“Breathe.” That was the first, and most important, message from the instructor Sasha Cobra as we sat tensely and quietly in a yoga studio to learn to get in touch with ourselves better. At first I didn’t know what to do—or I thought I already knew: breathe in to take oxygen, breathe out to discharge carbon dioxide. How could I not know something I had been doing 15,000 times a day for my entire life?
But of course I didn’t, I especially didn’t know what exhaling meant. The old me would have reacted this way: Thank you, I never lived in Greece 2,000 years ago, and I have been too busy doing more important tasks, such as actually breathing. Well, the new me reacts that way as well, but is now humble enough to admit that he seldom knows what he is doing, thanks to his series of life’s missteps. Not surprisingly, my breathing practice did not give proper attention to exhaling, the most effective action to let my mental waste—tension, emotion, anxiety—go, to cleanse my spirit. It might be called breathe through, as observed by my friend Prish.
What follows is my personal experience on breathing through: deep breathing with the intention of “letting it all out.” It brought an unexpected consequence as you can read, but was also a liberating experience.
Lying on my bed with my palms facing up and my legs shoulder width, I started taking deep breaths with more emphasis on the exhaling side; longer and deeper. I sounded my breath out, making it gradually louder, until it became a bad imitation of Tarzan’s call. It sounded really fake and silly but I just kept on doing it.
Three minutes into it I realized my face muscles and neck were becoming stiff. My neck began to bend, against, or independent of, my will. I was moving my head side to side and narrowing my shoulders until they started touching my chin.
Then my arms became numb. It was as if I had surrendered my will to lift them. My face was twitching more aggressively, as if I were in agony—even though there was no physical pain. I started gargling instead of clearing my throat. I'm like a baby, how strange, I thought.
But I WAS becoming a baby. Now my entire body was bouncing and I felt a surge of primitive fear. I was in complete darkness even though I could see the lights, and I was scared to the bone. I was crying, crying for help. I’d managed to get my arms halfway up, but it seemed as if my body, taken over by this 1-year old alter ego, decided that was my maximum reach.
The "adult" me thought I needed to quit but curiosity won (as always). I continued to push my breath to let it all out, although both my baby self and adult self were in terror, wondering what the heck was going on.
The “baby” me went through the entire course of what a toddler typically does: after he finished screaming for help, he stuck his mouth out probably to reach out for breasts, uttered incomprehensible words and shook his head to express his dissatisfaction, smiled as if to respond to the parents’ soothing words, and after using up all his energy, fell asleep by folding his arms and tucking his chin. All the while my adult self was alert, half-trapped inside the body and observing the entire process. The whole affair felt like 10 minutes, but actually took more than 30 minutes.
Shit, I muttered. I have been carrying a neglected BABY inside me for…thirty something years? I was surprised how stealthy my alter ego had remained, and was equally impressed by how easy it was to bring him to the surface. I had been complaining throughout my life that I frequently felt heavy, tired (+ kicked and yelled at), yet I never looked back over my shoulder to see the reason. All I had to do was to breathe through.
I decided to breathe through every day to give this grumpy little bastard a room to play, to help myself come in terms with…myself. Admittedly it's awkward but I guess befriending an estranged family member, myself in this case, is always so in the beginning. I may be able to share my progress in later posts (without too many graphic details). Overall I am enormously grateful for this experience, which gave me a hint at my protectiveness, my always-stiff neck, my unexplainable uneasiness about existence (ha ha).
I know, this little child might not be adorable, but he is what I got, and who knows? He might even be my lucky charm. As I sit in this wee hour typing this post, I remember what Stephen King said about his “muse.”
There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the mid-night oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know.