To let the breath come, let it go, and wait until it comes back on its own is to perceive the unconscious function of the breath. A movement emerges, a connection to the human wholeness, and the possibility to get to know and experience oneself (Ilse Middendorf, The Perceptible Breath 1990).
Background to Middendorf Breathwork
Breath that is allowed to come and go connects us to a cellular bodily intelligence, a somatic intelligence that has the capacity to bring us into balance in our lives. Breath can act as an integrative force because it is integrally connected to all parts of our lives and being.
Ilse Middendorf developed her work, Der Erfahrbare Atem, known in English as the ‘Experience of Breath’, over a lifetime of working with breath. Born in 1910, she established her first Institute in Berlin in 1935 and began training other teachers in 1965. Middendorf was active in further developing and teaching her work until close to her death in May 2009. In Europe her work is recognised as a major practice in somatic breathwork; there are a number of Middendorf centres in Europe and one in Berkeley, California. Graduates use the work in many different areas of health, well-being, sports, creative, and spiritual practice.
Middendorf situated her work in the area of ‘body consciousness’ or somatics, which has its roots in the mid- to late-19th century with figures like Delsarte, and Dalcroze. While her work has parallels with other somatic practices such as Alexander technique, Eutony, Feldenkrais, Body-Mind Centering, and Authentic Movement, it is a distinct body of work in its own right with its orientation to breath that is allowed to come and go.
Middendorf breathwork is based on being present and sensing the movement of breath in the body while allowing breath to come and go. The orientation is first of all to the perception of bodily sensation with breath rather than to thinking, imagining, feeling, or intuiting, though all these are important.
Sensory awareness is stimulated through touch, movement, pressure points, working with the hands, or working with vocal sounds, and we perceive how this affects us and our breath (movement, rhythm, dimensionality, direction, space). Working in this way offers many joyful possibilities of breath encounter in one’s own body. It can bring to consciousness habitual patterns of breath or body that interfere with the flow of the breath, thereby opening up the possibility of change.
As my breath experience changes so do I – my experience of breath becomes my guide-rope.
Middendorf breathwork offers a distinctively different approach to how we understand and experience breath. It is a ‘middle way’ between the unconscious breath and deliberate conscious breathing exercises. It does not attempt to control the breath, but to highlight the perceptible dimension of breath, which can be experienced in each breath cycle. It is a practice that encourages the growth of a bodily intelligence, one that cannot be grasped by the intellect alone.
Group and individual sessions
Group sessions include breath and movement sequences, vowel space work, and work with pressure points. They encompass both formal structured breath movement sequences and free-form breath movement improvisations. The work is oriented to increasing breath and body awareness.
The experience of breath resounds as perceptual encounter in sensation and presence. This manifests in my relationship with self and others. As I become more permeable for the breath, my posture, movement, thinking, and emotion are subtly reconfigured in the experience of the breath cycle.
There are regular half-day group gatherings at the Body Voice Centre, Footscray, usually on Saturday afternoons. Click here for more details. To read some responses to the half-day workshops click here.
Individual sessions usually include hands-on work where the client lies on the breath table sensing the movement of breath in their body while the practitioner makes ‘offers’ to the client’s breath – through presence, touch, stretches, compressions – intended to enhance their experience of breath. This process is known as ‘breath dialogue’. It is a dialogue conducted not in words but rather through sensing the movement of breath.
Individual sessions are available by appointment on – email firstname.lastname@example.org. Sessions are conducted at the Body Voice Centre in Footscray. Cost for a one-hour session is on a sliding scale from $120 to $80.
Both individual and group sessions work in the same direction – towards a greater awareness of breath and body, towards ease and lightness, and towards an increased sense of wholeness. By focusing on the perceptible breath, each breath cycle becomes a finely nuanced experience of bodily sensation and presence. The idea of breathing with the whole body becomes a tangible encounter. The work can be invigorating and fun as well as subtly complex, profound and life-changing.
Over time the practice of the experience of breath permeates the everyday detail of life. People can develop their own conscious breath practice out of the group and individual work.
Middendorf breathwork practitioner
John Howard is an accredited Middendorf breathwork practitioner. He completed the 3½-year professional training at the Middendorf Institute for Breathexperience in Berkeley, California, in April 2007. His PhD thesis, ‘Breathing embodiment: a study of Middendorf breathwork’ can be accessed online. It has now been published by VDM Verlag, and is available through Amazon - use this link or search books on Amazon for Middendorf breathwork. Your comments and responses are welcome - please email them to email@example.com.
John is associate director of the Body Voice Centre in Footscray. He has been a sessional teacher of voice and performance at Victoria University, and at the Footscray Community Arts Centre. He is a keen singer and choir leader, and an active member of Community Music Victoria.