It’s been almost a year since I learned how to breathe. I know. It’s crazy that I could live for 39 years without breathing; but apparently I did.
I had just joined a pilates bootcamp at Studio One Pilates here in Anchorage. My intention was to regain my fleeting tone, find a routine that I could stick with, and ease my back pain. I didn’t know I’d first have to learn how to breathe.
When I walked into the intro session, I instantly felt intimidated. The women in the room all seemed to be as well-coifed as they could be in workout clothes. The instructors were ridiculously fit. The atmosphere was serene and calm.
I entered still reeling from whining kids and rushing a last-minute lunch to the school. Quickly, I shuffled to the back of the room and tried desperately to blend into the wall, hoping that nobody would notice I was trying to pass off pajama pants as pilates gear.
The instructor began by informing us that the first lesson we would learn would be that of proper breathing. She continued by sharing that some people have unusual reactions to breathing; they get emotional or have a physical response. However, once we learned to breathe, it could dramatically impact the way we lived.
Instantly, I felt that I had wasted my money, but thought I should stick it out at least until the break.
We laid back on our mats and began to follow her instructions. Slowly, inhale through the nose, deep and low. Feel the air settle into your pelvis and expand your torso. Just as slowly, exhale through your mouth in a direct flow, strong and sure.
It seemed simple enough, but apparently I just couldn’t get it. All afternoon, instructors stopped by trying to help me breathe. Try this. Do that. Push here. Inhale deeper. Feel it. Picture it. Breathe it.
I tried for hours.
The next day, I tried again.
Finally, on the third day… I breathed.
The air seemed to hit places in my lungs that had never been touched before; so deep and powerful that it completely threw me off guard. Salty water began pouring out of my eyes and my chest caught. I choked and coughed. Horrified, I jumped up and ran to the exit door. Out on the sidewalk, I bent over and tried to stop a tsunami of coughing. When the wave subsided, I stood there shocked.
Quietly, I returned to the mat. Again, the coughing took over. Again, I found myself on the sidewalk outside trying to settle my pulse.
The third time I returned, I inhaled deep and pure; this time the world stopped spinning and time stood still.
Somewhere in the distance, I could hear the instructor calling out directions and the blurried women around me followed, going through their paces. My mind, heart, and soul were far away.
I laid there in the fog, realizing that I had never fully breathed. Painfully self-reliant, I held everything up close and guarded: my dreams, challenges, relationships, children, ministry, and even my breath.
As the air poured into my lungs, my shoulders collapsed, the tension in my life slipped away and well-designed wall of strength begin to crumble. I breathed it in, and let it go.
There are times when we become so accustomed to managing all the flurried details of life that we don’t even realize we haven’t stopped to truly breathe. We take short, shallow breaths, barely lifting our upper ribcage, and expend all our remaining energy on flailing arms and rushing legs.
Often this stressed response parallels our ability to fully experience our life in the community of others or faith it requires. We hold onto everything with the grip of a bulldog, refusing to let go, sure that the rise and fall of life’s tides relies on us and us alone.
We were not designed to survive like this. As humans, we can pursue a life fully lived, not stressfully endured. Certainly, rescue could sweep in and take over our world, answering all our questions and solving all our dilemmas, but the reality is life doesn’t operate like this. Instead, in the midst of the whirlwind, we can follow the scriptures guide to, “Be still and know.” (Psalm 46:10) In the middle of our chaos, we can find our footing when we stop, release our grip, inhale, and know.
In that moment of stillness, we can find a peace that just doesn’t make sense. It is then that clarity prevails and the truth in our situations becomes tangible. It is then that we can let ourselves become the life-liver we were meant to be, and we discover the healer, counselor, and answer waiting for our stillness.
It’s easy to say, or type, but definitely more difficult to live.
So, here I am, one year later.
These past few months have been beyond challenging, to say the least. Still, in the middle of my whirlwinds, as decisions and life swirls around me, I am once again reminded to stop, to be still, and simply breathe.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.