I’ve been a fan of the band Pearl Jam since the dawn of … well, Pearl Jam! The early 90s was when I started listening to them, and, for me they stood out from the rest of the Seattle Grunge Band genre because of their lyrics. One song in particular: Just Breathe.
Just Breathe by Pearl Jam (This time the link works. Sorry for the previous fail.)
Lately, I’ve been dealing with cancer, a cross-country move, job changes, two teenagers, college decisions and all the rest of my daily living. So, from time to time, I have a touch of stress in my life.
I make a point of reducing all the unnecessary stressors that I can: drama queens and kings, complainers, the media circus, reality TV, crazy drivers and material possessions.
But when I must be faced with a difficult situation, I remind myself that all I have to do is breathe. Literally.
Yoga has helped me immensely in remembering to breathe. When we get excited, the breath quickens. It happens when we get mad. Sometimes when we hear terrible news, we hold our breath.
Whenever my kids come to me and they are upset (mostly when they were younger, but still occasionally), the first thing I say is, “Take a deep breath. Again. Relax your shoulders. Now tell me.” Repeat as necessary.
We have lots of idioms for this in our vernacular, “took my breath away,” or “took the wind out of my sails.”
I think sometimes we take breathing for granted. Or maybe some of us think that saying, “Breathe” is trite. But breath is the life-giving force, prana. It’s the first thing we do on this planet: inhale.
The second our children are born, that’s the first thing we listen for. “Why isn’t she crying yet??” And then here it comes … “Waaaaaaaaaaaahhh!” Oh my god. She breathed. She’s breathing! She’s breathing. I can still remember that moment for both of my kids. I heard the differences in their cries. From each other and from other babies. I could hear the nurses bringing them down the hall in the middle of the night to breast feed — and drifting off once I heard that that cry didn’t belong to me, but perking up the second I realized that it did.
And when we die, it will be the last thing we do. Exhale.
At birth, we bring the life force in. At death, we let it go. In between, all we have to do is breathe.
Most of the time, we don’t think about it. It just happens for us! And that’s great, like a heart beat. The difference is that we can choose to control it. We can breathe in and out on command. We can hold our breath. We can use breathing techniques. We can use the breath to express our words, our despair and our gratitude.
But most of the time, we pay no attention to our breathing. Until it stops.
When Zachy was a baby, we discovered that he has asthma. I was alone in the middle of the night with him and Aspen when he made noises from his crib. I went into his room. He was gasping. I got Aspen out of bed, threw on shoes (I think) and drove him to Akron Children’s just a few miles away. He was jutting his chin out and wheezing. I ran to the triage nurse. They ran me back to a room. The doctor came in immediately. Face mask, pulse ox, stethoscope, blood pressure cuff. Finally. Finally! At long last, he breathed without struggle. And so did I.
In all of my life, it’s the scariest thing that has ever happened to me. Including being told I had cancer. Once he was breathing fine and had fallen asleep, I cried. And not until then. I didn’t have the luxury of panic. Once he breathed. I relaxed my shoulders and sobbed.
Recently, after my mastectomy, I had a hard time coming out of the anesthesia. I wasn’t breathing well on my own. Even once my family was allowed back to see me, the nurse asked them to remind me to breathe. I was having about 4 rounds of breath per minute. During surgery, a machine breathes for you. It’s important for life function to breathe. But it’s also vital for our mental health.
I keep this little rock near my desk as a reminder. Inhale the peace. Exhale the stress. Let it go.