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just breathe

Breathe, Holly, Breathe. These words have been yelled at me by coaches, whispered by concerned friends, and tapped out in a rhythm by my Apple watch. (I know Apple says these reminders are not heart rate driven but I simply do not believe them.)

Under stress, our bodies return to primitive roots, constricting muscles and narrowing airways, ensuring that all of the extra oxygen in our bodies is redirected to our muscles, ready to bolt from the perceived danger. The problem is that, today, the stress many of us experience are work deadlines, busy schedules, and personal trauma, none of which can be effectively solved by running.

We need that oxygen where it can help us take a thoughtful step forward instead of a panicked dash. We need that oxygen in our brains. We need to breathe.

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.

Breathing brings us back from stress and anxiety. Breathing gives us the courage to step up to the podium. Breathing brings us back to our center. It grounds us so that we can take the next right step forward.

I wish I would have known that a few deep breaths are like magic.

Over a year ago I injured my back so severely that I couldn’t move without crying. I couldn’t sit without pain, stand without pain, or walk without pain but there was nothing physically wrong with me except that my muscles were tight and weak. Off to physical therapy I went to strengthen and loosen anything and everything I could. It took months. Months of stretching and incrementally strengthening muscles that seemed nowhere near my lower back. Months of undoing what I had allowed stress to do to my body.

Determined to never let this happen again, I decided it was time to focus on self-care. Instead of allowing stress to guide my days, I needed to take steps to ensure my body and mind were cared for fully. I jumped on the self-care bandwagon, settling in with a glass of wine and a beauty mask in front of Netflix, breaking from my life to let my body recover.

Except it wasn’t recovering. The painful early warning signs reappeared so I pivoted my self-care routine, moving away from “relaxing” and toward true relaxing. Inhale, exhale.

Every morning, I rolled out my yoga mat and began breathing and stretching. With each pose, my body became stronger and surprisingly, so did my mind. The fog lifted, the pain disappeared and I could see clearly once again. All with only 15 minutes of yoga a day. Fifteen minutes of breathing and stretching first thing in the morning was the start my body and mind needed to move towards health.

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale, Inhale, exhale.

Advent asks us to return to our center so that we can move forward with Jesus. Jesus doesn’t require us to be in perfect health to follow him. On the contrary, he is often the one who heals us so that we can pick up our mat and move on. But I don’t want to be the one Jesus always has to heal. I want to be healthy enough to be a part of the healing.

Advent is the waiting before the call to action. Is it is the breath we take before the birth of light in the world. It is our time to breathe so we are ready to be a part of Christ’s healing action. Inhale, exhale. We can do this.

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