24 September 2012

The sense memory of a deep breath

Some days I have this breath: the kind that is like an involuntary deep pull of 2 or 3 consecutive breaths. My lungs expand suddenly to a size I am normally unable to replicate. The exhale is like a long deep drink and all my muscles visibly relax. You cannot manufacture this breath or resulting sensation. You can’t just take a nice deep breath and hope to re-create this feeling. It doesn’t work.

This must be one of the great side effects from quitting smoking. It’s not every day for me, when these breaths occur, but some days I breathe like this once every 2 minutes for hours on end and I feel like I’m cleansing somehow. I feel like I’m washing my blood in oxygen and coating my muscles in chamomile. I also get melancholy on these days because this breath has a built in sense memory.

See, it’s also the kind of breath you have after you’ve engaged in a good long strong cry. As a child I remember I used to have such agonizing bouts of crying. I guess I would hyperventilate, I don’t know and no one bothered to get it diagnosed, but I remember I would have this involuntary hiccup like breathing that simply would not stop. I could never catch my breath or control it. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t breathe out, I could only breathe in and in and in, over and over, my diaphragm in this constant wild spasm. Finally when I was done crying and my breath returned to normal many minutes would pass or even and hour and out of no where I would have this kind of breath I’m telling you about: this involuntary deep pull, a hitched breath, one piggybacking on another and another, and a nice long relaxing exhale. 

It is the breath of recovery. It is the breath of a child trying to gain ground again after something unbearable.  It is the breath that restores life after you felt like you might die. It is such a lovely breath, so big and real and quiet and mine. It’s sitting in a dark room at mid-day looking out the window at the rain. It’s a sign that the chaos has subsided. It is also the breath of exhaustion.

I think we cry like this when we are children and as we get older we learn to control this weeping. I haven’t cried like that in I don’t even know how long. And when this kind of breathing occurs for me there is no emotional cause for it. Like I said, it must be a benefit to quitting smoking, my lungs are learning the breath of recovery and healing. But the sense memory of a deep healing breath is so strong…who knew? It caught me off guard today.

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