Breathe In, Breathe Out

Breathe inBreathe out. Yet another doctor, with his stethoscope connecting his ears to my lungs, asks me to take a deep breath in, then out.

“Good, good. Again, take a deep breath in. Now out. Good, good.”

Free encouragement (or if you count the copay, $30 encouragement) for doing what my body has known how to do since I exited the womb. A promise to my confused digestive system that despite all the havoc it has wreaked through whatever it is keeping hidden in my gut, it is still doing “good, good” at successfully breathing in and out. A reminder that, contrary to those pecking thoughts that we aren’t where we ought/want to be, we are doing “good, good” enough as we breathe in, breathe out, again and again. As we just breathe.

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Breathe in. Breathe out. My yoga instructor Adriene (she doesn’t know I am her student, let alone that I exist, but I faithfully follow her YouTube channel) guides my breathing as vigilantly as she instructs my form and movement. Through her guidance I have become infinitely more flexible (first time in my life I can comfortably touch my toes!), and in the process of exchanging cardio for yoga, I have also become increasingly aware of breath. As our adrenaline spikes, as our stress boils to our eyeballs, as our fear creeps all the way into our toes, our breathing slams on the gas. When our breathing slams on the breaks, we’re dead. So the aim of yoga is to strike the balance, to drive the speed limit. Breathe in. Fill your lungs with refreshment. Intake a little gratitude. Remember what inspires you. Breathe out. Expel the frustrations. Drop the resentment. Release attempts to control. Just breathe.

Breathe in. Breathe out. I sit next to yet another fuming elementary school kiddo, as together we take a deep breath in for 5 seconds. Hold it. Then blow it all out. Again and again, we breathe in, breathe out, until his dark brows are no longer glued in a “V.” With another deep breath, he takes in a little calm. Breathing out, he expels enough anger from his 7-year-old frame to communicate what prompted the uncontrollable littering of profanities across a kickball game. And as I teach him a few alternatives to handling frustrations, he teaches me that sometimes it’s ok to lean on someone else as together we remember to just breathe. 

Breathe in. Breathe out. Uncontrollable sobs rattle my curled body, as I wrestle with the death of a friend, then the unexpected diagnosis of a sister-in-law, then the ongoing monster eating up my own gut. Bad news. Bad news. Bad news. How are we going to make it? Where the heck is God? Will things get better? Or the longer we live, do things just keep getting worse? Sobs and unanswered questions shower me with reminders that these are things I cannot fix. No effort of mine is going to change them. As I lie here in my position of defeat, the only answer I have to my swirling questions is to breathe in. Breathe out. Let yourself cry, but breathe in. Breathe out. And repeat. As long as you need. Until you can find enough strength to get up again. Just breathe.

Breathe in. Breathe out. My eyes are drawn to the hands in the dimly lit room, as some are raised in celebration, others are upturned in surrender, still others are folded delicately in prayer. The voices dance through the hands, “Every step, we are breathing in your grace. Evermore, we’ll be breathing out your praise.” I love this song. I have sung it dozens of times. Yet I still seem to forget its simple reminder. Perhaps because the reminder is so simple, we miss it: God only asks us for the basics. Breathe in. Accept grace. Breathe out. Offer praise. Just breathe.

Breathe in. Breathe out. We all have one thing in common – we breathe. We breathe in, and we take. We breathe out, we give. As humans with needs, we are wired to take, to find means of survival by consuming food, receiving love, preserving ourselves. I would also argue that as humans created in God’s image, we are designed to give, to pour ourselves into loving others, into passions that will improve the world, into raising families at the expense of personal comforts. The capacity to take and to give are intended to be interwoven, intertwined; as surely as we breathe in, we must breathe out. If we were only to take, only breathe in, our lungs would fill and the air would have nowhere to go. Our inability to release, to give, would kill us. If we were only to give, only breathe out, our lungs would deplete and suffocate us. Our refusal to intake would be the end of us and our best efforts to give to the world. As surely as we breathe in, we must breathe out. As surely as we give, we must accept our need to take. As surely as we take, we must learn to give away. Give. Take. Take. Give. Strike the balance. Breathe in. Breathe out. Just breathe.

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