I learned the importance of breath for the first time when I was in labor. I mean clearly breathing is what we all do to stay alive BUT conscious breathing is another story. The facilitator was a very sweet, soft-spoken, tiny woman with a pleasant face who made it easy for me to be calm. I signed up for her birthing class at the suggestion of my OBGYN because she said it would provide the necessary tools to help make delivery a little easier. Naturally, I was open to that suggestion, because as a first time, expecting mom, I wanted it all to be as easy as possible. She made an effort to answer all of our questions as thoroughly as possible and no matter how trite the questions seemed, she remained patient and kind. The six sessions I had with her left me feeling like calmly focusing on my breath would take me through my labor with ease. I want to say that my focused breath got me through my labor eventually BUT when the combination of panic, pain and an overbearing husband who smelled like food that I could not have all happened at once, I believe focused breath went out the window. I am by nature calm, easy going and generally unbothered, but the contractions came upon me like a Mack truck squeezing my womb together with earth crushing force. My body tightened like a boa constrictor wrapping its body around prey that it has been stalking for days. The pain of childbirth was felt from every nerve in my head to every vessel in my toes. My eyeballs, nose hairs, elbow, eyebrows, fingernails, and every body part felt all the pain that could be felt in the universe. I became undone. The calm me was now a vicious, raging, irrational human being and my normal, “Coolio”, “No worries”, “I’m good” responses disappeared along with my tact. I was reduced to dishing out evil looks like I was Tony Montana’s machine gun personified, and if I did speak it was to request the doctor who would make me feel good (said in my Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball voice.” As much as I wanted to punch my husband in the teeth at that moment, he was reminding me to breathe. Breathe. Breathe through it.
Eight years later, and I have been breathing through life’s moments ever since. I found yoga not too long after giving birth, and that truly transformed my relationship to my breath. In through my nose, and out through my nose, while allowing the breath to go to places that need healing and energy. While I am in deeply painful asanas, I am sending energy and light to my aching body and breathing through the pain. I am tempted to think about my life and the things that are bothering me, but it takes my focus off of my breath, and my whole practice is thrown off. Lucky for me, I remember to bring my breath back to focus. I bring the thought back to my breath and I get through my practice like I got through my labor. I have always said that my time on my yoga mat is the metaphor for my life. When I am unfocused, confused and wandering, it shows up on my mat. When I am in alignment, breathing, and focused, it shows up on my mat too.
I believe that at times I overcomplicate my life by trying to find ways to get through life’s lessons. I look for articles that could offer some guidance. I will sometimes talk it through with my friends. I will read my monthly horoscope. I sometimes will pull a tarot card or two. I do all kinds of shit that I think will give me answers when I am wandering in the desert of my emotions. However, in my deep sleep, when I am still, and I release control, the answers come so easily. When I am sleeping, I am breathing, a steady stream of rhythmic breaths that keep me alive and dreaming. Those are the moments when I am at ease, relaxed and all of the divine answers are revealed. Getting through labor, asanas, and life are not guaranteed. Many people die during childbirth, some folks do not make it through their yoga class and as we know, when you stop breathing, you welcome death. However, while we are still here, able, and conscious I believe that is an opportunity to breathe through anything. The very basic, and seemingly mundane action is what keeps us going.
This very moment, I am sitting with my thoughts and I am tempted to give into all of them. I am writing, but I am thinking about my day ahead and I am almost ready to worry. Worrying is a waste of time and when I worry my breath is jagged, choppy and unsteady. Time will pass anyway, and I am often in the state of mind to recall why the present is a gift. There is no situation that cannot be made better by breathing through it. This life that I am given is to be lived well. Sometimes I am tempted to struggle and live in a space of overwhelm. But I remember that I got through my labor in 45 minutes because of focused breathing. I get through difficult yoga classes because of focused breathing. I get through frightening situations because of focused breathing. Whether it is the pain of hairs being ripped out from wax, the pain of being rejected by a lover who has become a stranger or a child making poor and harmful choices beyond your control, focusing on your breath will get you through it all. I am not promising you that all of these things will be painless but I am saying that the pain will be manageable, bearable and a little less daunting. You have to breathe anyway, why not do it with focus and purpose?