When Your Breath Is All There Is

My body sliced through the cool freshwater, headfirst. As I resurfaced, I turned toward the dock where my husband and two kids fist-pumped. “Wooooot! Yay!” mixed with the sound of the waves lapping against the dock’s pillars. “Mommy?” My toddler’s voice drifted toward me.

Waving, I turned away from them and faced the rest of the lake; this massive, seemingly endless body of water that stretched before me. I kept my face above water but allowed my body to move in a familiar breaststroke. It was so natural to move my limbs this way; their power propelled me further out. My breathing hadn’t slowed down much. In fact, my breath seemed to be coming a bit quicker, and shallow. As confident as I was in a pool, I wasn’t used to being immersed in this much water and I couldn’t seem to calm myself down. The small waves started to look bigger as they broke around my neck and shoulders.

Calm down. Everything is fine. 

I treaded water and looked over my shoulder at my family watching from the dock. Looking back at that moment, I know it wasn’t fear that pulsed through my body, but rather a deep need to let go. To relax. Which is probably why, instead of swimming back, I found myself leaning back, letting my feet drift skyward. Slowly, ever so slowly, I submerged my ears in the water.

Back float. One of the first things they teach us when we learn to swim.

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Head way back, eyes taking in blue sky, toes peeking out above the surface, hands drifting out like a star.

And all there is, is that seashell-pressed-against-the-ear sound…and our amplified breath.

The sound of my breath caught me by surprise and I could hear it get louder and quicker. I breathed in deeply through my nostrils and then let it pass through my mouth. My next breath was also deep and purposeful. Innnnnn and ouuuuuuut.

I smiled, finally connecting with a sense of calm. Feeling beautiful and magical as my hair did its own dance around my head. I was floating on water and floating on a cloud at the same time. Another breath. Innnnnn and ouuuuuut. I could hear the difference in my breathing now. Slow and long and calm. The water that just a few minutes before felt like a great big entity outside and all around me, now felt like something that I was simply a part of.

My thoughts drifted to other times when being aware of my breath had the same kind of effect.

Music. Playing the saxophone. Of course, being a wind instrument, you can’t get away from your breath. Just to make a sound, you have to be aware of filling up your lungs and expelling air at a certain pace and pressure. Playing the piano. Even though it’s your fingers that do the singing, your breath still plays a part. At the end of a phrase mark, your whole body takes a breath.

Yoga. Movement and breath flow together. You hold poses for a certain number of breaths. You move on inhalations and exhalations.

Meditation. Sitting quietly. Making your breath your complete awareness.

Reading out loud. Whether it’s poetry on stage, or a prose piece in front of a writing group, or a children’s story for your kids, reading out loud demands we use our breath efficiently. There’s rhythm and cadence to consider, and breath is a big part of that.

Floating on my back in the lake, it all came together for me. I understood why I need things like music, yoga, poetry and meditation in my life. Why I need to sometimes just float and let go and know that if I just take in my next breath and let it out slowly, I can feel relaxed in the middle of anywhere or anything.

Taking the practice of purposeful, deep breathing outside of these activities will serve me well. Innnnn and ouuuuut in the middle of an unnerving situation, the children squabbling, a painful memory.

It will serve me well.

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