A few weeks ago, I reconnected with a friend of mine I hadn't seen in almost 20 years. My friend Wilma and I had met in the early 90's, when I was still in law school and she was still a respiratory therapist. We used to be really close, and as sometimes happens between friends, we drifted apart, moved away. But then, through the miracle of Facebook, we're suddenly back in touch again.
Wilma is no longer is a respiratory therapist; in fact, she happens to be a massage therapist now. A few days after we reunited, she came to my house to give me a massage. I'm not someone who generally gets massages -- I think I feel so indulgent when I get them, or something -- but I have to say, after experiencing Wilma's work, I certainly see the appeal. As she worked, we talked about her work, and about massage and touch, and just generally about taking care of ourselves.
"You know, Karen," she said, "all we have are our bodies and our breath. It's essential for our spirits that we take care of both."
All we have are our bodies and our breath.
Her words reminded me of a time in my life when I hadn't been doing a particularly good job of taking care of either. Ironically, it was about 20 years or so ago around the same time that I had met Wilma, and I had worked myself into a deep blue funk. Having been raised Catholic, I found myself turning to the church -- going back to Mass more often -- but I also began reading about Eastern religions and philosophies as well. And eventually, I made the decision to try to meditate.
At first, my attempts were laughable. Saying "om" to myself as I sat crosslegged on the floor felt ridiculous, so I stopped, and instead, tried to remain silent. I tried to empty my mind, but instead of becoming still, all of my worries and concerns came flooding back in. But I kept trying -- every day, for at least 30 minutes a day -- and eventually, I figured out a way of meditation that worked for me: I would slow my breath down as much as possible, and with closed eyes, visualize myself walking through a tunnel toward a light that was always just out of reach as the tunnel twisted and turned. And every time a random thought would come into my mind, I would acknowledge it, then bring my mind back to my imaginary tunnel.
Ridiculous, isn't it?
Thing is, it worked. I became much more calm, much more serene, even in my everyday life when I wasn't meditating. I began to stop worrying about what was wrong in my life, and instead, started to focus on what was right. I even began ending my days with a gratitude practice: thinking of at least one good thing that happened to me during the day, and feeling grateful for it.
And I began to realize that regardless of religion or faith, the simple act of spending a dedicated amount of time on my spirit, combined with a practice of gratitude, was transforming my outlook on life, making me a far healthier person. Since that time, I'm sorry to say that my meditation practice has become more sporadic; still, my journaling practice of writing down my thoughts has increased tremendously, and in many ways, journaling feeds my spirit in a similar way. In many ways, it's like written meditation.
Still, I need to slow down again, though. As my friend says, all we have is our bodies and our breath.
Anyway, this month, I had the opportunity to sit and speak with Karolyn, who is a yoga instructor here in Houston, and like my friend Wilma, is a very spiritual person. She's a wonderfully calming presence, and as we talked, she shared her own thoughts on spirituality and breath. Here's what she had to say:
Karolyn's awesome. After we turned the microphone off, we continued chatting, and she mentioned that back when she was in junior high she had a science teacher who used to say that if you made a practice of breathing very slowly and deeply ten times, as soon as you awoke in the morning and before you got out of bed (in the way Karolyn describes in the video), you would never get sick, you would remain at peace, and your spirit would be healthy.
I don't know if it's true, but it's worth a try, isn't it?
So this month, your challenge is to do as Karolyn's science teacher suggests: every day, try to breath 10 times -- slowly, mindfully, just like Karolyn describes in the video. If you can remember to do it before you get out of bed, that's a bonus; however, if not, make a point to do it at some point in the day, each day, anyway. Again, do it 10 times, but if you want to do it for longer, that's cool too. I'll do the same. And at the end of the month, we'll report back to each other and see what we learn about ourselves.
Are you in?
I hope so. In the meantime, remember: your spirit is beautiful.