People say that to get anywhere, you have to start where you are, but in order to do that you have to admit where you are, and I’ve always had a hard time doing that.
In a yoga class, for example, if you get too tired and out of breath, the thing you’re supposed to do is to get close to the ground—back to child’s pose. The idea is a nice one, if you ask me, that anytime you get overwhelmed, you just go back to the ground—to the beginning. You can start over. You can be a kid again. Think about how much time you spent as a kid laying on the ground, making snow angels or watching ceiling fans.
But if yoga practice is life practice, I have to wonder: Do we really get to take a break anytime we need one? Can any of us ever be kids again?
I tried it a few times—taking a break in the middle of a practice—but every time I did I would get this sinking feeling like I was failing terribly, just laying there on the ground while everyone else went on without a glitch. Instead of putting my head on the mat, like they tell you to, I would stare ahead, at the tall mirrors standing in front of you, wondering why no one else in the room needed to rest like I did. Why was I the only one who was losing my breath?
The first time I remember losing my breath in my marriage was the second night of my honeymoon. We were staying on the Oregon Coast, in a tiny little town called Manzanita. Some friends had offered to let us use their cottage, right on the coastline, which is wrapped up in the most beautiful fog that time of year. It’s eerie and etherial and feels like you’re in a dream.
One night we decided to go for a drive to get dinner and maybe do some shopping. At our first stop, I found a pair of earrings I loved and used one of the cards to buy them. JD hung back by the door while I browsed, since the shop was full of mostly jewelry and handmade cards and, you know, refrigerator magnets. I really didn’t think he’d want anything.
I could tell he was waiting for me though, so I hurried. And when I met him at the front door, he seemed upset. We left the gift shop and walked quickly back to the car.
When we made it to the car, I asked him if everything was ok, and at first he said yes. But then it became clear that, no, he was not ok and suddenly we were in an argument. Slowly at first, and then faster and faster, we fought until my heart was beating out of my chest. I kept trying to figure out what was happening and why exactly he was upset but the harder I tried, the more frustrated he became, and the more frustrated he became, the more upset I felt.
I reached for my phone. That’s when I remembered I didn’t have it. We’d turned off both of our phones and left them at the cottage. I pictured a dinner with no texting and no Instagram and no emails, just the two of us. But suddenly, I realized that being here without my phone and in the tiny space of this car made me feel like I couldn’t breathe. Oh my god, I couldn’t breathe.
Whatever reservations or fears I’d had before I married him were now multiplied, times ten. Like someone turned up the volume. Why did I assume all of this would dissipate after the wedding? What had I been thinking?
Without thinking, without even thinking about it, the car slowed to a stop, and I unbuckled my seatbelt and got out. Got right out. I dropped my knees to the sidewalk, right there next to a stop sign, and put my right hand to my chest, just to try to get a full breath in. Tears were streaming down my face, and I was feeling like this was the most terrible thing that could be happening.
I tried to catch my breath. But by now, it was gone. Just way too far gone.
JD put the car in park and turned on his flashers. He waved to the drivers behind us, half as an apology, half as an instruction to tell them to go around us. Then, he came over to my side of the car and put his hand on my back. He held it there for a minute before saying anything. Finally, when he spoke, it was soft and gentle. Even apologetic.
“Don’t do this, ok? Get back in the car with me.”
The kindness in his voice infuriated me, since I wondered where on earth it had been a few minutes ago, when I was crying in the car. I feared his kindness was much more about avoiding the embarrassment of a wife on the sidewalk than it was about ending our argument. And I knew what would happen if I got back in the car. We would pick up just exactly where we had left off.
And still, I felt awful. The feeling was the same one I get in the yoga studio when I look in the mirrors and realize I’m the only one sitting on the ground, the only one in child’s pose, the only one who has lost her breath. I felt like the biggest joke. Why couldn’t I be stronger? Why didn’t I know the right thing to do next?
I knelt there on the pavement for what seemed like a lifetime before I picked up my head to look at JD.
“Come on, get in the car,” he repeated.
So I did.
What other choice did I have?