When I was a little girl, my family and I shared our summer holidays in ‘Macrae’, a beautiful beachside suburb of the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. The water was sparkly green-blue and sometimes grey as the mood of the sky reflected back a predictable color and pattern for most of our summer.
I would play and swim for hours on that beach, walking up to Rosebud pier and back and accumulating and intensifying every freckle that is still on my skin today. I used to dive under the water and hold my breath for as long as physically possible, and rejoice in the inhalation of new oxygen as I burst out of the water for embracing life. I shuddered at the thought of not being able to breathe, not being able to take in those deep inhales, and express those necessary exhales.
I was sharing this story with a friend very recently and she suggested I write about the absolute joy and necessity of breathing for life, to ‘live’, and how we all take it for granted. Thinking back to the little girl in me, I became very good at holding my breath, but it scared me so much the thought of not being able to breathe; the thought of not being able to maintain a steady flow of air and experience the rise and fall of my chest.
Breathing and lungs became a noticeable character in my ‘body factory’, that’s how I see the body, as a factory! When I was a little girl I was a good swimmer, I could swim for long periods of time and never tire. I maintained this fool-hardy bravery in the water until one day I swam out to the barnacle-covered floating buoy, that was probably 200 meters out in the ocean and clung to it as I observed the bay and people back on the beach. The water was steel grey in color and had become choppy as the wind picked up. I had cut myself on the shells that mummified themselves to the floating mass and felt the sting of saltwater tease the wound. It was then that I realized I was not alone out in the ocean. I observed a fairly substantial size fin gliding arrogantly around the area where I was moments before confidently stroking through the water with not a care in the world.
Was that a shark? Was that really what I thought it was? I was bleeding a little from the barnacle cut on my leg. I was acutely aware of what that could mean if a shark was nearby. Looking back at the beach now I noticed everyone was out of the water, and simultaneously the surveillance small plane flew overhead and circled exactly where I was. Yes, that was a shark, and I was in its back yard! My breathing increased, my heart was pumping through my chest, I was now terrified. I looked back at the beach and saw that my father was clearly defined at the edge of the water. I could just make him out! Someone in a small tinny came out to where I was, the boat was rocking around with such accuracy I thought I would be run over by it, but with great skill, the boat maneuvered right up to where I was clinging on for dear life, and I was able to clamber into that life raft. I can’t remember much else about that experience, what the guy in the boat looked like or even if the shark was still visible? I can remember my breathing was intense, labored, and frantic. As the little tinny approached the beach I could see clearly my father’s face, and it looked like he had gone grey in an instant. My dad remembers some of this story, he remembers me doing many adventurous swims and putting my girlfriends through hell as I engaged in tomboy activities. I don’t think he was aware of what was going on until I shared the sighting of the fin in the water. Then it hit him. Through it all, I kept coming back to breathing, to really being grateful to be able to breathe.
Christopher Reeve, the man who played ‘Superman’, was left quadriplegic after being thrown from a horse during an equestrian competition in Culpeper, Virginia. It was the 27th of May 1995. For the rest of his life, he required a wheelchair and a portable ventilator to breathe. He died on the 10th of October 2004 at the age of 52 leaving behind 3 children and a loving wife. What a remarkable man he was, in an interview he was said to be quite upbeat about his situation, although of course at first devasted about his prognosis, after time he came to a more philosophical outlook, saying that if the accident had of happened just 2 years earlier, he wouldn’t be alive. He claimed that the technology to keep him breathing wouldn’t have been invented then, and so he was relatively lucky! Again breathing came into the foreground as more than relevant, and for me reading about him in a book by Dalai Lama on Happiness, it just highlighted that a simple act of observing the breath, and coming back to the breath could be instrumental in changing the mind, the outlook and the physicality of living.
As you are reading this, you are breathing, you are now aware you are breathing because I’ve highlighted it! If you hold your breath, you will eventually feel the change in your posture, the building tension, the dull pump of your heart competing for attention, and then as if your heart is a personality within your body, a panic message is sent surging through the blood trying to talk the brain out of such stupidity, “Hey! what are you doing? We need to open the lungs again, we need to be breathing, exhale now!” Now you let out the remaining air and take in that beautiful life-giving air into your lungs, holding it momentarily a greedy instinct comes immediately to you and you breathe again, deep and consciously. You are alive! It’s amazing, it’s really amazing! Breathing is something you do every few seconds, every minute, every hour, every day until finally one day you take your last breath.
I saw my mum take her last few breaths, but I didn’t see her pass away. My dear mum waited until no one was there, and then she left her dear little body and went to the next realm. Her last day she was receiving oxygen from a steel grey tank that dominated the space beside her in the small bedroom within the age care facility. The mask on her nose nearly took over her face. A substantial tube trailed back to the oxygen cylinder. I was aware that this was keeping her alive or at least in a less painful position. There was lots of thoughtful breathing that day, watching my mum just quietly leaving her living presence, it’s quite somber and comes with it a mixture of sadness, guilt, and relief. Sadness because I lost my mum intellectually many years before she died, due to her dementia. Guilt because I could have done more for her, perhaps even visited more than I did, and relief because she was no longer suffering or in a body that wasn’t able to move. She was now at peace somewhere else, with God, and with all her other loving relatives.
I have so many stories about the significance of breathing in my own life, from the first public speaking engagement where I had to quieten my nerves with substantial deep breathing, to running marathons, swimming years later (with hundreds of other people) in the Pier to Pub event at Lorne in Victoria, twice and trekking up hills in the jungles of Kokoda, as maintaining and managing one’s breathing was crucial for staying on the track. Running, Walking, Stretching, Yoga!
Breathing in essential oils has always been a ‘must’ in my health regime. I see and experience scent as significant to health! What we inhale through the air and how those various bacterias, resins, outgassing, and odors affect us is all relevant to our health. I use essential oils to expand and heighten the potential of my inhale. To counteract a foreign and more sinister aroma and to bring more life-giving oxygen into my body. I consider diffusing an essential oil or blend a vital contributor to the experience of breathing.
Breathing in Yoga, and remembering to come back to the breath was the lesson for me. I even resisted some of the stretches because of the breathing part, I forgot to hold the posture and complete it more effectively by breathing into the stretch. Every good Yoga instructor will tell you that it’s vital to come back to the breath.
But you know the most important message around breathing from me to you, is to celebrate it often, to never take it for granted and to be conscious about breathing whenever and where ever you are. Breathing is life, it takes the stage as lead singer, backing singers, and audience, it’s the only thing that really matters!
Enjoy breathing. x Annie