Learning to breathe (and other lessons)
We take our first breath moments after birth, yet for me, I feel like I am just learning how to breathe 49 years later. I’ve recently started on a journey at my local yoga center based on the book by Baron Baptiste titled “40 Days To a Personal Revolution”. It’s forty days of being immersed in yoga, meditation, and healthy eating. A way of breaking old habits and beginning new and healthy ones. The first week
we are focusing on being present. Fully in the moment. I’m a few days in, and I am already finding it challenging. I’m not sure how that bodes for me going forward, but I’ve decided that it’s time to get more present when it is just for me. Because I’ve experienced what being present is like when I do my intuitive readings, I know that not only is it possible for me to be fully present but I know that I like how it feels. To be fully engaged and present at only one thing. It’s relaxing and invigorating at the same time.
During meditation, I’ve learned to focus on my breath. Every time my mind starts to engage, I return to my breath. During yoga, we begin our practice by focusing on our breath. And then during the session, the instructor will remind us… “And breathe.” Every time she said that today, I realized I was not breathing. How can that be? Something that we know how to do from the moment we are born, and yet I find myself either not breathing or breathing in a way that doesn’t serve me well. This seems to be a theme in my life, not knowing how to breathe properly. Or should I say forgetting how to breathe? Probably the latter.
I haven’t talked much about my trip to the Horse & Soul retreat in Costa Rica last year. I meant to, but it was hard to even to know where to start, so I never really did. This retreat was all about working on “my stuff” with the use of horses as facilitators. (You can read more about it here: http://www.leavesandlizards.com/eponicity/) . We were there doing our work for 5 days, and by work I mean sharing and crying. A. lot. of. crying. So much in fact, that our human facilitator promised us that the last day with the horses would be fun! No crying! She promised. And yet.
I should have known not to assume that she could promise such a thing. Based on the first day that worked with the horses and how that went for me. Debbie, the owner of the facility, was demonstrating communication with a horse while lunging. Now, I knew nothing about horses and didn’t know what lunging was. I soon realized a very intense and stern looking Debbie was standing in the middle of the arena, holding a whip, making the horses run in whichever direction she wanted at the speed she wanted. So she gets done with her demonstration and walks over to the group of us (8 or so people) and asks what we saw, what we thought of it. With the exception of me, there were exclamations of how cool it was, and how beautifully she and the horse worked together. And then there was me, sobbing in my chair. And holding my breath. Debbie was dominant over her horse, moving him where she wanted him to go. And I, well I have an issue with dominance. It has a very negative connotation for me. So while the others could see that the horse wasn’t moving out of fear of Debbie, I couldn’t see that. And so I cried, and tried to understand then cried a little more.
The last day with the horses comes, and I am ready for some horse time that doesn’t involve crying. I’m pretty psyched. We are told that we are going to do some rodeo games. It’s gonna be fun, they said. I was all for it. So Danielle gets us started by asking us to guess the number she is thinking of. Right before she asked us, I heard “8”, so I spoke up. I won. Cool! This is fun! Then she said I got to go first because I won. Huh? That is not how that game is supposed to work, but Danielle is one of those people that I learned a long time ago is not worth arguing with. This was her gig, and I was up first.
So I started on a timed obstacle course. Five obstacles in total. And you could skip an obstacle that you were struggling with and take a time penalty. Everything starts off great. I make it through the first obstacle, then the second, then the third. I won’t say I was on fire, but I was making my way through them without knocking anything over or falling off my horse. I’m feeling pretty good at this point. We get to the fourth obstacle. And I can’t make my horse do what I need him to do. I try and try, then try harder. I’m using up a ton of time and building up some frustration. Then I remember that I can skip the obstacle and take the time penalty. At that moment I don’t think my thoughts were conscious, but my horse knew exactly what I was thinking, and he knew exactly what to do about it. I turned him around thinking I was going to move on to the next obstacle. Cosmo, my trusty horse who had been so wonderful to me all week, started cantering back to where the other horses are. For those of you who aren’t familiar with horse terms cantering means “going faster than Kathy is comfortable going.” Cosmo finally stops when he gets back to where we started. And after I get over my happiness at the fact that he stopped moving, I’m angry. My first words were “you said we weren’t going to cry today,” and I was on the verge of crying. Again. Then I was just mad in general. Because Cosmo didn’t do what I wanted him to do and I didn’t understand why he didn’t listen to me.
The first thing Danielle told me to do was take some deep belly breaths. So I did. Then she laughed and said, “okay now take some actual deep belly breaths.” Because when I’m upset, I forget how to breathe. And then I was able to work through what had happened. Cosmo was showing me what quitting looks like. Although in my head, I didn’t think of it as quitting (I was just taking a time penalty on one obstacle), Cosmo was able to connect with me on a level and know that had I finished with not doing all the obstacles I would have been majorly disappointed. Running back to the start was his way of saying, “so you want to quit? Okay, let’s quit then,” and there was nothing I could do about it. That lesson has stuck with me for the last ten months – I think of it often when I get frustrated and want to stop doing because something seems too hard. I stop, and I breathe. Really breathe. And then try to remember that lesson from Cosmo.