In life, like in tango, breathe as the bandoneon

In this busyness, in this rush to get out of the labyrinth, in transporting ourselves out, we don’t notice how we move and how we breathe. It’s no surprise when someone is experiencing a panic attack, the focus switches from the stressing factor to breathing exercises. Regulate your breathing (in through the nose, out through the mouth), your heart rate drops, and all the chemicals that are marinading in your brain – triggering the fight/flight response – lose their effectiveness. The danger is now gone, service can resume as usual.

As someone who suffers from anxiety, the dizzying feeling that comes from the heart-pounding hard that makes you fear it will implode from your ribcage, you feel so vulnerable in this fast world. Sometimes, simply breathing in and out is not enough. Sometimes you need to think like a bandoneon, the emblematic instrument of tango music.

With its beautiful frame and expanding gills, the bandoneon resembles a fully-functioning thoracic cavity, with melodic sounds cascading when buttons are meticulously primed on the either side. Breathe in, the bandoneon expands fully with the sound slowly becoming faint. Breath out, the bandoneon unhurriedly returns to its original frame, sounding less piercing and more assured. With this combination of ins and outs, there is breathing, there is music, there is life!

Trío Greco Weintraub  Enrich

Now, you must be asking why bandoneon and tango. Why indeed? To this I ask you, why not? To those unfamiliar to what is tango, it is more and then some! To the untrained ears and eyes, it sounds and looks sad, regretful, erotic (a rather eclectic combination, you just agree). To me, it transcends all that and it is actually a healing process, which lends its self-transformative properties to all who take refuge in its embrace.

I have always worked better in visualising things in order to make my body learn to move in a certain way. For instance, trying out the tango walk, my first tango teacher told us to imagine a thread connected to the middle of your ribcage just hanging in mid-air, and when it gets picked up and gently tugged, your posture changes straight way: your shoulders are brought back, your chest forward and suddenly you breathe with ease. Your walk now has an intention, a beautiful motion and you feel ready to dance, to heal, to breathe.

Every moment starts with one breath, usually one big inhale, and then the brain acknowledges the action. This big inhale is followed by a short exhale and then your body is ready. Your heart races in expectation. Your feet become fidgety. You meet your dance partner. The palms of your hands connect, while your other arm wraps around your partner. You are now in a tango embrace, where heartbeats and threads move together and breathing will synchronise. This is for me the sweetest moment of all: to hold and to be held, to surrender and to receive, to inhale and exhale. That moment, that exact moment when you breathe out a smile is magical. 

Photo by Kat Jayne on

Have you now been paying attention to your breathing? Have you noticed when things feel heavy on your mind they also feel heavy on your chest and tummy? Your shoulders round up and push forward? My advice for now: in life, just like in tango, breathe as a bandoneon.

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