Reading Feel Free, Zadie Smith's second collection of essays, is like filling your lungs with a huge gulp of fresh air.
Acknowledging from the outset that this particular set of musings already seems like a time capsule – written in England and America in the years between 2010 to 2017 – Smith writes in her foreword: 'Millions of more or less amorphous selves will now necessarily find themselves solidifying into protestors, activists, marchers, voters, firebrands, impeachers, lobbyists, soldiers, champions, defenders, historians, experts, critics. You can't fight fire with air. But equally you can't fight for a freedom you've forgotten how to identify.' To this end, touching on subjects as far-ranging as Facebook, Justin Bieber, public libraries, Kierkegaard, bathrooms, Brexit and joy, Smith gives full rein to her mental freedom; her essays as original, incisive, warm and full of empathy as her fiction. Two years on from the date of her foreword, crucially, they are also refreshingly free of pessimism. Exactly what we need right now.
BREATH MADE VISIBLE
Anna Halprin, now aged 98, has been challenging conventions her whole life. A pioneer of postmodern dance, her approach has always been anti-authority and egalitarian. To Halprin, everyone is a dancer, and every movement can be a dance. Rejecting the homogeneity of the traditional dance world, first of classical ballet, and then later within modern dance itself, Halprin's focus is on how to bring consciousness and awareness to experience, through the instrument of the body. As she asserts: 'Dance is the breath made visible'.
Directed by Ruedi Gerber, a former student of Halprin's, Breath Made Visible combines interviews with the artist and her contemporaries (among them the late Merce Cunningham) with excerpts of her work spanning the course of her life. An incredible advocate for the power of dance as a source of healing and a force for social change, Halprin radiates a life-enhancing energy. The perfect watch at the start of a new year.
Just as Anna Halprin recognised that the body is a tool often under-utilised but available to everyone, so too is the breath. Based on a simple, circular breathing technique, breathwork is the process of consciously using your breath to change your state of being. Hailed as a natural high, practitioners promise that it can reduce stress and anxiety, increase energy levels, eliminate toxins, improve sleep and creativity, induce flow states and even aid athletic performance and cardiovascular health.
Two ways we'll be exploring breathwork this January:
One: In hibernation mode, from the comfort of our own living rooms via Richie Bostock's online classes.
Two: At The Natural History Museum's Hintze Hall for a Breath, Yoga, Soundbath session on Sunday 13th January 2019 from 8-9.15am.
We also love Aimee Hartley's suggestions for encouraging mindful breathing for children through the use of plants and flowers. She advocates that parents and teachers place long lasting succulents and air purifying plants in homes and classrooms as visual prompts for children to take deep, conscious breaths, connect with their present moment, be reminded of the value of clean air, and reconnect with nature. Seems like good advice for us all.