Yesterday I wrote in my diary about how much I miss American hugs. How I felt I needed one. My dad’s voice and arm around my shoulder is the best thing ever for this nervous soldier. There is something clear and deep about my dad’s voice. Still waters run deep, they say. My dad is still and clear like a deep river. As my pen moves across the page, I lament how much I miss living back home. I miss the physical contact and connection that Americans are so good at offering. To connect I notice that I often put my hand on someone’s shoulder. I don’t know why I do this, maybe because I miss someone putting their hand on my shoulder. The ‘I can see you’ physical expression of affection that is safe and doesn’t require the deeper depths of intimacy. The kind of ‘I can see you’ that doesn’t require in return anything other than a thankful smile.
There is a workshop at our daughter’s school on mindfulness and breathing that will take place in the school hall. After many years of anxiety filled classrooms I find visiting the school difficult sometimes. I go out of a peppering of begrudging parental obligation and that I don’t want to let our daughter down. I’m one of the only stay at home parents. I feel as though the expectation is that I should show up. Don’t I have the time? Won’t I be seen as lazy? Our daughter wears a snow hat with a bobble on top, a comfort of sorts. The children sit on blue mats on the wooden hall floor. Little boats of blue. The only other parent that showed up and I sit in chairs in a mostly empty crescent moon behind them. The two men that lead the exercise are energetic. I can see the apprehension on the face of our daughter. I can feel the apprehension in the pit of my stomach. I look at the clock, I have 35 minutes of this and then I can leave. Our daughter has another two hours at school. That thought sends me into a mini panic. I want to scoop her up and leave. I don’t know what the right answer is for us but I know that running home isn’t the right answer.
The men running the workshop do ‘box breathing’ and other activities to help everyone practice feeling better in anxious moments. I look at the clock, eight more minutes and I can go. Open space, fresh air. I can almost feel the relief that is eight minutes away. At the end I nervously mention, with a higher than usual voice, that they didn’t mention one of the signs that we get when we get nervous, stomach ache. The instructor nods his head in approval and then says there is an exercise we can do after the children leave. Shit! Just what I need, another 5 minutes tagged on until I can get out of there. The instructor asks me to lie down on the matt with the only other parent there. My mind races, as it often does in situations like this. I wonder if the other parent has the same feeling obligation and guilt that I do? Is she as nervous as I am? Does her body buzz like mine? What is my intention in being here? For our daughter to feel supported or for me to be seen to be a good mom?
I lie down on the matt. The instructor explains that we are going to do a fast breathing exercise and then I will hold my breath for one minute. I start to feel panicked but do as I’m told. At 46 years old the need to be seen as ‘accommodating’ is still strong. He starts the audio. I hear a deep clear voice telling me to breath in and then out. Don’t pause between breaths. In and out. Quickly and deeply. Breath in to fill your tummy and out. Like a wave. After what seems like a while there is a ping and the deep voice tells me to exhale, and then pause and hold. Be still. I lay there on the blue mat floating on a wooden floor and I can feel the inside of me in a way I never have. My breath has somehow reached down into my stomach in a way it never has. I am still for a minute and it feels effortless. It is the most immersive experience I’ve ever had on dry land. It reminds me of my very first memory of floating just under the surface of the warm light filled waters of Miami beach. The deep voice tells me to breath again and I do, which feels like being lifted out of the water.
I sit up stunned in the little village school hall. I have never in my life experienced anything like that, except on that day at the beach in the warm waters of the Atlantic. My nervous stomach is silent. It says nothing to me, like run or you’ve got 3 more minutes and then you can get the hell out of here. It just is. My brain slows down. I am calm and can focus. I have never in all my years of yoga classes felt the way I feel after that one minute exercise. The instructor says he can‘t do it with a roomful of children. No shit. It is one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had, a baptism of sorts. I got the hand on the shoulder and side hug. It came wrapped up in a different form. It was wrapped up on a blue mat in the middle of a primary school hall in England, with a deep calm Dutch voice leading me through. Leading me back to myself and a peace the world cannot give and cannot take away. Sometimes in life we shake the orange tree and get olives. I got my hand on the shoulder and hug. It was a gift for this nervous little soldier. I know I needed this gift from Wim Hof because tomorrow won’t be easy.