’t stop the momentum of the breath, and the song is starting whether you want it to or not.

(she searches for thought)

That ritualistic breath, the one before you do something, is like a reset. 

I wonder: Is it that breath brings you into your body or removes you from your body? I don’t know.

It’s not so much a ‘bringing you into’ but a

I am picturing you on stage. I see you as you are taking that breath; it feels like you are moving somewhere else within yourself. It’s a forward movement, but inside. As you inhale, your ribs move outward, and with them you.
You have become the motions of your body. The tight limbs in your body start to become light, like air moving. You are now your lungs. Pure breathing.

Breath is an inside-in journey.

Maybe this breath before beginning pauses thought?

(she did not think for a moment, and then she did again)

But no, our breath is our thought. At least according to my Grandma. 

She was explaining to me this summer her belief that through our breath we take the universe in –– inhaling the cosmos. Thoughts come to us through this process. 

We inhale thoughts from the universe.

These thoughts, she went on, are the universe operating through us. This is the purpose of the body, of existence. We process this universal fabric into thoughts, then actions. The inhaled thoughts become the operations which our earthly bodies carry out.

The universe is consciousness.

Human and corporeal purpose, in her paradigm, is the translation of breath into the activities which we call existence.

We are dancing to the music of creation. The rhythm: our breath. 

One adjacent idea she has is the tonality of the universe. She tells me repeatedly that our thoughts have tonality, because everything does… that our thoughts are notes. 

If breath is thought and thought is note, then maybe we are inhaling cosmic notes and exhaling what resonantes of these notes in us. It’s a reverberation. 

To put it another way: we all have our own shape, given the nature of this shape, we can make certain sounds, but not others. Sound is when what enters us bounces off from the walls in our inside and then echoes within until it escapes through our skin. At least that’s how I picture it. 

Well, this can return us to singing, and дух. The act of singing is directing previously inhaled air back out through the pathways that exist in the body. And then contorting the muscles to create different shapes –– notes. To sing is to create different shapes with the breath. 

Of course, everyone will have their own bodily composition which will produce singular tonalities, perhaps this is timbre.

Our being as these notes, thoughts. 

I like the idea of creating shapes with breath.
Or rather, breath itself has a shape.
No breath-shape is like another, yet we can recognize each one.   

There’s the holding of one’s breath in suspense, a forgetting ––
 or a vain attempt to pause living.  

Or a heightened, alert breath which drives at something… Inspired or otherwise quickening.  

Heavy breaths that I feel on the soles of my feet, stomping on soil,
a return to earth. 

The breath that comes when crying hard.
And one particular variation I remember from my childhood, hysterical and shallow,
so bitter in your throat.

The most magical thing for me is seeing my breaths in winter when
the air is cold. 
For a moment, our being (its note) becomes visible. 

Then there’s breathing into each other. Taking each other’s breaths.
But it’s not air we’re breathing at that moment… it is being itself.. 

If breath is your being, then by breathing you become
being itself
–– “It’s the most intimate song.”


As they came to the end, they took a big breath. They thought it would feel like a sigh, released. Instead it was the breath they had been talking about all this time: the breath that begins something, the breath right before. 

Our very first breath is another breath right before. (gasp)

In the womb. You used to breathe water. Breath came repurposed from your mother, a duet.
Birth is the transition from water to air –– a turn of the breath.
At first the earthly air feels unbearably cold, the first air-breath is an embrace of the shock. Now breathing, we are alone. Which is to say, breathing air is hard won. And only possible after the water has been wrung out of you, by the very process through which you arrive. 

In other words, to be born is to narrowly escape suffocation.

“The next instant, do I make it? or does it make itself? We make it together with our breath.”
— (Clarice Lispector)

  1. The German compound word for Breath-soul, Breath Life or Breath of Life.
    Similarly, the Russian words for soul and spirit –– дыша and дух, have the same root as as дышать, meaning to breathe.
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