Monday, November 17, 2014

Life Support - Allie's Story

Life Support
by Allie Duzette

DC girls retreat. Allie is in green turban.

I was not always awake.
I feel as though I was always very spiritual--I have had beautiful experiences with the Spirit since I was very, very young--but it wasn't until recently that my body caught up with my spirit. And when that happened, everything changed.
I woke up.
I had recently birthed my first child, and my husband and I had chosen to practice so-called "attachment parenting." This style of parenting involves a lot of breastfeeding and a lot of babywearing. My son was born at 10 and a half pounds. So babywearing and breastfeeding started off hard and got harder--mostly on my back.
One day I was looking at myself in the mirror, and I realized that my shoulders were practically touching my ears. I remember feeling surprised, and wondering what would happen if I relaxed them. It took a mighty effort, but with a giant inhale and then an even more gigantic exhale, I forced my shoulders down, down into the space where they should have been.
The effect only lasted until I took my next breath, and I watched as my shoulders immediately returned to their former position. As I stared at myself, I realized: I couldn't remember a time that my shoulders weren't in a state of tension.
That was the day I made the conscious decision to breathe--to breathe relaxation into my shoulders every single day. I didn't want that tension there, and I didn't know what else to do but breathe it out.
Looking back, this was probably the one single thing that set the stage for my spiritual awakening. Deep breaths infuse the body with prana, with life force, and strong, mindful exhalation ejects toxins from the body--toxins both physical and spiritual.
At the time, I didn't see the connection, but now looking back, it is so clear: as I began to breathe more mindfully, my soul started to change. Backlogged trauma and emotions began to clear. In their place, I was left with calm and peace.
Eventually, my shoulders took their rightful place once again, for the first time in maybe a decade or maybe two. The first time I saw my best friend after that day, she commented on how much longer my neck looked. "It looks good," she said.
I had studied breathing for years. In my youth I worked as a singer, and I took lessons and practiced very diligently. I would sing at the National Cathedral, the White House, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. My teacher would have me practice inhaling and exhaling and holding my breath every day. I had to learn how to project the breath in the form of sound, loud enough that my voice could fill a room without a microphone. I had to learn to breathe from the diaphragm instead of the chest; I had to learn how to create sound from even dwindling breath that yearns to be exhaled all at once. I had to learn to master my lungs enough to sing even when I ached to inhale or exhale; I had to control my volume and the depth of the sound escaping my lips.
In singing, everything comes down to breath support. I had known that for years and I had practiced it diligently in the context of music. But what I didn't realize was that everything inlife comes down to breath support. As Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. writes in his book Meditation as Medicine, breath is life, and life is but a series of breaths. Logically I had always known this--logically, we all know it--but it wasn't until I began to practice it that I realized how exceptionally true this is.
A few months into my awakening, I was led to the Progressive Prophetess blog, and I signed up for the 40-day introductory meditation class. During the class, Nam Joti Kaur explained that most people do not even breathe deeply enough for normal health.
I was shocked, and then decided to take matters into my own hands. I prayed that night for God's help in breathing deeply enough for optimal health. The next day, I couldn't stop gasping for air! Each breath felt like it could be my last, I breathed with such desperation. I needed more air. More and more and more. I think I breathed more often and more deeply that day than I had ever breathed in my entire life prior. But it was worth it. I noticed that in my more highly oxygenated and life-force-infused state, I was more easily able to handle the small things: the screaming children, the burned dinner, the sharp remarks from others. My increase in breath control led to an overall increase in self-control. And self-control is one of the most important things we can learn on this earth.
The prophet Brigham Young taught that eternal life is contingent on our self-control:

“The [body] must be brought in subjection to the spirit perfectly, or your bodies cannot be raised to inherit eternal life. . . . Seek diligently, until you bring all into subjection to the law of Christ.” [1]

As we learn to control the breath, we learn to control the self. Breath support is nothing more than life support.

[1]Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), 204.

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