BREATHING ISN’T ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE

by Cathy Arden on December 31, 2016

 

When my son was in high school, he used to put his head beneath the water in the pool and hold his breath for as long as he could. It was a game he and his friends played. Who could hold their breath the longest? It didn’t matter to my son that this so-called game caused his mother great distress.   And that’s an understatement. If I was present when this occurred, I’d immediately dive into panic mode as his head plunged under the water. I’d yell for him to stop, to come up, I’d yell warnings about lack of oxygen to the brain. My fear and trembling and sketchy scientific warnings didn’t deter him. He’d assure me, once he emerged and could speak, that I had nothing to worry about. And I remember him always smiling and laughing. I don’t think he was laughing at me or my fear. I just think this whole exercise was frivolous and fun for him. Breathing and not breathing for awhile. No big deal.

One New Year’s holiday I was at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. Because I was there on my own, I’d eat my meals at what they called the Captain’s Table – basically, this was the “singles” table.   People traveling alone had the opportunity at the Captain’s Table to meet new people, make new friends, or, well, whatever else presented itself amongst strangers. It was at these meals at the Captain’s Table that I heard much talk about yoga and breathing.   It was a constant theme. I had no interest in yoga, I wasn’t taking yoga classes, as everyone else seemed to be doing, and after hearing conversation after conversation about breathing, I began to realize I had no interest in breathing as well. There was a moment during one lunch that I blurted out, “You know, breathing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!” Everyone looked over at me, stunned. And then they started to laugh. But, really, I was serious. I hated the idea of breathing, or rather the idea of having to be conscious about breathing. Breathing had suddenly become the designer activity.

Breathing used to be a theme as well in my therapy sessions of yore. When I was in my twenties, I had a therapist who would interrupt me frequently with only one word, “Breathe!” And sometimes she’d explain, “Are you aware that you are not breathing? You rarely breathe.” I’d stare at her incredulously and then I’d feel pressured to take a deep breath, which I so loathed and resented.

I’m still not enamored with breathing. I have, however, taken yoga in the years since Canyon Ranch, but I continue to feel resentment when I’m asked or I am told specifically to breathe. Don’t we all just get through life on a wing and a prayer and the comfort of knowing that even in our darkest hours, breathing will be right there with us? Worrying about my breathing is like worrying about when it will stop. Some things we can’t control. Most, in fact. Why try to control my breathing? As long as I’m alive, I prefer to take my breathing for granted.   Of course, there was the other week when I was awake coughing all night and went into a panic unable to catch my breath for seconds too long. It reminded me of the panic I used to feel watching my son plunge his head beneath the water, worried he’d never come back up for air, worried I’d lose what was most precious to me. His breathing. And then mine.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Tziporah December 31, 2016 at 11:22 AM

Great article. So true. I, too, struggle with breathing and I, too, am often reminded by therapists, to breathe. That’s why I love kundalini yoga as difficult and challenging as I find it, I always feel better afterwards and victorious – as if I had accomplished a great feat. I have yet to master this tool – and look forward to chipping away at it – one breath at a time.
Happy breathing, my dear friend

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Cathy Arden December 31, 2016 at 5:13 PM

Thanks,Tziporah! Much love and deep breath going into 2017!

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John Burak December 31, 2016 at 12:07 PM

Very Funny. Happy New Year!!
Do miss you.
John

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Cathy Arden December 31, 2016 at 5:12 PM

Thanks, John. Miss you, too!

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Harriet January 1, 2017 at 9:37 AM

Thank you for this–happy new year!

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Cathy Arden January 3, 2017 at 8:25 AM

Happy New Year, Harriet!

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