Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My Best Breathing Advice Ever, or... How I Learned About Breathing from a Chocolate Bar

My Best Breathing Advice Ever, or... 
How I Learned About Breathing from a 
Chocolate Bar

A couple of years ago, in the middle of a ridiculously long day of teaching private lessons in a tiny practice room, I decided to use my afternoon break to clear my mind and refresh my spirit.  I headed to World Market for an Artist’s Date (a date where you have a little adventure all by yourself!).  Immediately after walking in the front doors, the array of colors and beautiful objects on the store shelves began lifting my mood. 

Desiring a treat and a caffeine boost for the lessons ahead, I headed to the back of the store to explore the selection of gourmet chocolate. I took my time and searched for a beautiful cocoa experience.  Little did I know, deciding to pamper myself in the middle of that very stressful day would lead me to the best lesson about breathing that I’ve ever learned.  

I paid for my oh so indulgent, dark chocolate black Hawaiian salt burnt sugar caramel bar and headed back to my car.  That particular day, the sun was shining on one of the most beautiful afternoons I had seen in a long time.  I was still tired, but quite happy it was a nice day and that I still had time to eat some of my chocolate before heading back to teach.  Once in my car, I turned on the air conditioner for comfort and took the chocolate bar out to give it another look. 


After enjoying the picture of the gorgeous smear of burnt sugar caramel on the front, I turned the chocolate bar package over and loved what I found. I saw a picture of an elegant, educated, creative woman accompanied by instructions for how to enjoy the chocolate. How intriguing!  Since I love learning even more than I love chocolate, I eagerly read her inspiring words (above).  

She told me to take three ujjayi breaths. A quick Wikipedia search told me that ujjayi describes a diaphragmatic breath which fills the lower belly, rises to the rib cage and then to the lower chest and throat. I made a mental note to remember this term for both me and my flute students and then proceeded to enjoy my own personal, three Ujjayi breaths.


From the back of the chocolate bar package, Katrina Markoff (founder of Vosges chocolate) told me to See.  I took my time and really looked at the chocolate.  I saw the rich brown color, the charming illustration engraved in one square and the beautiful inscription on the other.  She told me to Smell.  I rubbed my thumb on the chocolate bar and couldn't believe how well her instructions worked!  Instead of just a predictable chocolate smell, I inhaled a salty, sweet, complex and aromatic experience.  I Snapped the chocolate bar and heard the soft break of hard exterior and soft, caramel interior.  Then...


Pure magic. The taste was out of this world lovely.  Taking the pictures as I learned my chocolate bar lesson and appreciated it through all my senses only made the experience come more alive for me.  Suddenly, I wasn't tired anymore.  I felt the warmth of the sun on my face, my energy soared and I became excited by thoughts of the music filled afternoon ahead of me.

Many years ago, I noticed that a high school student of mine had this phrase written at the top of her music, “Never underestimate the physical, spiritual and psychological benefits of a good breath.” Delighted, I asked her where she had gotten the advice.  She smiled and said, “I got it from you!” I was quite pleased that I had made an impact on her and pretty amused that I had completely forgotten speaking the words.  Though I was the teacher, I relearned the breathing lesson that day because of my student’s willingness to embrace it. 

On the day I learned about breathing from the back of a chocolate bar, I experienced an even greater and more meaningful synthesis of every bit of breathing advice I’ve ever given or received. When we breathe, we wake up.  When we breathe fully and with our whole bodies, our senses become heightened.  As flutists we need our breath for so much more than just the obvious acoustical reasons.  We need it to help us See, Hear, Be and Sing (through those silver tubes of ours).     

Happy Practicing!
Terri Sánchez