One breath can change everything.
It can be the difference between reaction and response, between contraction and expansion, between inaction and action.
In the spaciousness at the top of our inhale, everything expands and possibilities open before us. In the emptiness at the bottom of our exhale, clarity crystalizes.
After a week of exploring “mindful partner dance” with the amazing humans behind CoCrea last month, I found myself thinking a lot about the “sacred pause.” In dance, this pause can be a single breath, or even a microsecond of stillness that allows us to listen to our own body and our partner’s—and allow movement to arise from there.
It is a moment of beauty, attunement, and awareness, rich with potential. And it is a moment to reconnect with our own body and its needs, giving ourselves the opportunity to act in integrity with our own self-knowing.
Here is where we can carry the sacred pause with us from dance into self-defense.
That same, seemingly-insignificant moment of renewed awareness, when applied to a situation of danger or violence, can again change everything. The sacred pause can restore our agency and power when we find ourselves in an adrenalized or activated state, helping us to access our self-defense toolkit, in spite of fear or confusion.
In the holistic self-defense classes I teach through my empowerment project, Mujeres Fuertes, we often encourage participants to take a breath before practicing a strike. We also regularly discuss the importance of taking time to check in with ourselves when a person or situation makes us feel uncomfortable or unsafe. In this moment, we choose how we want to respond, if we need to set a boundary, if we would rather get up and walk away, and so on.
Fear can easily cloud our judgment as well as affect our coordination; pausing helps us choose, speak, and act with clarity.
Similarly, the social contract and social conditioning around “niceness” and “politeness” often keep us in places we actually don’t want to be. Utilizing the pause to touch base with our intuition and listen to the body, we can recognize more easily when a situation is “yellow” or “red.”
From a trauma-informed perspective, the sacred pause—taking a breath and bringing awareness back to the present moment—can mean the difference between freezing or acting (yelling, running, fighting, and so on) to defend ourselves. When the alarm system is activated in the brain, most people unconsciously default to their go-to adaptive strategy: fight, flight, freeze, flop, or fawn. For many, and especially for women, the freeze/flop/fawn response is a well-honed survival strategy.
“What if I freeze?” is probably the most frequent question in our self-defense classes.
No one can guarantee breaking the freeze response, nor do we wish to write it off entirely, as it is itself a survival strategy. However, we do know that the more we practice pausing, breathing, and bringing awareness to the body when adrenalized or activated, the more we augment our capacity to notice—and to choose a different response.
Furthermore, we invite participants to reframe freezing as “active waiting.” The animal that freezes in nature when danger approaches often proceeds to run away or otherwise act in self-preservation. People are no different. Through training our body to breathe through discomfort or fear, notice our instinctive reactions, and then yell, run, or fight, we curtail the freeze response and prepare ourselves for what follows.
The more tools and options we have, the more possibilities will open ahead of us in the momentary lift of the sacred pause.
Why “sacred”? Because for me, anything that connects us with our embodied wisdom, intuition, or inner knowing is a mystical practice. Anytime we enter into communion with that soft, clear voice who speaks or dances from our center, I believe we are in conversation with the divine. And what is more sacred than that?
How do you apply the sacred pause in your life, relationships, or creative work? I would love to read your perspectives!
Finally, I invite you to remember the sacred pause when you feel afraid, uncomfortable, confused, or overwhelmed.
In the spaciousness of this moment, everything is possible.