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Rotraut Rumbaum  Mindful Motion

Rotraut Rumbaum

Mindful Motion

Tango: breathing to counter stress & trauma

An insight into my work as tango coach.


Rotraut Rumbaum Mindful Motion Tango Coaching

Do you have to breathe (when dancing tango)? Yes!


Ok, of course I was joking... of course it's more about the how than the if...


"Forgetting" the breath?


It's not just in tango that we often forget to breathe. At the very least, we completely underestimate 'correct' breathing, or breathing that is helpful for the situation, and its direct effect on the body and mind. As a rule, awareness and attentiveness are simply not focused on it. It is a background activity that reflects and reinforces old behavioral patterns and trained habits of the body and mind. Tension, for example. Or, unconscious fear of showing oneself and allowing closeness.


What does "correct breathing" mean here? In this case, I mean breathing that supports relaxation, breathing that leads you away from inner pressure, tension and psychological baggage. Breathing that enables relaxation, presence, well-being, fulfilling togetherness and inner freedom.


Is that possible? And how do I work with it in the coaching process? (By the way, not only in the context of tango, but also with other forms of movement, in sound sessions, meditation, conversation or anything else).


Coaching insights into breathing with tango, trauma, stress


During a Mindful Motion Tango Coaching session recently, I noticed that my client (let's call him Johann) was breathing very quickly and shallowly. I spoke to him directly about this and invited him to talk to me about it.


I also told him about my own experiences with shortness of breath caused by stress or trauma. Johann gradually opened up, mentioning childhood trauma, as well as his difficulty in calming down, feeling himself and his inability to love himself.


He was very touched to be able to talk about it. He had tears of relief in his eyes because this permanent inner pressure, which he was used to enduring internally, had just found an outlet and experienced warm-hearted sympathy.


What was causing him difficulties?


All in all, we then looked at what was causing him difficulties (a long list that resulted from the conversation and the physical inventory of his breathing):

  • Shallow, rapid breathing in the chest area

  • Tense diaphragm, restricted breathing and ability to expand

  • High general tension and control over yourself

  • Feeling of constantly having to prove yourself to the outside world, perfectionism, always having to present yourself as great, strong or understanding to others

  • Difficulty finding access to your feelings and being aware of yourself

  • Tendency to maintain a trained mask/facade on the outside

  • Inability to be truly relaxed and at ease in the moment

  • Lack of physical and emotional presence and openness

  • Difficulty sending clear signals as a leader in tango

  • Difficulty slowing down and relaxing internally

  • Childhood traumas

  • Inner emptiness that is compensated for with actionism

Mindful Motion Tango as an alternative dance or psychotherapy?


We had not agreed on psychotherapy as a tool, but on tango coaching. Diving into the past and working through it in conversation is often not even indicated in the case of developmental trauma, as this causes the nervous system to dive back into the old survival structures and tends to reinforce them.


I use tango coaching instead as a wonderful tool for raising awareness AND for the practical exercise of change, here combined with conscious breathing. There is no need to pathologize and rummage through the past. Ultimately, it is about initiating sustainable change and enabling healing. This requires conscious body awareness, supportive, safe contact, the improvement of specific movement and posture patterns, as well as getting to know and expanding your scope for action.


Breathing can be practiced


Together, we practiced a special breathing technique - inhaling deeply and forcefully into the abdomen twice and stretching the diaphragm downwards, then exhaling slowly and for a long time into the abdomen. As his diaphragm was very tense, he found this difficult at first. However, simply concentrating on the airway had a positive effect. This breathing became homework for everyday life.


For his tango practice, I suggested that he slow down his exhalation as much as possible and deepen it - if possible, directing it deep into the pelvis. The in-breath should be simple, effortless and feel secondary to him. A great, yet very calming challenge for him.


Supporting suggestions during the tango


To keep the focus on the body and the moment and to stay with tango , we took simple steps in the room while embracing each other. I also encouraged Johann to always allow himself to simply feel at ease and enjoy the flow of movement, without the demand to perform or achieve anything.


Men often are under tremendous pressure to perform in Tango Argentino, and they strive to be extra masculine, powerful, elegant or virtuoso.


I took that completely away from him, and led him "from doing to being". Arriving here and now, in himself. An important point!


Even this simple process of breathing and self-awareness while walking together in an embrace led to significant changes in posture, breathing and movement patterns. Johann seemed increasingly relaxed, present, stable and more in touch.


I supported him again and again during our simple walking dances with: "Allow yourself to simply enjoy yourself and the contact", "Feel yourself in your body" or "You don't have to prove anything here", "There is no goal that you have to achieve."


Relaxation and contact


This was incredibly good for him and he relaxed noticeably. It was a completely new experience for him and touched him deeply. I had also never experienced him dancing like this before and the effect was that I felt much more comfortable and connected to him when dancing with him. The dance became more personal, more human, warmer, softer, more empathetic. And the prospect that women often wanted exactly that in tango gave him additional motivation.

At the end of the lesson, we were both filled with this healing process.


Breathing calmly together, reinforced by the physical contact in the embrace and walking together in sync to the rhythm of the music, brings people deep into themselves and also into deeper connection with each other.


Lesson: Breath and mindfulness


Breathing and conscious body awareness in tango coaching can often touch a level that goes beyond pure dance technique and "outward appearances".


People with trauma, self-esteem problems or burnout in particular can find new ways of accessing themselves through movement, dance and contact.


It is also a kind of mindfulness training while dancing: namely to "pour your consciousness into your body" and to become aware of what your body actually feels and does.


There is even a famous sutra by Buddha that expresses this principle using the example of breathing:


When he breathes in a long breath, he knows that he is breathing in a long breath;
when he breathes out a long breath, he knows that he is breathing out a long breath.
When he inhales a short breath, he knows that he is inhaling a short breath;
when he breathes out a short breath, he knows that he is breathing out a short breath.

(Ānāpānasati Sutta quoted in Yates (Culadasa) & Immergut, 2017, p. 146)


Of course, it's not just about breathing: it's the same with many postures, movements and functions.


I look forward to developing this approach further and using it to accompany people on their healing journey.


Regardless of whether it is Tango Argentino or some other method - the goal is the same.


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