Language and Breath


An instructive experiment anyone can do in helping to determine why and how  language is "bioenergetic" and in understanding the various ways in which that's important to our awareness viz social change is to just try to speak, or for that matter even to think while holding your breath. First, well , you just can't do it at all. And second, well, you don't have to try thinking while your lungs are stopped up for very long before you realize that the usual physical discomfort we feel in such a state is just made worse by our efforts to form words. As we are "running out of air," our attempt to do so, however temporarily successful, just exerts more pressure and threatens to suck even more air and energy out of us.

One is reminded of the countless "deathbed" scenes in the movies in which the surviving friend or relative is counseling the afflicted "not to talk." Whenever it comes down to a choice between speech and breath-- well, of course cinematically, it makes for cheap and easy drama whenever a dying person has something to say that's "more important than life itself."

So it's not just metaphorical to say "breath is life;" in purely physical terms, central to both is the rhythm of the respiratory system. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that the health and quality of this rhythm is so important to language and, conversely, that the rhythms of language at times be so important to the health of our more purely physiological systems. In all such interactions of breath and word, it's a two-way street. In this context also, "speech" in any form, including that involved in an unspoken thought, constitutes an interference to an otherwise uninterrupted pulse. As thoughtful, verbal individuals, most of us have long since learned to balance our thinking and vocalizing with breathing in ways that minimize and even counteract any negative physiological effects. Nevertheless, in the context of the competition for breath, "bioenergetically," the freest and most pleasurable use of words is still none at all. On a physiological level, the linguistic aspects of our social obligations continuously expropriate our breath in somewhat the same way as the beat of the tribal drum "steals our eyes."

Copyright (©) 2015 Lee Strauss