During my fellowship I will be developing a therapeutic application of breath for mental and physical wellbeing for actors, dancers and singers who have need for a non-invasive method to train the stage presence, core physical energy, emotional stability, reduced stress level and cultivating a healthy and positive mental attitude towards life. Although existing training methods have integrated physical technologies such as Yoga and Tai-chi to enhance the psychophysical abilities of the actor, breathing has not been a serious concern in the laboratory tradition of western actor-training as the way it has been conceived in this project. Breath restoration is an ancient biotechnology used in the Hindu and Buddhist meditation practice to work with the mental and physical presence and wellbeing. It is a technique through which breathing is internalised, and once breath is internalised in this way, there will not be any perceptible flow of breathing through the nostrils, but rather the respiratory process will be centralised and defused internally. Found and practiced in the esoteric monastic Saivism of Kerala, the practice goes back to ancient medical knowledge and healing practices in the region.
I have two foci with this Study Abroad Fellowship: 1) to explore the current research on the neurophysiology of breathing to understand the respiratory symptoms and their links with the psychophysical conditions of the body; 2) to offer breath restoration workshops to actors, dancers and singers to disseminate the practical knowledge. In order to achieve the target, I will undertake a Scholar-in-Residence programme at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University to conduct a short-term study. Respiratory symptoms are the primary indicators to any psychophysical conditions of the body. We can easily observe the connections between certain emotional conditions and respiratory symptoms such as emotional stress, anxiety and acute fear. A great number of behavioural activities including speaking and emotional responses are coordinated by respiratory mechanism of the body. Brain studies over the past several decades offer laboratory evidences showing the influence of respiratory functions across the range of cognitive, emotional and physical activities of the organism.
All emotions accompany some kind of physical changes due to muscular activities, and emotional experiences cause changes in breathing patterns. However, it is not yet clear which emotions facilitate which pattern of breathing. Nevertheless, theories and systems of voluntary breathing practices are available in various physical traditions such as Yoga, martial arts and various meditation techniques. Many of these traditions have testified traditional methodologies showing that changes in breathing will change the state of mind. Breathing becomes an object of wellbeing and it can be done consciously and systematically to develop physical and mental affectivity. Much of these observations show that stressful mental conditions will produce shallow breathing, whereas abdominal breathing increases the arousal of positive emotions. Breathing techniques found in the Yoga and Zen Buddhist meditation practices have prolonged expiratory abdominal breathing leading to mental and physical relaxation. However, there is no evidence of the availability of a method similar to Restoration of Breath showing profound impact upon wellbeing, emotional and behavioural conditions and therefore, the method needs to be further investigated and disseminated widely.
The two workshops were held at Performance Studies at New York University, and Bernard College at Columbia University. The feedback clearly shows the wellbeing impact that the breath restoration technique has created upon the participants: a participant from the New York University, for instance, has reported that the technique had some profound impact on her sleeping patterns in a positive way since she was suffering from sleep disorders. General feedback indicates a high wellbeing impact rate from the participants recommending the dissemination of the practice to a wider community of actors, dancers and singers.
The findings of this project also reveal a rare collection of 24 palm leaf medical manuscripts, not yet translated, in Kerala where the breath restoration technique is also found. There is evidence showing that the technique also originated from a local medical tradition called Marmatherapy, which is a unique medical knowledge concerning physiotherapy, native flora and herbal remedies for fractures, injuries and several other medical conditions of the body. No original Marma text has been found, translated or studied before. This Study Abroad Fellowship has already generated some profound interest for further research partnership with experts working in the field of performance, healing and applied psychology in the United States of America.