Breath, for human life a premise. An essential bodily action. In a rhythm (one of the body’s meters) that rides beneath consciousness, disappears, till we need more of it. Until the tug, involuntary, on the diaphragm, triggered by too much CO2 in the blood, awakens us to the effort. Our lungs expand, our breathing deepens as we climb stairs, have sex, lug bags of groceries from car to kitchen counter. In speaking, we must interrupt—control—the rhythm to get our words out; in song, the modulations are dynamic, exquisite. I become aware of breathing at those times of unusual exertion, or moments of uncharacteristic stillness, as when sleep resists, or parsing lines when giving a poetry reading, or at the sudden stab of fear.
Ginsberg’s Howl: breath as measure, meter, driving the lines in waves, building and retreating and building again, the patterns—who doesn’t feel it?—rising toward the visionary climax of his urgent, necessary utterance. A pattern common to poems, especially those meant for performance, pitched in anger or ecstasy, work embodying emotional extremes.
“Art doesn’t start out hallowed. It starts out personal: an emergency,” claims Joan Acocella.
The measured breath of Sanskrit chants in my Kundalini yoga practice. My favorite is the morning call, which can be divided into three phrases or lines:
Ek Ong Kar
Sat Nam Siri
In a full breath, Ek, short, abrupt, then Ong and Kar, each drawn out, equal in length; in a new breath for the second line, Sat, abrupt, an echo of the first line’s opening, and Nam, very drawn out, but Siri, the two quick syllables, just escaping the tongue with the last bit of air, almost a whisper; then in a half-breath for the last line, the first three syllables, Wahe and Gu-, short, with a slight hesitation between the two words, and the final syllable, ru, extended, before a full breath to begin again. Eight words, eight sounds, vibrating, activating the body’s seven chakras. The handout my instructor has given me explains the location and effect of the various vibrations in the palette, nose, skull and throughout the body. It concludes: “The eight-fold vibration acts as a stimulant that balances the entire brain.”