in which we talk about breathing

handknits in the studio window

handknits in studio window


It’s been stressful, of course. Isn’t it always? Who doesn’t have stress? It’s a part of living. Me, I’m trying to get the studio ready for people. People, everybody. Like, John Q. Public levels of people. We’ve begun having Knit Nights, which are really just Craft Nights (I should start calling it that instead, maybe?) every Wednesday evening, which was a HUGE THING for me: what if they hated how industrial the space is? (They didn’t. It’s a seriously cool space.) Also: it’s my super- special safe space. Opening it up to everyone on the regular— it gave me the equivalent of emotional hives, I guess. I avoided this for so long for exactly that reason, almost hoarding the space, which is just silly. THIS IS WONDERFUL. I NEED TO SHARE. Sharing is caring, etc, etc, it’ll all be okay. And it was!

Now, we’re putting together classes. We have knowledge, and people want to learn! Why not, right? Oh, yeah: THE EPIC LEVELS OF WORK INVOLVED IN PUTTING TOGETHER CLASSES, PROBABLY? Possibly that. Almost certainly that. But to hell with it! CAUTION, MEET WIND.

Oh, god.

Let’s stop thinking about our stress. It just makes things worse. Let’s talk about coping. I’m crap at self- care, but this year I’m trying to make it priority.

One of my best friends is moving back to Maryland soon. It’s a gift, it really is; it came from out of the blue, a text: “How about a late Christmas present?” Indeed, sir. He and I were in Afghanistan together, in the DoD before that, and stationed together in the UK, way back when we were first coming up; he’s another safe places for me, and I’ll be glad to have him back. I find that lately when I’m stressed out I’ll go back to that moment of sitting in the car, that second when my phone dinged in my hand and that text came through, the sheer brilliant shot of happiness that I felt in that moment: my friend was coming home. Oh, this.

I don’t much care for visualizations, overall. (Allow me this break, it all circles back, I promise.) They tend to make me uncomfortable. I have no idea what that’s all about, but when I’m in a class, or doing continuing ed as a teacher and it comes up, I just get a case of the weirds- it doesn’t work for me most of the time. There’s something about someone else guiding my imagination- it puts me off. (Which, by the way, is a HILARIOUS thing for a yoga nidra guide/ teacher to say.)

But so many of my students like and benefit from them, and there are a few I use every so often. That friend who’s coming back to Maryland? When we were in working in the DoD together he taught me a trick that I think had been circulated through our group of friends as a survival technique, a way to make it through the daily cubicle grind and political labyrinth of government work. It isn’t always bad- don’t let me give you that impression- but when it is bad (say, just as fiscal year comes to a close, for example), it can be pretty tough.

So when I’m feeling ragged and I only have a moment or two to decompress, I’ll lock myself into a bathroom stall, lean against the door, close my eyes, and run this visualization, real quick: Breathe in pink, breathe out green.

It sounds so, so cheesy, I know. I KNOW. I mean, that’s some seriously dippy, dorky woo right there. I am not a fan of woo, either. Also? IT WORKS. It really, really does. Ten deep- breath repetitions of that later, I wouldn’t call myself 100% soothed, but I’m generally in a much better, calmer, more “me” sort of place. Part of it is physiological: deep breathing, it works every time. Bringing more oxygen into your system helps: we tend to tighten up and breathe from the chest when we’re under stress, but it’s also helping us access the parasympathetic division of our autonomous nervous system. This is the part of our nervous system that controls our heart rate, the dilation of our pupils and blood vessels, and can bring down many of the “fight or flight”, panicky- feeling, or overall stress responses from the other half of our CNS, the sympathetic nervous system.

Deep breathing alone doesn’t usually do the trick fully, though: it has to be focused deep breathing, and that’s why the visualization really works here— it brings your focus in to the breath and keeps it there. Taking our attention down to just one thing and holding it there for a period of time- even as brief a period as ten long full breaths- that’s important. It keeps us away from upsetting thoughts and distractions, all those things that might be causing us stress and pain, and that’s huge, but it also draws us inside, and that’s even better.

We can create a quiet space, internally. This is more of a long term project, but if you keep doing this sort of thing- just stopping periodically and taking long, deep breaths, focusing on them, doing a quick visualization alongside your breathing- you’ll start creating that space naturally. You can carry that silence with you, something you can tap into when you need it— and seriously, people need this. After years of teaching meditation, one of the most surprising things I’ve learned is how very deeply people need this without ever realizing it until they’ve dealt with it: our lives are so noisy, folks. If it isn’t just everyday life- cars, planes, music, TVs, the constant hum of electronics and engines and all that- it’s information. Email, social media, the Internet, it’s both addictive and overwhelming. Finding stillness, anywhere, can be a shock, but a welcome one.

And so: as I’ve been dealing with the (mostly positive) stress of trying to get everything arranged to open the studio, I’ve found myself doing this more and more frequently. It’s not a bad thing: it reminds me of my friend who’s coming back to MD soon, which is always a good thing, and it also helps to ground me. It reminds me to breathe, and gives me a quick moment of stillness in the middle of all the madness. It gives me room. I found myself taking a few deep breaths in the back of the studio late last week and thought that with all the quick meditation tricks I’ve been using lately to get through this transition, I should be sharing, too.

So much of what I use in my daily, non- sitting life, is beginner- friendly: I keep thinking I should pop more meditation work on the blog. Ahhh, something for my copious spare time, surely. 🙂

  One thought on “in which we talk about breathing

  1. April 2, 2014 at 2:23 am

    Thank-you for the reminder. It is so easy to forget to breathe… and it is such a simple thing to do.
    I’ve spent all day trying out out-knit my panic. (Knitting deadlines and the like) And although I’ve managed to knit away some stress, I think I’ll add a little breathing to the mix.

  2. April 3, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    I wish I lived close enough for knit night! One thought — there’s no reason to make it a weekly thing if it is stressful. Every other week or even once a month would probably be just as appreciated by the people attending. I’m in a knitting guild that only meets monthly and I still enjoy it, and with my schedule I couldn’t possibly go every week anyway. Just a thought! It’s great to have goals and go whole-hog, but sometimes partial-hog works, too (note to self…).

  3. April 5, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    Thanks for the tip – my work life has been pretty stressful lately with toxic people and situations out of my control. It’s made me an unpleasant person to be around. Mostly I’ve been trying to work on detaching from the bs and I think this can be one more tool in my kit. Thank you!

  4. September 7, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    Heya! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone!
    Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts!
    Carry on the excellent work!

  5. October 30, 2014 at 12:14 am

    Im so happy for U

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