by Amanda Cleary Eastep
I was lying on my side on the floor and toning my outer thighs alongside 10 other women, including my best friend, who was totally supportive of hitting Dairy Queen after our aerobics class.
Our instructor, a petite and perky woman with saddlebags like…well, saddlebags…convinced me that if no amount of leg lifts or exercising until my shins sweated was going to make much of a difference, neither would a Dilly Bar.
I concentrated on the precise leg movements that tensed my glutes and peroneus longus into what I imagined were cellulite busting contractions but were just cramps. Then the instructor said something stupid.
Don’t forget to breathe!
But I realized she was right, as foolish as it seemed, I was indeed holding my breath.
I was focusing on my efforts and not feeding my muscles and brain and heart.
Good lord, can there be a better analogy for our need to breathe deeply throughout the exertion of our lives?
What that breath looks like is different for each of us.
It could literally mean sitting quietly and doing a bit of “in with the good air, out with the bad.” Or it could be taking a break from the rote exercises of the day to utterly change up the routine.
Recently, my husband and I drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, and I hiked up a muddy trail to reach the summit and see the world from a completely different perspective.
And I breathed, even when the awe would leave me breathless. I turned in a slow circle and took in a wide world spread out around me in forested mountains and valleys hidden beneath the clouds.
Take the Big Breath
Author Anne Lamott, in an interview with two Jesuit priests, once talked about how crazy bad and good life can be and the dire need for us to just STOP. That begins with getting outside of ourselves. [@ about 14 minutes in the video]
“Hell is being stuck in your own mind,” she says, “in the I-Self-Me.” Lamott later goes on to talk about a book called The Wisdom of No Escape, written by Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön, and how to live in the face of our mortality.
Lamott summarizes in her own wonderful way:
“Maybe sit down, maybe have a glass of water and breathe. Maybe that is what heaven would be like, to have a glass of cool water and just stop. You realize that heaven will be about somehow hooking into something so much bigger than your own scared, little thinky self, something more to do with the breath or rhythm of something bigger and lovelier.”
Maybe heaven will be like that, but we don’t have to wait for the afterlife to hook into the breath of God in this life.
I did it as I stood on top of that mountain, thinking I should probably be weeping over the beauty of it but instead just taking it all in like air (and then taking the obligatory selfie).
When I start to focus on all the work I need to accomplish, all the bills I have to pay, all the sad news in the world, I will try to take the advice of my old aerobics instructor and a Buddhist monk and breathe.
Better yet, I’ll think of that mountaintop, of the hills and valleys, of the strain of climbing, of the 360 degree view of Something bigger and lovelier, and I’ll breath it in.