Christoph Ribbat

The Breathing Instructor - How Carola Spitz Fled Berlin and Took Mindfulness to New York with Her

With numerous images
(German title: Die Atemlehrerin)
ca. 191 pages
Christoph Ribbat
Foto: Christoph Ribbat
© Anna Weise

Christoph Ribbat, born 1968, is a professor for American Studies at the University of Paderborn after holding posts in Bochum, Boston and Basel.

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A gripping biography – and an irreverent history of mindfulness


A lady with a slight German accent teaches mindfulness in New York City: how to focus on one’s breathing, how to feel the body and survive the stress of living in a big city. Her studio is an insider’s secret for singers, dancers and tense office workers. Her students believe that she is completely and utterly relaxed. But she keeps her own painful past hidden from them.

The Breathing Instructor tells the moving story of one Carola Joseph. The gymnastics teacher, born in 1901, lives, works, researches in Berlin, gets married, is now called Carola Spitz and only leaves the city when it’s almost too late. She becomes one Jewish refugee among tens of thousands, becomes established in Manhattan under the name of »Carola Speads« and still teaches in her studio next to Central Park at the age of 97.

Christoph Ribbat links a close-up biography with the history of breathing exercises and gymnastics experiments in the 20th century. From the estate of a virtually unknown emigrant arises a captivating family and cultural history. Reading it will make you start breathing mindfully all on your own. This – according to Carola Spitz/Speads – is what makes us happy.


»Despite the fact that [Ribbat] draws out attention to a forgotten supporting character of body-focused psychotherapy, one of his book’s strength lies in the atmospherically dense descriptions of the realities of German emigrants in 1950s New York.« Stephan Wackwitz, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

»We [have already] reviewed Christoph Ribbat’s book Germany for a Season – his brilliant biography of the basketball player Wilbert Olinde. Now the professor for American Studies living in Paderborn presents another work that retells the story of a life in order to, based on that, give an account of half a century.« Neue Zürcher Zeitung

»What we learn first and foremost from this originally and elegantly written book by the Americanist Christoph Ribbat is that two Jewish emigrants from Berlin played a part in bringing the techniques of mindfulness […] to America.« Johann Schkoemann, Süddeutsche Zeitung

»... [the] editing technique [is] a clever trick. […] It creates the panorama of an eventful period, from the wild coexistence of [different] lifestyles in the Weimar Republic to the competition between therapy concepts in New York during the second half of the century.« Frederik Hanssen, Der Tagesspiegel

»The way Ribbat weaves those tensions [of the 20th century] into his biography is enchanting while also disturbing in crucial moments […] Ribbat lets us participate in his doubts and his work process, he reveals his material, it is a transparent style of narration that doesn’t cover up blank spaces with inventions.« Michael Angele, der Freitag

»Readers of this fantastic book about a life that wasn’t really great wish that they could have breathed alongisde Carola Speads.« Andreas Rüttenauer, taz. die tageszeitung

»The book reads like a novel. […] You feel like you are right there with Carola Spitz in her studio in her living room, breathing along with her.« Andrea Gerk, Deutschlandfunk

»With this biography, Ribbat fills a gap. […] Apart from the culture-historical gain, the reader can expect the biography of a woman who freed herself from the limitations of the authoritarian Wilhelmine upbringing and forged her own life in the USA.« Matthias Dusini, Falter

»A biography that takes your breath away!« Neue Presse

»A particular strength of the book lies in its dense descriptions and attentive observations of the contradictions of the human existence without ever accusing or judging. A wonderful book.« Andrea Klaßen, evolve

Other publications

Im Restaurant/In the Restaurant (2016)

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