The Breath Comes First


I started to recognize the signs. I knew what was coming and there was no way to stop it. There is no way to override biology or turn back the clock. It has taken me a lifetime to begin to accept that life is not linear, but cyclical. I know that when I cycle this way I need to surrender.

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Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

Surrender to the emotional roller coaster. Surrender to the slower pace my body demands. (But perhaps not surrender to the impulse to eat everything in sight.)
This time last year I was in the midst of our move. For three consecutive cycles I powered through because of necessity, and I hadn’t allowed myself to slow when my body required it. So in mid fall my body stopped working and I slept for nearly a week. I couldn’t stay awake or do anything for longer than a couple of hours, no matter how hard I tried.

Sure. It took me until I was 40 but I finally learned to allow the cycles of life be instructive instead of intrusive. Once I had implemented the physical ebb and flow as an instructive and helpful tool in my life it was time to turn inward and pay attention to emotional cycles.

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Photo by Aleksandr Eremin on Unsplash

I have a habit of pushing aside negative thoughts instead of dealing with them. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Recently, as I feel my emotions heighten, I’m learning to let them be without guilt or shame. As current events brought me back to some darker days in my own life I have worked to give thoughts thoughts sunlight instead of pushing them away. To help me find peace with past pain one day I selected some restorative yoga practice – different from my regular routine. I wanted to embrace where I was and work through it instead of repressing it. Old habits die hard after all but I was determined to try.

At the end of the practice as I lay in relaxation pose I started to cry. (While this is not the first time I’ve found myself crying in meditation, I assure you it is quite uncommon for me.)

Immediately I sublimated my pain and conjured up things I could do for other people, to ignore my own sadness. That’s what I do: deflect and repress. But quickly I forced myself to be present, and to give space to these feelings – my feelings – which are just a legitimate as those of my friends. (I did follow up on the inspiration, later. While I can’t always follow up on a generous thought in the moment, it is important to not ignore it entirely.)

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

And just as I returned to being present the instructor said, “the breath comes first. Always remember that. The breath comes first.” The context was a warm, happy, relaxing moment yet there I lay on the floor of my living room bawling. Happy, calming, or sad, the mantra still applies.

Do I hold my breath to do hard things? Yes.
Do I hold my breath to push away difficult thoughts or feelings? Yes.
But when I remember to breath first, I can do the hard things, and I can take the first step of dealing with the hard things.

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Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Last year I did a lot of difficult physical things. This year it’s time to do the emotional labor to heal my heart. That’s scarier, harder, and unseen. But the breath comes first. I can do this.

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