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home : commentary : shesaid May 26, 2016

Intentional breath
"And remember: Breathing is not optional."
Again, I wonder if she's talking to me.

by Tami Mohamed Brown

I sit on the floor, soles of my feet together, back straight, eyes closed.

There are 12 other people parked on borrowed yoga mats and towels on the dusty, sprung wooden floor, the room quiet but for the background soundtrack suggestive of waves washing against the shore-repetitive, soothing, the noise coming from the speaker in the front right of the studio and from somewhere in the back.

Or perhaps it's not waves I'm hearing over this pseudo-surround sound, but wind?

Or a rushing river over rocks?

And I'm off. Literally.

I'm taking a yoga class to practice being mindful, meditative.

I entered the studio with the intention of clearing my mind which is, in all reality, still at work, where I think I may have forgotten to set up an auto-reply for my email to let people know I am out of the office for a day and will return both email and voice mail when I return on Monday morning.

Once I've gone there, my mind begins to wander further, recounting the events of my day, and I'm even further off track. My eyes open-just a peek, really-to see what kind of position everyone else has settled into. To notice, in that one instant of open-eyedness, the headlights of a turning car in the parking lot outside flash across the windows, the clank of a dropped weight beyond the studio door, the fact that my hands are feeling awkward at my sides and that at some point my foot may fall asleep. I quickly pull down my T-shirt, which has been slowly creeping toward the waistband of my sweats. My wrist itches.

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From the rear of the room comes the instructor's voice, a reminder, equally as soothing and relaxed as the lapping waves:

"Relax your shoulders. Let them drop."

Is she talking specifically to me?

I drop my shoulders, drop the weight of my head forward and let it lift again in an attempt to identify a new center.

"Good." (Yes! She must have been talking to me).

"And remember: Breathing is not optional."

Again, I wonder if she's talking to me.

Sometimes, I know, I hold my breath. I remember that although we can live for weeks without food, live for days without water, we can only live a matter of minutes without breathing. I breathe in, noisily, exhale loudly, very consciously considering the way my shoulders rise and my sides seem to expand, the variation between the shallow chest breaths and the deep expanse of the belly in a breath that comes from a place, the difference between the slow intake of air through the nose and the gulp of oxygen through the mouth.

Again, from the rear of the room, that soothing voice with the unarguably perfect timing, encouraging and affirming with a simple, "Good. Enjoy your inhale. You don't have to struggle with your breath."

I concentrate for the next few minutes on making sure my breathing is quieter, the inhale and the exhale bearing equal weight, not as labored. My concentration falls away and my shoulders sink to inhabit their rightful place. My head feels weightless. My hands no longer matter.

And for just a moment, I'm no longer effort-ing to be still and present.

I'm simply and intentionally here.
Tami Mohamed Brown lives in Bloomington with her family.

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