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All You Have to Do is Breathe

All You Have to Do is Breathe

All You Have to Do is Breathe

breatheA funny thing happened on my way to yoga class on Christmas Eve a few years back. After 10 years of taking yoga classes, I practiced yoga for the first time.

As I drove to the yoga studio, I mentally refined my newly acquired ability to kick up into handstand, after years of futile attempts. I thought ahead to the oyster stew my visiting mother and I would make for Christmas Eve dinner.  And I mapped out my yoga schedule for the rest of the week.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large truck run a red light and then hurtle through the intersection toward me.  I tried to turn to avoid it, but he was coming too fast.

As the grill of the truck neared impact, I didn’t think of death. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. I didn’t think of loved ones I’d never see again. I thought, instead, of how this would affect my yoga practice.

Without planning it, without realizing it, yoga has begun to define me as a person. I started my practice 14 years ago, as a complement to my running program. Over the years, as my priorities and physical capabilities shifted, so did my practice. Before I knew it, I was immersed in a dedicated Power Yoga practice 5 days a week.

I was not an athlete as a child. I wasn’t on sports teams and I’ve never done a cartwheel. Learning over the past few years that even this fifty-something body could balance in side crow has been an enlightening experience. I have strength in my upper body for the first time in my life. I can focus on my breath in the most difficult of positions.

The truck crashed into the driver’s side door with a powerful force and then the world slowed down. My car spun around for what seemed an eternity as a thunderstorm of glass pellets rained over me. When the car came to a stop, I was pinned inside, my seat now wrapped around me, the door caved in on my left side.

My left shoulder hurt—I knew something was terribly wrong. I was covered in glass.  I was scared and I was shaking, but I didn’t panic. I remembered what my teachers say to us in class everyday: breathe.

So I breathed.

As I waited for the ambulance, I thought. “breathe.” As the firefighter climbed in next to me and held my hand while they used the jaws of life to pull the car door off, I thought, “breathe.”

As they cut off my clothes and slipped a neck brace on, I thought, “breathe.” While they gently pulled me onto the hard plastic board and taped my head to it, I thought. “breathe.” When, during each of these moments sharp pain shot through my body, I thought, “breathe.”

In the ambulance, after taking my vitals, the EMT remarked that they were healthy for someone just getting out of bed, much less after being pulled from a totaled car. I smiled and told her about yoga.

Our teachers tell us that how we deal with challenging moments on the mat is a reflection of how we deal with the challenges we face in life. I hear that in class nearly every day, but on Christmas Eve, I finally got it.

Yoga has taught me one thing I know for certain: when your world turns upside down, all you have to do is breathe.