Sometimes there’s a beckoning voice inside that can pull my mind away from worry, croon my fear out of its cage, or coax my ego off her pedestal and, instead, get me to pay attention to my breathing. Oh if I could only hear that calming hum every day, 24/7, asleep or awake. God, could I even stand it, that much peace? The breath can be like a well-varnished cherry wood canoe carrying me back to my very own best self. All it takes is attention – some days that’s the same as saying all it takes is a million dollars.
It seems to me my breathing was shallow in childhood. I don’t remember thinking about breathing back then. I did think about running away or at least hiding. I didn’t learn to breathe for health and well-being until I was in my fifties. Breathing used to be the last thing on my mind, which is, come to think of it, lucky for me since my breathing didn’t need me to keep going.
It seems to me, back then, I held my breath more than let it out; each breath never went deeper than the top of my lungs before it turned around and left.
What changed my breathing? Dad dying, for starters. And writing. When I write about my childhood – the trauma years, the traumatic era, the fear infested decades – the deeper my breath travels into me. Writing has a pulse and it seems to me my lungs get exercised by the push and pull of the pen. Is that why I seem to write more about feelings when I write longhand? Tap, tap, tapping on a keyboard does nothing for my lungs.
It seems to me my fear of breathing is connected to all the times I had pleurisy – from age 10 to 17. I never had pleurisy after I left home.
Yoga changed my breathing. Every teacher has been hell bent on the breath. Last week Lisa told the class, “Send the breath to a tight place in your body.” I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing that 60 years ago. Thinking my breath was a thing to be directed somewhere. Lisa acts like the breath is some kind of miracle medicine. Maybe I do too, now.
I just stopped writing, closed my eyes and let my mind ride down with my breath, curving up my nostrils, twisting down the back of my skull, down the back of my neck, take a left turn at the top of the spine over to that sore muscle under my left shoulder blade. And the breath circles round and round the muscle like a stream of water shooting out of a faucet turned on full, I hold it there a little while then have the breath trace its tracks back out again.
It seems to me it would have been a comfort, maybe even a healing, if I had known how to do that when I was eight years old and nine and ten and, and, and.
I didn’t know then but I know now. Lucky me.