Friday, July 28, 2017

Breath: A Challenge


When you inhale, you take into your body the flow of energy around you. At the top of the inhale, there is a slight pause where the outer breath merges with the inner breath. When you exhale, you surrender to the world around you, trusting that as you let go you will be filled back up.
--Laraine Herring, Writing Begins with the Breath


I struggle with breath. Or perhaps with trust. When I pay attention to my breath, death appears: one sister strangled, another fighting lung cancer, a father suffocating in his own phlegm. Yoga and meditation challenge me beyond the natural limitations of flexibility and patience because they conjure death. My focused inhale is forced.

Now, as I train for the 100-mile Obliteride, a cycling fundraiser for cancer research, breath becomes my enemy. Yes, my muscles scream. Yes, I wear myself out, get sick, must take a weeklong break from training. Lack of oxygen, the tightness of breath, is my true nemesis.

A cycling buddy encourages me to slow and deepen my breathing. She suggests yoga, the practice that taught her proper breathing techniques. I could try again, accept the pain of loss associated with breath, learn to trust that my lungs will fill if I allow them to do so. We all have losses, and as we age those losses multiply. The manner in which we deal with them influences the quality of our day-to-day life. I thought I’d dealt with my losses, thought I’d walked through scarred, but resilient.

I wonder how deep scars penetrate, how easily they are disturbed. I wonder if there’s more work to be done, if there is always more work to be done, if the work is never done. I wonder if I continue that work, if I learn to surrender to the world around me as Herring suggests, will my lungs refill without images of strangulation and suffocation invading my thoughts? Will I learn to cycle hills without panting so hard my stomach ties in knots?

Trust begins with awareness. I’m grateful to whatever forces of coincidence or synchronicity caused my eyes to land on Laraine Herring’s title last week at the University of Washington Bookstore. 

3 comments:

Sheri Nugent said...

You are so brave. You face everything that's asked of you. Your sharing reminds me of why that is important.

arleen said...

Thank you, Sheri, for reading, understanding, and commenting. Much appreciated!
Arleen

Betsy Bell said...

So interesting to read your experience with breathing. In controlled breathing in guided meditation or yoga, it's the out breath that feels forced and ties me up in knots, not the in breath. I have recently revived my old practice of Tai Qi and finds the arm movements help the long deep breaths come and go easily. Without question the calmest, most restorative breathing practice I have found. I still get short of breath hiking up steep hills almost to the point of thinking I'm about to get a heart attack. A Ricola in my pocket takes that away.

Love the way you write about your experience. Betsy