“The breath is clearly this entire creation, everything there is. So, when I said ‘turn to the breath,’ it was to this that I thereby turned for protection.” —Chandogya Upanishad
“Breath: The Pulse of the Universe,” an evening at the MFAH on March 17, asks you to participate actively in exploring the power of the most basic force of living beings: breathing. I chatted with Pam Johnson and Lynn Birdwell, the program’s creators, about their unique event that combines film, demonstration, dance, and meditation.
What can the audience expect to experience?
Pam Johnson First, attendees see a dramatic short film. Next, a troupe moves with mesmerizing precision to a very audible ujjayi breath as the dancers demonstrate balance, slow motion, and coordination. Viewers are then invited to settle down into a rapt, enlightening guided meditation on their own breath. The program uses silhouettes, contrasting lights and darks, primordial vibration, harmonizing sounds of the breath, and patterned formations to allow the viewer to become absorbed in a moment-by-moment metaphysical experience.
What inspired you to create the program?
Lynn Birdwell After studying with Pam for several years and longing to bring beautiful, thoughtful movements to film, I discovered that she did, too. The program has since developed additional layers, with a performance by the Breath Troupe and the guided meditation. One of our initial inspirations was the gorgeous, flowing work of artist Bill Viola in The Greeting, a large-screen video installation. The extreme slow motion Viola utilized to more deeply engage the viewer in the scene is similarly used in “Breath: The Pulse of the Universe.”
How can breathing and meditation transform someone’s experience of art?
PJ In India, yoga is considered one of the 27 main art forms. By meditating on the essence of any art form, the senses become heightened: You slow down, and a tranquil sense of ease allows you to perceive more with your eyes, ears, and heart.
LB Although this film is a visual study of light, and a rich and enveloping audio experience, the viewers will likely eventually find themselves physically breathing along with the film, without conscious awareness of having begun to do so. People have a physical awareness and connection in each part of the performance.
What are small things that people can do to practice some of these ideals in everyday situations?
LB Meditation can include breath work that quiets the mind and creates a posture of awareness to the world around you. I know that for me, in my day-to-day work, I consistently make the effort to breathe and move my body with consciousness, to clear and refresh my creative mind.
PJ Breath awareness can be done while driving, or anytime you find yourself waiting. You can also designate a quiet space in your house or office. Sit with a lifted spine, legs crossed on the floor; lie on your back; or sit in a chair with both of your feet on the floor. Keep your shoulders relaxed, your jaw loose; with a closed mouth, breathe only through your nostrils, slowly, and become totally absorbed in the sound and movement of your breath. First, exhale both nostrils, then without strain, inhale through both nostrils to a count of 6, pause at the top of the breath—count to 3, then exhale to a count of 6 and pause at the bottom of the exhale—and count 3 again. This becomes a 6/3/6/3 ratio. Keenly listen to the sound of your breath to see if it is long, smooth, and even. Do this ratio 6 times to begin. If you feel relaxed you can do a few more rounds. You will begin to let go, naturally bringing you to the doorstep of meditation.
Learn more as you join Pam and Lynn for “Breath: The Pulse of the Universe” on Thursday, March 17.