Following on the theme of finding hidden tension in ourselves, we look at a simple breathing exercise which can help us to unlock the tension in our major levers – the shoulders and the hips.

In this drill, there is just one main thing we really want to feel – the sensation of our arms’… heft. Alright, I get it, we don’t really use that word much. Here is the definition from for your convenience.



  1. weight; heaviness:
    It was a rather flimsy chair, without much heft to it.
  2. significance or importance.
  3. Archaic. the bulk or main part.

verb (used with object)

  1. to test the weight of by lifting and balancing:
    He hefted the spear for a few moments, and then flung it at the foe.
  2. to heave; hoist.

I am increasingly of the opinion that when we bring attention inwards and try to feel ourselves, we are for the most part actually feeling our tensions. When we make an action like a push up, we are typically expecting some sort of feedback – almost like a monkey waiting for a treat as if the tension we produce in our movements were of any value. The more efficient a movement is, the less tension we will feel. Full stop.

If all our movements are informed by the wrong sensation then the first thing we need to do in order to get good movement is to work to find the right feeling. A ship sailing with a faulty compass will never get to the right destination.


In this simple breathing drill, we use a comfortable position and the aid of a small shoulder rotation in order to bring some awareness to the sensation of tension we typically feel in our chests.

The Drill

Begin by lying down and finding a comfortable position for the neck and spine. Some of you will find that simply rotating your arms such that your palms face upward and splaying your arms out will be sufficient to feel this. For some of you, you might find it helpful to roll your shoulders back and bring your arms above your head before drawing it down towards your sides (with a spacing of course) to draw out this feeling.

Once you get that feeling, simply breathe in such a way so as to create a rise and fall in your chest, especially in the part where the collarbones meet as there is a lot of tension there. Slowly work your way out to the shoulders. If you can feel your chest rise and fall but you are unable to do so with your shoulders, you can reposition you arms as shown in the video. Just be sure to do this while creating as little tension as possible. When you feel that too, you can start to do the same for your whole arm so that you feel it’s heft.

With the tension starting to be minimized, you might be wondering what there is to feel. Good. Now you can start to feel yourself. This heft, this weight, this density, materiality… this is your body. You should be feeling that instead of the tension chains we typically create in our body. You can start to work on that for the rest of your body, especially your neck and hips.

Now, only now, does it make sense to talk about integrated movement. That’s for another time, but since you got this far, try the bonus part 2 drill!

Bonus drill

The drill is simple: Make shoulder rotations along the wall. This will help with your range of motion. The only thing to note here is the point at which the feeling of your arm starts diminishing and gets replaced by a feeling of tension. When that happens you need to move and find a position where you can make the rotation without breaking the feeling of your arm. This sort of movement, as opposed to simply making rotations regardless of body integrity will give you a sense of powerful movement. From this perspective, all movements that do not have this fullness are irrelevant and has no bearing on our self defense capabilities. Not directly, at least.