Bare skin against her listening device. I had trouble relaxing, as it was. She told me to stop breathing. I was obedient. "Take a very deep breath." That I did, too. "Oh!" she said, "Good lungs!" My lungs sat up a little straighter. "Take another very deep breath!" I was thankful for her emphasis and I breathed. "Oh, very good lungs! This makes me happy."
Wow. My lungs were practically blushing by now. They had never received so many compliments in a matter of seconds! Now they were making people happy and everything. All I had ever done was curse them for their weakness in times of 13.1-mile runs.
Flashes blotched into my brain in millisecond intervals and then they were gone. Here he was before me again: in the bed, covered with a thin sheet, pipes and tubes and beeping and ... his light was so far from us. Could he ever breathe on his own again? Flash of eyes opened -- beeps -- flash of eyes closed -- whooshing -- flash -- pumping air through the lungs that use to take the breaths that churned out the stories and pushed the cheeks into rosy smiles and yielded all the children rolling in laughter. We laughed until we couldn't breathe. When he lost his breath, we gained ours. No more laughing, at least not for awhile.
These were not good lungs. They did not make me happy. They made us cry. And they made me say goodbye.
When I made my way to the car I thought about the lungs I knew and then the lungs I carried inside me. I hugged my lungs. Thank you, thank you for being so good.
Then I completely forgot about my lungs again.
Sabrina teaches us yoga on Wednesday nights. We learn the vinyasa practice for an hour, followed by savasana for 20-30 minutes and some time spent in seated meditation. The entire time is gentle and flowing. She teaches us to welcome our burdens onto the mat with us and allow them to "inform our practice" before we let them go, just temporarily.
If you are like me, sometimes your burdens cause you to hold your breath. I respond to stress of all kinds with tension in my upper body -- wrapping it around my lungs and carrying it on my shoulders like a boa constrictor. For this reason and many others, I love Sabrina's class. She teaches us to breathe deeply the entire first hour, and it is LOUD. You let the breath exhale out your mouth at the back of your throat, keeping it very open, and the sound of 16-20 people breathing this way all at once reverberates and can be so loud as to echo.
Sometimes she reminds us to concentrate on our breath if we are trying a new or difficult posture. It can be awkward to be the only one breathing this way once everyone gets distracted with their own things.
Today she told us to remember our neighbors while we were breathing: sometimes it would be easy to get distracted and so each person in the room had a responsibility to their neighbor to breathe so their neighbor would be reminded to concentrate on their own breath. Funny, the idea that I should be taking responsibility for encouraging my neighbor's breath by focusing on my own.
I especially need to breathe these days. Without a concentrated effort, it might be easy to focus constantly on all the things I don't yet know and all the areas of my life beyond my true control. Breathing still comes subconsciously, but it gets more difficult.
So I practiced, my burdens "informing" me of my need to breathe all the while. While many people became distracted and their breath quieted, mine remained loud. I didn't care this time -- no self-consciousness. My lungs were ready to show off again (they liked the attention they'd gotten, maybe?).
As I focused just on the breath itself being the most important thing I could sustain in the moment, I began to realize that I was the richest girl I knew. I could fill my midsection with all the air it could hold. Then I could make space for more. The breath was free and freeing. It was filling yet always creating new space within me. I was greedy for the breath, and every time I filled the collection basket of my midsection with air to the point that it was spilling over, I loudly emptied it out for my "neighbors" to benefit. There was so much of exactly what I needed at that moment that I could never feel as though I lacked anything. There was so much plenty that I could share with others, encouraging them, reminding them of the only thing they needed to focus on at that moment. They could be rich, too, if only they would sink their efforts into acquiring that which was most plentiful all around them.
Sabrina spoke to us, saying, "I am going to see one of my favorite teachers this weekend. He always tells us -- and you may have heard me say this before -- that any time you see one fully, deeply concentrated on their breathing practice, you are seeing a person who is experiencing an enormous transitional phase in life." Tears threatened to part my eyelids. Instead I felt myself smiling. If only she knew ... I supposed that she did.
Now that I have seen my sister in the throes of laboring to give birth to a baby, I know that breath is the most important thing to carry you through. If you can keep your breath, concentrate on the breath, you can skim the top of the greatest pains of giving life. You will still feel the pain, but you will remain in control of the gut-wrenching process. If you breathe properly, you will withstand the hardest trials that threaten to snatch away your efforts at success. Take in the air slowly, fill yourself with mighty, invisible riches, then let it out. Begin again. My sister needed her husband to help her breathe. Who is helping you keep breathing?
You can't see it. You can't touch it. You can't live without it. It begins with you and yet it must come to an end outside of you. Then it begins again. Does it hurt? It will hurt worst if you stop. It will hurt others the most if you stop. Keep breathing.