Workshop participants keep their balloons floating

The Importance of Breath

CWB – USA board member Sayda Trujillo writes about what it’s like to lead a CWB workshop for care providers affected by trauma.

Sayda Trujillo

Breath and Awareness

Today we teach an all-day (9:30am–4:30pm) workshop to 25 psychologists—people who have been doing relief work with the communities affected by the Volcán de Fuego eruption. The goal of the workshop was to create a space for the participants to connect, to play, and to laugh. And, through this experience, unload their own stress while gathering new tools to use in their work. The core of the workshop is designed around breath, listening, seeing, and letting ourselves be seen. It’s a simple concept, but not so easily achieved. Under the dire circumstances that come with the nature of their emergency work, breathing becomes automatic instead of fully lived-in. The participants have a huge response to the awareness and importance of being present with their breath. In doing so, they’re able to be more present with each other and the circumstances at hand.

The day is full of laughter and surprise: Serious professionals being silly, vulnerable, confused, and so open and willing to try new ways of working. Stef, Lucho and I lead the workshop, with Noemi fully supporting and modeling exercises.

A Few of the Exercises

I open by gathering the group into a circle. We start to move, breathe and vocalize. Throughout the day, our exercises provoke giggles and laughter. My perception is that it comes from nerves, awkwardness and shyness. At first, when their phones ring, participants answer them during an exercise. This is one of the trickiest and most delightful parts of teaching for me, and somehow it all found a place in the workshop. It’s important for me to listen to the group, and witnessing them answer the phone in the circle comes with this experience. Eventually they begin to really be in the work, playing, and most importantly, laughing at their “mistakes.”  All of us (Stef, Lucho, Noemi and me) are teaching from this perspective, that there’re no mistakes and that we can celebrate our mistakes. In a way, we’re practicing the resilience of the clown, the notion of bouncing back from our falls.  Every time the rhythm is broken in an exercise, or a “mistake” is made, we all jump up and down screaming, “Yay!” The participants really enjoy this!

We reflect after exercises, and many of them express that they feel like they’re returning to their childhood. They enjoy the experience of laughing deeply, and not punishing themselves for mistakes. Instead, they can pick up into action.

Stef leads us in a few exercises which he borrows from Boal’s Theatre of the Oppresed, and which are designed to de-mechanize us. These exercises attempt to get us more fully in our bodies and ready to listen and respond. He has us work in pairs, and begin a dialogue of 1, 2, 3. The dialogue loops, and eventually each number is replaced with a sound and a movement.

Two workshop participants look on at the group

Lucho leads us in a beautiful exercise, which is new to me. He gives everyone a balloon and asks us to blow them up. What a beautiful sight! We’re about thirty adults, immersed in this very simple action. Lucho underscores the exercise with lively dancing music. He asks us to engage with our balloon, individually and independently of the group. Our task is to keep the balloon off of the ground. Then he instructs us to do the same, but this time we can only use one hand. It continues, each time taking a limb away. Eventually, everyone has to work together to keep the balloons off the ground. We use our bodies collectively and independently to keep the balloons floating. It’s so beautiful. I love the progression from our individual delight to a collective play.

Lucho then leads us in an exercise where four participants play at a time, while the rest of us watch. This exercise involves five chairs, with each participant sitting in a chair, leaving one empty. The goal of the game is to keep Lucho from sitting in the empty chair. It’s a game of tactics, listening, and working together under a lot of pressure. Initially, those watching are very loud and have many opinions about how to do the exercise. But as it progresses, we come to realize that it’s easy to point a finger and have opinions from the outside. It’s something else entirely to be in the game, responding to the spontaneous offers of the group.

Closing Song

We culminate the day with a call and response song:

Bella Mama

Bella Mama Ye

It repeats with a simple and warm melody. Some of the participants are moved to tears as they sing, listening and responding to each other. At the end of the workshop people linger and share how transformative they feel the day has been. The group is eager to hear Noemi sing and play her accordion, which she graciously does, as people clap and sing along.

We gather our things to leave, and an older woman named Juanita comes up to hug us. She has tears in her eyes. She thanks us, and says she hasn’t laughed like she did today since the day of the eruption, which directly affected her, her family and her home.

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