Learning to Breathe

I’ve never been very good at breathing. 

My childhood was spent with perpetual croup, the seal-barking cough echoing through the house at all hours.  Eventually, I was diagnosed with asthma, my lungs plied with drugs that were supposed to encourage them to relax.  Regardless of the dosages and names of the medications, I always failed my lung function tests at the allergists.  I wasn’t used to failing tests, but I didn’t know how to study for that one.

I adapted to my lungs.  I knew when an attack was about to have me helpless in its clutches, I knew when pneumonia was setting in.  I let my lungs call the shots and we had an agreement that I would work within their constraints.

Then, one day soon after my 30th birthday, I grew tired of the bondage.  I turned the tables on my lungs and informed them I wanted to start running.  This was a laughable goal, as I had never even completed the mile running in school.  But I was determined.

I started at a local park with a .75 mile loop.  My first try was a humbling experience.  You see, I was in shape.  I lifted weights and could do cardio.  I just couldn’t run.  Within moments of beginning, my chest heaved, my breathing was rapid and gasping.  I was taking in air as though threatened, as though the next breath would never come.  I made it one full loop that first day, but I still didn’t know how to run.

Over the next few weeks, I kept at it, returning to the park 3-4 times a week.  I starting to trust my body.  Believe in my breath.  I worked to consciously slow my breathing, pulling air deep down into the unused basement of my lungs.  As I learned to breathe, I was able to increase my mileage to the point where I outgrew that park in the next two months.

My breath training extended to yoga.  I had been practicing since I was in high school, but I always focused on the positions and movements, not the airflow.  Running had brought the breath to consciousness; yoga taught me how to use the breath to calm and energize the body.

Then July came.  Disaster struck.  I lost contact with my breath, but I didn’t even realize it.  I just knew my chest felt constricted, wrapped in bindings carried in by the trauma.  I wasn’t able to run or to do yoga, getting even further out of touch with my lungs.  It finally took a third party to make the re-introduction; a therapist at a meditation and yoga retreat that autumn after my breath left me.

I lay on the floor of her office, cradled in a soft, fuzzy blanket.  She kneeled next to me, her voice soothing and calm.  She spoke to my breath, encouraging it to return, assuring it that I was ready to make its acquaintance once again.  She spoke to me, telling me t trust my breath, to allow it deep into my lungs.

My chest began to rise, the bindings loosening.  As the oxygen flowed in, I felt grounded.  Whole.  Reconnected.

My breath and I still have a complicated relationship.  I frequently don’t find it until a couple miles into a run or 10 minutes into a yoga practice.  I still have to encourage it, willing it back into my body, especially when I find myself gripped my stress.  It may at times be a tumultuous relationship, but I have no intention of loosing connection with my breath again.

Thank you for sharing!

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