Tag Archives: breath

“I Change Shapes Just to Hide in This Place. But I’m Still, I’m Still — an Animal.”

I would have much rather gone out for a walk.  But stubbornly, yesterday, I began to run.

I ran mostly out of habit, and because I was running out of time.  But even as I changed my stride, from one block to the next, I still thought:

“I think I’d much rather be walking, right now.”

It had always been my thing:  to run.  In junior high, I’d run long distances.  I never thought of myself as being good at it.  It was just something that came easy.  And it happened way before I knew about meditation or understood transcendence of the mind.  To me, it simply granted the easiest excuse to be alone and not talking.  Just breathing and placing down my feet.  My breath would change throughout the course, and so would the stride.

Sometimes, I’d stare at the ground:  The soggy fields of Russia, and the uneven asphalt of Eastern Germany.  I’d study the way the surface would respond to the impact of my feet.  We had no knowledge of American footwear back then, so the cloth running shoes with thin rubber soles were the only type we knew.  And even as the surfaces would change — as I would change my continents — the thin-soled shoes remained my favorite choice:  In the gravelly passages of Central Park, and the dusty hills of Southern California.  

Other times, I would look ahead.  It was best to do so on an open track.  I wouldn’t strain my eyes for a strip of color marking the end of the course.  Instead, I would let my vision get blurry, and I would study the blending of objects in the endlessness of what’s ahead.  Things didn’t matter.  People would be accidental.  So, I would find the empty spaces of air ahead, and look at those.  That’s why running in the fall of Russia’s coastal cities had always been the easiest.  The fog already blurred my vision, and all I would feel was — the change in breath and stride.

I don’t remember being tired, as a kid; and not until the first menstrual cycles of my classmates, did I begin to overhear excuses for not running.  My thin, balletic body was one of the last to be introduced to its new function that made my female contemporaries embarrassed and secretive among each other.  But even when it happened to me, I kept up with my running.  On bleeding days, I would wear longer sweaters and tighter underwear; but the slow, moaning ache in my lower stomach would not matter.  It would change my stride a little:  I would prefer to run lighter then, as if doing a chasse step across a dance floor.  I’d land on my toes, as I would when leaping over strewn blankets on a lake’s bank in my grandma’s village in the Far East, while I myself dashed for the water:  to join other sunbathing kids and to avoid my motha’s strict instructions to put on sunblock.  (But secretly, I hoped that my silly chasse step would make her laugh and shake her head, with bangs getting into her glistening eyes.)

The days of tiredness that would seduce me out of running would happen much, much later.  They would happen in the late mornings of waking after a graveyard shift at a Westchester diner.  A pair of ugly nursing shoes with sole support and splatters of dried foods would be the only visual reminder of the night before.  And the heavy lead-like weight of my calves would talk me out of running.

“Who’s up for a walk?” I’d holler down the hallway with three other doors.

And if the bathroom at the end of it was free, I’d forget about the lead-filled feeling in my calves and make a run for it, while pounding my heels into the carpeted floor.

Much later in my running history, I would begin to study people.  It had to happen in California where exercise is fashion; and depending on one’s routine, we all belong to little clans.  When running with others, it would propel me, out of competition, anger or inspiration.  Sometimes, I’d follow their footsteps like a shadow of compassion:  The sweaty faces of lonesome hikers in the Hollywood Hills, or the bright eyes of those rad people of San Francisco who’d made a life out of NOT giving up.

When running stubbornly, yesterday, I thought of the history of my strides; and then, began trying them on.  At first, I ran tiredly, as if I was back to working my way through college, in Westchester, New York.  Then, I began to push, hitting the ground with my heel (so unhealthy!) — out of anger and never wanting to give up.  The chasse step would eventually take over, and the lightness of it spread up my body, up to my lungs and face.

That’s when I saw him:  A headless man walking slowly ahead.  At first, I thought he may have dropped something to the ground and was now retracing his steps.  But as he continued slowly placing his feet onto the smooth pavement of the quiet neighborhood, I realized he was a victim of arthritis, age, and most likely incredible loss.  He was hunched over so low, I could not see his head, as I ran up on him, from behind.  I slowed down and began following his footsteps.

A pair of khaki shorts revealed his thin, brown legs, covered with sores and age spots.  His shoes were worn out and the thick white socks were pulled halfway up his calves.  I studied his stride:  He dragged each foot ahead, then struggled to gain balance.  Then, repeat.  Stubbornly.

He would much rather have been walking, yesterday, alone and not talking.  I shook off the idea of offering help (this was the time when charity would have been offensive); passed him quietly, and began to run.

Stubbornly.

“Been Waiting for a Long, Long Time — Just To Get Off and Throw My Hands Up High!”

Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay!  This morning, I did wake up mellow and all.  I even meditated before brushing my teeth:  Staying flat on my back on a mattress notorious for having less give than my floor, I stared at the ceiling and counted my breaths.  In — hold — out:  one.  In — hold — out:  two.

Maybe I should take the hold out.  In — out:  one.  In — out… Shit!  It feels like I am about to hyperventilate.

Okay, I better hold.

Well, that didn’t work.  My breathing has been suffering from a bit of shortness this month:  Rent is due in a coupla weeks, and if you ever dwelled in LA-LA, you know that in the last weeks of August, the town goes dead and its army of freelancers and independent contractors are better off leaving town — or they go homicidal with despair.

Still in bed, I switched my tactic.  On my notoriously firm mattress, I assumed the position of an upside-down starfish and I recalled hearing a successful man point out the main recipe for his prosperity: GRATITUDE — he said last night.

Aha! I’ve suspected that much.

Gratitude is habitual for me, and this year I’ve had to practice quite a bit of it:  Somewhere in the transition to my life of a self-published writer, a self-taught blogger; to the high-wire act of a freelancer and the truly delightful experience of single-girl-dom that crashed onto my head unexpectedly, in the midst of all that, via an abrupt decision by my partner to depart — summoning my gratitude has been crucial for keeping tabs on my sanity.  ‘Cause I’m an angry little girl who’s got one hell of a spirit in her — and way too much to say!  And if not channeled toward crossing oceans and conquering fears, that wrath could easily metamorphose into a cancer.

Face down, on my notoriously firm mattress, I began making a list of all the things for which I felt — or could feel — grateful.

Well, let’s see:  There is health.  And, then…

“But:  WHY?!  Why is this child screaming at the top of her lungs?”

I noticed the shrill sound earlier this morning.  I had to:  It was the very reason for my being awake.  With intervals filled with other mellow sounds of my neighborhood — the jiggle of an ice-cream cart and the remote hum of a drill — this little girl had been screaming as if she was being exorcized, at the start of the day.

And it wasn’t really a cry of pain:  Past that I could NOT have meditated.  Instead, it was more like a holler to test the strength of her throat, to flex her lung power.  She would start out low, as if cooing; then unexpectedly wind it up, switch the registers until it would sound like a piercing shriek meant to break glass and porcelain coffee cups — or maybe even hearts!  And just as unpredictably — she would go quiet.

But back to my list of all the things for which I felt — or could feel — grateful:

Well, there is health.  And then…

And, then, there is this one hell of a spirit of mine!  I don’t really know where it comes from:  Perhaps, I’ve inherited it from all the other angry little girls that preceded me, in my family.  It has been tested by life:  Through generations, we have encountered enough shit to squash it down; to not survive, to retreat.  Instead, every angry little girl would get more fired up:  And that wrath would force us to cross oceans, to conquer fears, to make up new dreams and pick-up new adventures; to get past the unexpected changes; to shrug off our partners’ abrupt decisions to depart and to move on to the next, bettered versions of ourselves.

And we would scream.  I’ve heard my motha do it:  She would start out low; then unexpectedly wind it up, switch the registers until it would sound like a piercing shriek meant to break glass — or maybe even hearts.  And she would NOT get quiet for hours, for days.  It would be like a private exorcism, at the start of every day, by a madwoman desperately trying to keep tabs on her sanity.  And if she didn’t give that wrath a voice — it would metamorphose into a cancer of regrets and resentments.  So, she screamed.

As I also scream, nowadays, behind the wheel of my car, driving through downtown at midnight, with all the window rolled down.   

The angry little girl screamed for hours this morning.  She continued to holler, at intervals, as I finally got up from my notoriously firm mattress to do my work; then to hustle for more work in this dead town, at the end of August.  She hollered as I cleaned my place and tied up all the loose ends with the disciplined routine of my single-girl-dom.  She shrieked as I left the house for my morning run, and I could hear her for miles, until I finally switched on my iPod.

When the shortness of breath kicked in again, later in the day, I began making a list of all the things for which I felt — or could feel — grateful.  There was health, of course.  And then, there were things.

But if I visualized those things, the images didn’t last.  They popped like rainbow-tinted bubbles, and each idea of gratitude was replaced by the faces of the other angry little girls in my family who have guided me with our collective one hell of a spirit.  Then, there were the faces of those I had chosen to make up into my own family:  My angry people, my unstoppable comrades, my fellow spirits.  My most valuable possession, they are — the reason and often the source of my prosperity.  And if I look at it like that:  I’m a very successful woman, already.

Still, that’s no reason to stop summoning the gratitude, at the start of every day.

And when that doesn’t work, I can always give voice to my wrath and start screaming:  to flex my strength, to hear the echos of my power, and to get to the other side of it — and to always overcome.  Otherwise, the wrath would metamorphose into a cancer of regrets and resentments.  So:

It’s better to scream.

Yoga Orgasm? Anyone?

“If you don’t experience an orgasm here–in dance–you won’t experience it in life.”

Last night my brown, stunning yoga teacher gave me an ultimatum in a class she was invited to substitute.  Or perhaps, she spoke to the other four women who, just like I, had no idea what just hit them.  Because you see, we were expecting to be in the midst of level 1/2 of bending and twisting ourselves past the mind’s resistance, just so some of us could land in our bodies, while I very much desired to step out of it:  Out of the mind that has been thrashing about like a captured wild cat for the last–oh, I don’t know–lifetime.  Instead, there she stood:  killer looks–a fucking Kama Sutra goddess, picture-perfect stunner; clad in jewel tones, with her Indian hair cascading down the perfect caramel-colored skin in waves that her arms would soon imitate; with her magnificent chest thrusted forward–as was her heart–with zero shame, apology or self-negation.  Her bare dancer feet clasped the Mother Earth with every sinew like roots:  With those alone, she could kick the living lights out of an opponent–or to hold her ground like no one’s business.

When the goddess began to speak, her hands mirrored the poses of Shiva the figurine of which overlooked from a shelf suspended above her head:

“I mostly–(always)–work with women.”  She jotted out of one of her hips to the side revealing a silky, hip-hugging pair of underwear that made me drool; then shot her eyes in my direction and cracked a smile that bitch-slapped my soul with memories of my Indian best friend and every other woman I have ever loved.  “So:  Welcome, Amazons!”

“Shit.  You gonna be like that, huh?” I thought, already feeling the itch in my tear ducts.

From that point on, I didn’t even have enough time, my comrades, to conjure a resistance in the form of fear or embarrassment; for I was already smitten into submission.  As were the other pale, exhausted women in the room.  Where ever this Indian dancer-turned-teacher would lead us–it surely could not be a place of depriving our best interests and needs.

She began reminding us to breathe–alas, so simple!–from the very ovaries; and on every exhale, she demanded to hear our voices.  At first, the choir was timid; but how could we disobey the force and the beauty channelled through a core of a woman who has obviously suffered enough to devote her entire life to suffering no more?  Eventually, the voices grew.  Some women moaned.  Others–yelled hysterically past the tension of their exhausted vocal cords.  (How the fuck did we all become so appropriate?)  The young girl on a mat behind me, who seemed imprisoned by her self-pity, yelped even if mostly out of frustration and misunderstanding–but at least she made a noise.  I–hollered!

On her hands and knees, the goddess cat cowed her strong back; and with every vertebra’s shift, her magnificent behind lifted up and apart.  The thong rode up her back and imitated the arches of her hip bones.  I thought of motherhood.

“Remember that 5-year old girl before your parents told you to be an adult?” the goddess read my mind.  “Or maybe they were right–and told you you were magnificent.”

In the child’s pose, she spoke of the Mother.  In the chair pose, she reached her arms forward and wiggled her fingers while writing metaphors of rain and petals of jasmine that the women of her country braid into their hair.  Everything about her–was woman.  Every transition–was sex.  She made us pulsate and jive.  Thrust, ride, release.  Touch, caress, hold, clasp, reach, fall down.  In dance, she ordered me to take down my hair.  In stillness, she taught me about the perineum.  (Who knew there was a yoga pose for that?!)  When breathing, she demanded awareness toward the pelvis and the womb–a loaded area inhabited, as I am convinced, by my own issues with motha.

“Yoga is a very masculine practice,” the cutie gave a brutal breakdown from her home front.  What cultural barriers did she have to overcome to be here?  to be this?  “Everything is about resistance.  I want you to unleash.”

No problem, honey.  From day one of this fucking year has been about unleashing.  This year, I, myself, have been all woman–all sex–all hair, and substance, and sweat; finally and fully. I have shaken off the corpses of the past relationships that have slowed down my step for the last years of my second decade.  Why am I carrying this shit around, I thought; then deleted, unwelcomed, cut out–cut off–and finally said my au revoirs to the dead weight.  When lighter, immediately the art began to happen.  As if past the broken levees, the words have flooded in.  Who the fuck am I to hold myself back?  Who the hell gave me the right to fear?  to resist?  to worry? And:  I have been unleashing ever since.  Speaking up and out.  Resurrecting the 5-year old who had no problems with her voice.  Writing songs and odes and pamphlets on the topics that make others wince or giggle, or, better yet, to run the fuck away.  Yet, I continue, for the sake of the honorable few that stick around, listen up, and even change; and those few make it all worth it.   So, yes, my earthly Shiva:  because I have called you out, I shall obey your command and unleash–and embrace my orgasms, wherever they happen.