January 18, 2012

On Breathing

On Breathing

Breathing is the essence of life.
Breathe deeply, live fully.
~ Gabriella Goddard

In my recent re-reading of Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run I focused in a bit more on some of his journalistic representation of the science supporting human beings as having, in essence, evolved to be efficient running machines. Part of this theory rests on some thinking around developmental anatomy and kinesiology (the science of movement), supporting the idea that the natural running posture of humans allows for much more efficient breathing – more efficient than super-fast animals like gazelles and cheetahs.

Asthmatics like me – we would have died an early and brutal death on the savannah.

I have probably had asthma all my life, though I was not diagnosed officially until I was in my early 20s (an amusing story that I am sure I’ll tell one day on this blog). Asthma, for those of you who don’t have it, causes the air-filled spaces of the lungs to narrow and swell, leaving you wheezing, coughing and more or less anxiously gasping for air. All sorts of things can set it off from pollen to animals to infection to stress. I fall into the “most of the above” category, and I also have true exercise induced asthma (EIA) – meaning (you guessed it) activities like running can cause me to have an asthma attack.

Those of us with EIA, we are definitely not born athletes. We are more programmed to die from athletic endeavors.

As an asthmatic, trying to figure out how to take on an activity like running has certain challenges. For me, it’s been a lot about fine-tuning my medication and trying to reduce other things that contribute. For example, I have found that if I run when it is particularly cold I am more likely to find myself gasping for breath than on warmer days. So these days, if I run in the morning, I am using my treadmill a bit more often.

While on my recent trip in Barbados, I came down with a sinus infection. Infections like this often make my asthma worse, so I have just generally had a bit more trouble breathing this week than other weeks.

Honestly, I don’t really know what I was thinking this morning. (Or if I was thinking at all)

Actually I do.

I had been traveling for almost 17 hours the day before, so when I woke I was a bit groggy and very stiff and itching to move.

Unfortunately, what I failed to notice with adequate attention was that I was pretty congested and it was only about 42 degrees outside. I just wanted to run and with the sun coming up I wanted to do it outside. Completely forgetting to use my inhaler, I went for it.

By mile one, my lungs were already heavily protesting. Sometimes I swear I can actually feel my little airways closing. I try to deepen my breathing to pull in more air…shoulders back…head up…

Nope. a couple minutes later, it’s clearly worse and by the time I turn around I am focusing most of my thoughts on trying to recall where I saw my rescue inhaler when I unpacked last night. Since I still can’t recall when I burst back into the house, I ask my 12-year-old to run and get his (all in the family).

One puff, two, three…air coming back in lungs…collapse on couch. To heck with running I am grateful in those moments to just be breathing.

Breathing – for obvious reasons – is often connected to the very essence of life. It is the mark of being alive. One of the things that I think all asthmatics have felt at one point is a real sense that they might die. Doctors sometimes call this a “sense of impending doom” – and that phrase really does describe the feeling quite well.

But few people talk about what you feel like in the moments right after your breathing is returned to normal.  When you have been gasping for each and every breath and suddenly your lungs open and in rushes air – wow – there is a moment where the whole world feels bright and prickling with energy and you just feel ALIVE.

I try hard to store those moments. Not just because they are sort of the inverse of the terror of a bad asthma attack, but because I think they hold a bit of magic. It’s hard sometimes to appreciate simply being alive. Our days are filled with filled with so many things that distract us from the simple joys of living and breathing that we forget. When my kids were babies, I would sometime stand over their cribs and listen – in, out, in, out. I could watch them breath for hours. Breath is life. It is the thing that allows all other things. We have to respect it.

So I barely made 2 miles today, but I am still breathing. And tomorrow I’ll be a little smarter when I try again.





Leave a comment
  1. Ruth
    January 23, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    Finally a person that puts some real work into a blog. I do like what you have done with the blog.

    • Jacqueline Jacques
      January 24, 2012 at 4:58 am #

      Thank you!

  2. Meridith Simpelo
    January 31, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    Top notch post. Continue to keep up the very first rate performance.