How’s your breath today?

Red Queen's race

Are you breathing like you're running? Shallow and hot? Or are you present with your breath? How do you breathe?

In yoga–at least, in all the yoga styles I’ve practiced–we use a kind of breath called “Ujjayi Pranayama,” which means victorious breath. Say it, “Oo-JAI-ee Pra-NEE-Ah-mah,” and you’ll say it the way I do. No one will laugh at you, but you may not be saying it the Sanskrit way.

It sounds like the ocean or a slight hissing in the back of the throat because you use the throat lock slightly. In through the nose, out of the same, with a little whisper sound. It isn’t supposed to sound like Darth Vader, but some people are more aggressive than others. I’ve been called on having too aggressive a breath pattern before, stabbing it out like I’m exhaling smoke still, even though it’s been ten years since I’ve had a cigarette.

Cigarettes. I miss them still. It took six years before I stopped

bread and butter fly

Is your breath weak and absent? Cold? Like you aren't even here? An insect? A shadow of yourself? A crust or shell of yourself? Are you present with your breath today?

thinking about them every day. My mother said it would take five. I don’t hold that extra one against her. Smoking was an excuse to breathe deeply for seven minutes. Never mind that I smoked like an ancient weathered bingo patron named Gladys, inhaling deep, then talking for twenty seconds, then exhaling the smoke. My index and middle fingers and thumb on my right hand were slightly yellowed, and the nail polish would turn a different color on that hand. Never mind that I wheezed at twenty-one. That I had bronchitis every winter and had to get chest x-rays. Fiesta Cat says my bronchitis was like tennis elbow: it never went away, it just acted up. I had a chest rattle. I had a hard time going up stairs. They used to call me Nicotina at the gas station. I am not making that up. They didn’t like that I smoked straights. They tried to sell me lights instead. We argued about it. They asked me why–because there’s more nicotine in unfiltered cigarettes, I said. Hence the moniker Nicotina.

But smoking gives a person an excuse to stop everything and breathe deeply. Breathe noxious fumes, but breathe nonetheless. There is no other equivalent habit I have ever had. I don’t go outside and just breathe. Walking isn’t the same as standing in one place with the explicit purpose of filling my lungs.

Why worry about the breath? I’m not saying worry on it. (Or on awkward sentence construction that makes one appear to be an ESL learner, with the humbling issue of not having another language under one’s belt.) Be mindful of it. It’s true, you can change the state of the mind by changing the state of the body. A few deep breaths calm and clear the mind. I don’t know why and I don’t care. They just do. And lately, I’ve needed some calming and clearing. So I need to come back to the breath.

I’ll take some more deep breaths today. Even if they come out more like raggedy sighs, torn on one side and worn on the other. I think it’s because they pass over my heart, so jagged. It tears the breath. Shreds it. Who knows how long it will take for the breath to be soft and round again. Who knows.


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