Sometimes a very simple thing can change your life. It always happens quietly, not a lot of fuss or circumstance, but then one day you wake up and nothing looks the same as it had before. At these moments even silence can be the most blessed music. How lucky, you think. How lucky I am to be alive and breathing!
When I came to yoga, I hoped it would change me. I was desperate for something, anything to change me. Those last days before I finally got my butt in gear to get to a class were so full of frenetic desperation. I needed to make my body strong again. I needed to quiet my mind and connect to something larger than myself, or at least just have an excuse to leave the house once in a while. Sitting in the lobby, waiting for my first class to begin, I was an absolute wreck of need.
This need brought with it a whole lot of struggle. Each pose felt like fighting. I was not just folding forward over my legs, I was reaching with clawing fingers for the peace of mind that seemed to hover always just beyond my reach, taunting me. Moving through my practice came with gasping and pulling at the air around me, wondering how I could even manage to walk up a flight of stairs if I couldn’t chill out in Warrior Two for four breaths without it having to be such a friggin production.
My muscles shook and wrenched. My body refused to bend. That first class was an exercise in everything I had always felt I could not do, but for the first time in my life, I didn’t care, because I was urged onward by a relentless optimism. If it took everything I had, I would do this. I would become the person who I had always wanted to be, or die trying—that little stubborn warrior in my heart roared as my hamstrings cried and my back begged me to stop, please, stop!
Then, in the middle of all of that miserable struggle of Annie’s Inward Journey, Day 1, I heard it. Maybe it was the teacher, maybe it was something else, but I heard a voice say
I’m breathing! I hissed through my clenched teeth. The voice did not believe me.
I wanted to continue to complain. Insistent messages from the Universe make me grumpy and stubborn. But I think at that moment some part of me knew that if I didn’t do what I was told I might walk out the door and never set foot on a yoga mat again. So I took a moment, and took a really, really, REALLY, deep breath.
That was the moment I fell in love with the magic of breathing. I call it “magic” because that is what it is. It is the only logical explanation for the transformation it wrought in my life in such a short time. The idea that I had been breathing for my entire life had obviously been someone’s idea of a sick joke. I wanted more and more. I wanted to sit in a room and breathe forever. For the rest of practice, whenever I felt the struggle, I invited my breath back in and everything felt better. I still shook and sweat, but with far less need and less fighting. It was not fighting anymore. It was breathing.
Our breath is magic, and it has always been within us to use it. As a fairy tale writer, magic is a part of my daily routine. If I don’t explore some fairy magic before sundown every day I get a bit uncomfortable. There is a difference in the magic of breathing. The magic I deal with exists in the mind and on the page; breathing exists in the body and the world around us. What I could never have imagined discovering is that as I was breathing and I was writing, slowly the two were meeting in that place where body and mind converge and meld. I finally found proof of magic, and also a very excellent cure for writer’s block, and it had been (literally) right under my nose the entire time!
So simple and so elegant. I don’t know that I practice postures as much as I practice breathing. The magic I performed with breath in just the first few weeks of my yoga practice unlocked spaces in my body and mind that I had forgotten were there. Breathing and I entered a beautiful honeymoon phase. The world around me grew more vibrant, and I wandered it, wondering if it had been here the whole time. It had, and all it had taken to see it again was a little bit of faith and a few (thousand) deep breaths. Then I started to wonder…why doesn’t everyone know about this??? I feel like if more people knew about this breathing thing it could solve so many problems in the world.
Maybe not, like, what movie I should watch on Netflix later…but so many others!
The thing I have now learned about opening your body to breath is that you can also open your body and mind to an enormous amount of change very, very quickly. The change hit me in waves and waves of euphoria and stress and sadness and joy and anger and rejuvenation until once again the only thing I could do was hold on for dear life and breathe, Annie, breathe!
Sometimes I had to be reminded. I had developed a reflex over many years to just hold my breath, grit my teeth, and wait out the storm. This storm would not be waited out by suffocation. This storm required the breath. I had to ride this storm like a vinyasa, and that is exactly what I did. I rode it through creative triumphs, through loss, through new friends, through old friends, through saying goodbye to new and old friends. I breathed as I shed a skin twenty-four years in the making.
Tonight I entered practice, entered that space of the breath, and found that the chaos had subsided. The intensity and trying gave way to expansion and laughter. Tonight I giggled through my practice. It was delightful. Instead of bouncing around between stress and frustration I was splashing about in joy and gratitude like a small girl with brand new green rubber rain boots. Who cares what poses may come, as long as I have the ability to welcome in oxygen! This journey is not over, obviously. If I could complete an entire journey and be in that imaginary place we refer to as “there” in the space of only three months, what on earth would be the fun of having a whole life? The point is that I had some crud stored up, and I made it through that first foray into living in the breath, with an open heart. I have so much gratitude for the people and places that contributed to this new and exciting chapter in my life, I find it difficult to encapsulate the feeling in words—something new and different for me.
In the end, it was the gratitude that took me by surprise. I understand now that yoga practice is the ultimate show of gratitude—thanking the universe for my body, for my studio, for my practice, for the amazingly giving people who have come into my life. I want more, so much more, but first I will show my gratitude through practice and breath. My practice is my thanks to the universe, and my stories are my thanks to humanity. Thank you for feeling so deeply, for loving so well, and for giving everything you have to everything that you love. You are so beautiful that people like me are called to write stories to remind you of just how beautiful and powerful you are. I had forgotten, but in the forgetting I found the ultimate opportunity to remember. Do whatever it is you do and do it with passion. Celebrate. Create. Love. But never forget, if you remember nothing else, it all begins when you remember to Breathe.
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