So I ushered in the New Year gasping – not in wonder and awe that we’d survived the world’s ending as predicted by some, but – for lungs full of air! Some mysterious agent, all the usual suspects were ruled out, laid me out for close on two weeks. The only thing I knew was that for the first time in memory, I had to get help to breathe.
In the days leading up to the Urgent Care visit, I lay in bed acutely aware of my body’s struggle for oxygen. The changes – physical, mental and emotional – brought about by this lack of oxygen were astounding. My face had shrunken and had become grey. I was weepy. Speaking was almost impossible (a nightmare for someone who started talking before her first birthday). The times I did try speaking, my voice was weak and filled with huge ‘hollows’. These hollows were only rivaled by the ever increasing dark circles and sink holes that were appearing around my eyes. Each morning as I leaned over the sink to wash my face, I would straighten up to notice my eyes growing glassier as if a little light was receding far back into a darkened room. The windows of my eyes were like foggy black glass at a smoggy dockyard. Too fatigued and mentally incapable of forming a coherent thought, all I could do was lay in bed and watch what was happening in my body and mind, as it happened.
The little air I could draw in to my body fought an uphill battle to get to my lungs. It ran an audible obstacle course through mucus-filled bronchi; the air would bubble up and then a curious little ‘clicking’ sound would begin. It would dissipate when I exhaled only to appear again on the inhalation. Because of the sound, I could track the oxygen as it made its arduous journey to my lungs.
This struggle highlighted how free and easy breathing normally is, and how much I take it for granted. Other insights came later – body and mind are intricately intertwined in the delicate dance of life. Getting to know this balance or even just paying attention to it from time to time is well worth the effort. We don’t have to wait for something to go wrong, or for the systems to begin malfunctioning before we appreciate what a wondrous thing breathing is. Can we afford not to notice this ‘everyday miracle?’
After all, everything we do in life is by courtesy of breath. So being mindful, even for a few minutes a day, is beneficial in so many ways. Scientific Meditation research is showing that even spending 12 minutes a day improves short term memory, increases attention, and decreases distractibility. In as little as 8 weeks, Mindfulness meditation brings about structural changes to the brain: new neural pathways and connections develop, grey matter increases, and different parts of the brain are activated to respond to life situations. And as the brain likes repetition, doing this everyday for a few minutes will make a big difference to our brains and how we negotiate life from moment to moment. If you are interested in the brain changes brought about by mindfulness, check out the link to “Your Brain on Mindfulness” and “The Neurobiology of Mindfulness” on my website.
In this New Year, may you do some healthy gasping in awe of life’s wonders!