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:)