I had never thought about my breath being safe before.
But there I was, in my Saturday morning yoga class and when we were asked to breathe out as much as we could, I panicked. When you breathe all the way out, you don't have any more air.
Yes, I know. Duh.
When I breathed back in (after what felt like several excruciating seconds), I felt like I was gasping for air, a swimmer come to the surface, finally, greedily sucking down sweet oxygen. It didn’t feel very yogic.
I consulted a friend and restorative yoga instructor in Denver, CO, Sara Alan about my moment of panic, who assured me that it’s a normal experience.
"Our bodies aren’t used to the range of our breathing, the full capacity of our inhales and exhales," she said. "It can be scary—and uncomfortable—in the beginning when you first start experimenting with breath work exercises and shifting to a deeper natural breathing."
Maybe this comes down to a matter of trust. You have to trust that if you breathe all the way out, when you’re ready to breathe in again, the air will be there for you.
I’m not that good at that kind of trust. I like safety nets and backup plans. I like having the directions and a map. I thought about my friend Liz, who is this week packing up to leave New York and is heading to a new life in Seattle. I’ve been admiring her these last few months and the calm that she seems to be displaying as she breaths out this New York life.
If I were her, I would definitely be experiencing that same sense of panic that I felt when breathing out. But I think that she’s trusted that things will fall into place and her new life in Seattle will be there for her when she’s ready to breathe it in.
Her sense of calm seems to be working for her; just this week she found a great new job out there. Trust.
At the end of our "consultation," Sara told me my moment of panic meant that I was talking a step in the right direction, by exploring the range of breath that my body is capable of. I think Liz is probably doing the same.