Don’t give it what it wants

On January 30, 2010 by Eden M. Kennedy

Occasionally my yoga teacher, Steve, does this thing in class where he asks us to stand slightly bent over, with our hands on our knees, and breathe. Breathe all the way in until we feel like we’re going to burst, then all the way out until our lungs feel flat. We do this in-and-out thing a couple of times and then we breathe in our fullest breath and hold it. He tells us it’s not a contest, to let out our breath when we need to, but when we feel that instinctive, almost panicky feeling that we can’t hold it another second, hold it one more second. Then breathe. But don’t let the panic decide.

That moment — when the panic’s standing there looking at you in shock for your insubordination — must be like when a pendulum gets to the top of its swing and just floats there for a moment, thumbing its nose at gravity.

Then we do a few more rounds of deep in and out breaths, and then we blow everything out and hold it. That’s the one that gets you, having no air in your lungs at all. No one can hold out nearly as long, the instinct to get air into your lungs becomes unendurable pretty quickly. But wait, says Steve, for one second beyond what you think you can endure. Don’t give it what it wants.

He says this strengthens our neural pathways. I believe him. Steve can do things, things you’d think were impossible.

Suddenly, last week, after years of doing this exercise, the broader lessons began to apply as well. I realized that when I feel a tiny jolt of anxiety about whatever, a dirty dish, or I had ten things to do in the time it would take to do one of them well, I could think: Don’t buckle. That’s what it wants. Pause first. It’ll back right off and then you can put away the dish with a quiet heart instead of the other. Pet the dog instead of pushing him aside to get at the laundry; pet the dog and then get the laundry. Don’t give it what it wants, because what it wants is to be in control, it’ll snap you around like a flag on a windy day. Your nerves will literally fray.

This is the type of emotional control that helps you get up and stay in your handstands, too, of course. Handstands and laundry. I should pay Steve double for his classes.

But today I forgot. You can ask Jack about that. He quietly took Jackson off and away to hit tennis balls because I spent the morning with no more breath in me at all, trying to push It back, because It wanted what It wanted and what it wanted was to shut me down. It put the fire in my heart right out, like a bucket of water hitting a birthday candle. It got what it wanted.

(But when that happens, sometimes there’s a solution:)



40 Responses to “Don’t give it what it wants”

  • You know what I love about you? You're so HONEST! And you write it so well. This is how feelings should be expressed (I'm currently bogged down proofreading some New Age twaddle that hasn't a shred of the insight and truth in this one post – so I speak with authority, people.)

  • Good lord, that was beautiful.

  • It? Can bite me. Which is why I spent a few minutes doing your breathing exercises after I read the first paragraph, and before I continued reading the remainder. I breathed, then I read. And it felt good.

  • Sometimes it's okay to throw a fit, too.

  • It's always worth it to wait forever for your posts, Eden. I'm breathing, too. I plan to keep this in mind.

    The shirt? Where did you get the shirt. I have to have one!

  • This was the best. True and beautiful, written to perfection. And Bossy knows this because she found herself hyperventilating the whole time… first because of your description of breathing and nothing make Bossy more nervous… and then later because she suddenly understood she's been doing it ALL WRONG. Not the breathing necessarily, but the living.

  • You are brilliant. And raw. And strong. And I will never et tired of reading what you write.

  • This is gorgeous. The reference to the pendulum struck me hard. I found myself holding my breath without thinking about it.

    I call my It.. Teh Crazie. Somehow calling it something in LOLspeak takes away some of Its power.

  • I must add to the general raves here. I think I am doing what IT wants all the damn time. And I don't notice because, up until I read this post, I didn't have the words to notice. But now I do. So thank you.

  • Brilliant. Shirt, writing, intention. All of it. I had one of those moments today, only it was hunger threatening me (eat NOW and abandon filing! Leave the job unfinished like you always do!), but made the conscious decision to keep going, and *I* got to decide when I stopped. And the filing got done (and I got fed). I am truly inspired by your work here and will now carry this lesson on beyond today.

  • Amazing. And it hit home. Thank you.

  • Thank you for this post. Beautiful. As a person who struggles with anxiety (even more so in these winter months), this really hit home. I find proactively converting that panic energy into creating energy is so fulfilling, but it can be hard to remember that in the heat of the moment.

  • I spent all last week giving in to It, and then feeling terrible. I miss my regular, non-prenatal yoga; thank you for passing on the lessons of yours.

  • Found this via a link on a friend's blog and loved it (slightly confused by the 'let's panic' link on the right though :). I want the t-shirt too.
    Thanks for your honesty.

  • My God you're a good writer.

    I'm so happy I get to read what you write.

  • This entry is amazing. This has been my way of handling my OCD for years. I just don't give in. But there are days when I have to. I have to rearrange the sock drawer and alphabetize the spice rack.

  • I really needed to read that. Thank you.

  • This is brilliant. I am definitely going to remember this strategy. I have been a TOTAL COW lately to my poor fiance as are moving house. Need to chill out!

  • Anxiety defined. Beautiful post.

  • Great post. And Steve is really awesome. Thank you.

  • I don't get to do yoga as much as I'd like, so this was a good reminder to breathe whenever faced with too many things to do that you feel like you're going to explode. Thank you.

  • Awesome! As someone who is trying to keep herself dedicated to TRYING to write one freaking screenplay – one – but waking up at 3 am with the hyperventilating 'help me Jesus' fits about the rest of life and work, I say you hit it on the head.

    And it can bite me too.

  • I am adding to the praise pile, hope I don't break anything.

  • YES! Love the t-shirt too!

    I've started trying really hard to take a quick breath when I'm running late just to centre myself, that way I dont make myself more late by forgetting something, or end up getting angry and upset.

  • wow. i just read the post on Fear at finslippy and then came here and read this one. The two of you… i tell ya.

    This post (as others have said) was wonderfully written and now I will spend the afternoon trying to put the principle into practice at work. Thanks.

  • what an excellent bunch of thoughts. You continue to amaze and impress us here in illinois…and I want to get one of those shirts, but not sure which size to order. Might I ask how the shirt fits and what size you are sporting? Thank you for your help. Thanks, Erica

  • I need this today. Thanks. So so much.

  • Right. On.

    I'm not surprised, but still…

    right on.

    (At least you have half of your head there)

  • great post, thank you.

  • So beautifully written and poignant, Eden. I love your posts.

  • This is, absolutely, without a doubt, what I needed to read today. Thank you.

  • Just wanted to let you know that we loved this post so much it was this week's BlogHer of the Week:

    It was just what we needed to hear too!

    on behalf of Elisa, Jory and LIsa

  • thank you for honestly describing how I feel so very often, and also for offering some suggestions to keep 'it' at bay. you rock!

  • For all the things I handle, and handle well, I don't think I have ever been able to really DO this. Not really.

    On the day-to-day anxieties and built up stuff, I can hoist that off with a tirade of snarky complaint, a method which I love, but everyone around me does not. They really think I'm just annoyed or a naturally kvetchy person, whereas for me it's a true core dump of doom. I need the snark.

    I guess I always thought that people with children learned what you are learning here. I thought they seemed to be amazing darers in a dance of this iron will to be good parents. Then I grew up and discovered that there were plenty of parents who weren't and were hitting various bottles or their own kids.

    A wonderful practice to contemplate. Thanks. Will consider.

  • I went swimming with my cousin Jimmy when I was a kid and he used to blow out all his air and lie on the bottom of the town pool for a minute or so, lungs empty. I asked him how, and he said “same way you hold your breath and keep it in; you just stop breathing.” I never could do it, quite.

    He’s second in command of a nuclear submarine now and has, from time to time, spent 90 days underwater. Similar lesson, I guess.

  • For some reason the other day my RSS reader republished a bunch of your older posts. Somehow I had missed this one. As a panic/anxiety sufferer I was so happy to read this and find a new technique to use when I’m trying to dig out from under an attack.
    Thanks so much! I have printed this out and have it up in my office. :)