How's that breathing thing going for ya?

February 02, 2009 by barbara

barbara writes

This morning, I rolled over and buried my head under my bed pillow. Then, remembering the instructions we received yesterday at a four-hour seminar on deep and mindful breathing (yes, I really did attend), I flipped onto my back. Oh, let’s be real. I slowly and awkwardly rearranged my aging body, such that it eventually struggled its way to the yogic position I call “beached whale, belly up.”

After recovering from my aerobic roll-over, I took several deep breaths, eventually remembering to exhale. This is in stark contrast to my usual daily routine of taking one jerky little inhale in the morning, and sighing at least part of it out at day’s end.

And then to the whole breath. Now I must tell you, that is a piece of work.

Digression: My eighth grade choir teacher was very big into diaphragmatic breathing. (Lois Powell, blue hair and all, RIP.) A passel of 13-year-olds were supposed to suck in breath, thereby inflating our bellies and extending our diaphragms. Miss Powell would cruise the long aisles of the choir room, watching us snicker, snark and occasionally do the breathing thingie. She was not amused. Miss Powell had a one-eyebrow-raised glare that caused me to avert my eyes for the whole dreaded breathing exercise.

Even now, some ten years and 40 pounds later, I remember finding it damn near impossible to do what she asked. Now, as then, my idea of sucking in breath means sucking in my gut simultaneously – polar opposite of what Miss Powell wanted. And because I was a shadow of my current self (be advised – that was a foreshadowing statement), it was hard to fake her out. The kids who were built like Jabba the Hut had the edge. Their bellies rested in their laps and it was not really possible to tell the difference between in and out. Read on.

Suffice it to say, breathing 101 launches no small measure of PTSD for me.

Back to the whole breath. Yesterday’s instructor was a mere slip of a thing (h/t Carolyn Keene). And when she lay in the middle of our large circle of wannabes to demonstrate the whole breath, it was quite impressive. Her invisible belly ballooned first. With the same inhalation, her abdomen swelled and then her unimpressive breastal area became more impressive. As she exhaled, it all gently collapsed in reverse order. Flawlessly (or so I believe), she repeated the breath several times with identical results. Amazing, really.

Some 40 women and a couple of men, none of whom were in thrall to Super Bowl XLIII, flopped onto the floor in a kind of latter day June Taylor deployment. Then after a bit of coaching, we attempted our first whole breaths.

Folks, it was not a pretty picture. Bellies inflated, collapsed. Breathing stopped altogether in our tense concentration on moving body segments sequentially. There was some huffing. A few snorts and grunts. The instructor stood in the center, turning slowly to watch what was happening around her. I tried to mind my breathing, but found it difficult to get past the desire to stand and watch the rest of my breathing cohorts do their thing from her vantage point. It would be fair to say I was not centered.

So was the whole thing a lark for me? Actually, no. I did learn some valuable things. I am going to try to apply that learning to my breathing life. But it’s quite clear it’s going to take a lot of practice and time.

After I took what I’d like to believe were several marginally good whole breaths this morning, I rose serenely to meet the challenges of the day. That’s when the brilliant sunshine backlighted me and I saw my shadow on the bedroom floor. Crap!

And so I did something I simply never do. I crawled back into bed, pulled the covers up over my head and contemplated how it would be to spend the next six weeks there. Do you suppose I might have the breathing thing down pat by mid-March? I live in hope.

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Anne Gibert (not verified) | February 2, 2009 - 11:21am

I think you might as well get up. We humans probably don't have the mystical power of groundhogs.


barbara says (not verified) | February 2, 2009 - 9:47pm

Damn! I was afraid of that.