Do you ever get tired of bring reminded to breathe slowly, deeply and smoothly in yoga class? Here's a story about why we need to pay close attention to our breath quality.
I met M and C, mother and daughter, respectively, in entirely different yoga classes in different cities. M came to my yoga for cancer survivors class and C came to my gentle yoga class. I immediately liked them both and enjoyed having them in classes. M was in her mid-eighties when she first began coming to my classes; she was frail and tiny and was recovering from spinal surgery, but with the support of her friends she worked her way through the classes. She was a regular for several years and always let me know when she wasn’t going to be in class. Then she disappeared for a while, and it was so out of character that I contacted her daughter (I had let go of the class that she used to attend with me, but I still had her contact information).
M had fallen when she was out walking and she was recovering in a skilled nursing facility. I shared this with her friends in class, who were all very worried and wanted to know how they could help. C, her daughter, and I spoke at great length to devise a plan for M to continue coming to class, but to one that didn’t involve balance or standing poses. We went along that way for a while and then I started to notice that M was having more and more trouble with breathing and coordination, specifically on one side. I mentioned this to her daughter, who confided in me that it had been a challenging recovery with her mom; M was proving very demanding, fearful and anxious, and C was struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with her.
Things went downhill from there.
They argued as if M were a toddler, and sometimes M would tell people lies about how she was being mistreated. C and her husband were suffering, feeling like they couldn’t give M what she needed. C made the decision to move her mother out of her home and into a facility that could keep an eye on her, because her health was beginning to decline. In class she became easily confused and her left side didn’t respond as well as her right side; she would sometimes just sit and wait for someone to come help her move props or move her body, rather than moving herself. But then there were good days when she moved more like her old self.
After several weeks of planning and preparing to move her out, M’s health became critical and C brought her to the emergency room; during this visit, the lies about mistreatment came out again, usually when M was told that she couldn’t do something. A doctor found that she had pressure on her lungs and ordered a procedure to drain the fluid that had built up around them. After the procedure, M’s whole attitude changed. She claimed that someone moved the elephant that had been sitting on her chest. She began eating again, enrolled in Zumba and weight lifting classes at her new facility and wrote thank you cards to all of her friends who had called, written or visited her.
The quality of her breath changed the way her brain worked and affected her memory and ability to think clearly. Her carers are invested in her breathing now, monitoring her rate and depth to make sure she isn’t falling into shallow breathing habits.
I’m sure I’ll see M back in class whenever her daughter can bring her. In the meantime, C updates me with emails about M’s latest activities. Each time I see the email, it reminds me to breathe...