“Jill, you are holding your breath,” admonishes my personal trainer – and not for the first time. As I am working to become physically stronger, I am learning that I need to breathe in and breathe out. I can use my breath in rhythm with lifting weights and pushing on machines to be strong, keep balanced and avoid injury. But it seems that when the going gets tough – and the weights get heavy – I clam up. My mouth closes and I hold in my breath. I don’t even notice I’m doing it, until Dan commands: “Breathe!”.
This isn’t the first time in my life I’ve been advised to breathe. When I was giving birth to my first born I clearly remember the birth-nurse yelling at me to breathe. She wanted me to push my son into the world – but I was numb from the epidural and holding my breath from the pain. Where did I learn this habit of holding my breath? I think of the common expression, “holding your breath” and realize its meaning has relevance to me. When I was growing up my Mom had a difficult life. She was always taking care of some crisis to do with raising nine children on her own. Often she was rushing to get ready to go to work, at the same time barking instructions to us kids. We tried to stay out of her way. Her violent moods were unpredictable. I think that’s when I first started holding my breathe. If I stayed still and blended into the furnishings I was less likely to be a target of her wrath. I held my breath as I waited to see what awful thing would happen next.
Today I know that our Lord, our Father, is a kind and loving parent. He is not unpredictable but totally consistent. He never has a bad day, and his feelings toward me are not at all dependent on what I’m doing to please him. Breathing regularly, in and out, creates peace and harmony in our physical bodies. It also shows that we are relaxed enough to trust God with what’s coming next.
As a Coach I teach people to stop their rushing around and pay attention to their breathing. Sitting for just a few minutes and breathing consciously does wonderful things. I’ve noticed it opens my heart up. Breathing is not a prerequisite for living, it is crucial to loving.