Feeling: BREATHLESS, OR CAN I BREATHE AGAIN?
Breathing. Inhalation, retention, exhalation. Something every single living thing does constantly every single second of every single day.
It’s a massive part of yoga practice. Focusing on the breath has probably my biggest lesson learnt as it was an aspect I never really acknowledged before. When I took my class I threaded in the phrase, “Inhale positivity, exhale negativity”, and this has become something I utter to myself throughout any given day. Isn’t it beautiful? In with the peace, out with the angst.
Pigeons breathe 450 times a minute whilst in flight, and at least 29 times at rest. They live up to 5 years in the wild. A tortoise breathes 2 to 3 times a minute, and is more often than not alive and kicking well beyond their 100th birthday.
In comparison, human beings breathe 12 to 18 times a minute, so approximately 21,000 times a day. And our life span is duly proportionate to our breathing rhythms. It’s incredible. The more often you breathe, the shallower and sharper the oxygen intake and shorter your life span. The deeper you do, the better for your mind, body and soul. (This all links up at the end, bear with me).
So. Departure day.
Eva and I had organised a last minute hour-long anatomy class at a nearby yoga school for 6.30am. Perfect, I thought. Finish at 7.30, run until 8.15, breakfast until 8.30, shower and pack until 9am then forty minutes to hang with the boys and say goodbyes. Scheduled, sorted.
But the class continued. 7.30 came and went. Then 8. Then 8.15. I kept watching the clock. My heart was pounding. I couldn’t sit still and eventually I cleared my throat and apologetically announced we had to leave. It set me on edge for the next few hours.
As I finished packed, I worried about the taxi not turning up to get Eva and I. I had the business card of the company at the ready should I need to call and rustle them along. Or would phoning an alternative agency be better? I worried about the weight of my suitcase. What if my ticket didn’t include baggage for the inland flight? What if I was over the limit? How should I pay if that was the case? NZ debit, travel card or cash?
It continued. What if my tour transfer wasn’t there to collect me on arrival in Delhi? I had the number of Indian Intrepid, but where would I call from? Would there be a help desk to aid me? Or would I have to buy a SIM card? What if I was stranded?
What if I got to my hotel and it didn’t have wifi? I wanted to be in touch with mumma Deb. And would I be taking my whole suitcase on the tour to Agra? Or my backpack with only the necessities for the few days? If I left it at the hotel, would they charge? How much? I had handed out the rest of my banknotes as baksheesh (tips) to the boys; I’d need to get more out. But how much? Enough to get me through the next five days, but not so much I’d have plenty leftover. What would I do with a stash of rupees in NZ?
Nepal. I’d need to get money out there too. Airport best bet I guess? Should I get out a full 5 hundy, or a few then more as needed? What if were no ATMs further along and I found myself stuck?
Singapore. Hotel room. Cancel or not cancel? Should I go to the transit lounge instead? It has showers and wifi and such. But would the hotel….
Suddenly I stopped and noted my shockingly shallow and expeditious breathing.
POPPY. I lambasted myself. Have you learnt NOTHING.
Breathe. Be here. Be now. Inhale positivity, exhale negativity.
I did a few rounds of pranayama to get my nostrils flowing freely and pledged to go against the tide of anxiety attempting to take over. I said bye bye to my bedroom, and slowly closed the door. (I didn’t actually close the door; I left it open for the cleaner. But it signifies the end so let’s go with it).
The goodbyes were pretty heartbreaking. Anil surprised us by bringing Angali to work (she left home with her dad at 5.30am and wouldn’t be able to leave until 9pm, but did so so she could see us for a mere hour). She gave us each a bracelette and shyly did some henna art on our arms.
The boys all surrounded us until we left, even the little cleaner man. You could tell they genuinely were going to miss us.
It was so hard. Here we were, going back to our seemingly lavish lives while these guys would continue on in their struggling state. Would we ever see them again? Would things change for them? Would they ever even be able to get out of India and see the world? I think tears were on the verge for everyone there as we pulled away. Mine certainly splashed down.
At the airport I was on edge as I approached the check in. Worries of weighty luggage whirled around my mind again. But the scales showed 20.7kg; I expelled a massive breath I hadn’t realised I was holding. Why had I wasted energy and time worrying? Breathe in, breathe out.
Eva was on a later flight, so we sat together as long as we could before we had to part. She suddenly pulled out a red ring and presented me with it (the sneaky minx; she’d had me try it on the day before under the pretence of it being for her daughter Julie). She said it reminded her of a poppy flower and it was for me to remember our time together by. Well, the tears didn’t just flow this time, they cascaded.
On the plane my breathing was rapid. I was sad. I was scared. Why and what of? Nothing and everything at the same time. I wished I was going home. Fuck the Taj, fuck Nepal, I wanted Norfolk Drive and my buddy Otto back. Then – and I firmly believe this was meant to be – I was asked to swap seats and was plonked down next to a lovely Indian couple.
I half heartedly smiled at the lady on my left and she delightedly beamed back. Her warmth was contagious, and we started chatting chirpily about India/Delhi/her family holiday, then I asked her name: “Neena,” she replied.
No word of a lie, all anxiety, tension or fear I’d been feeling instantly whisked away. It sounds silly, but the comfort I found in learning her name was something else.
One of my favourite people is my aunty Nina. She is such a good-hearted, generous person who I can always count on. Deb has always described Nina as having “a heart of gold”. And she truly does, more so than anyone I’ve ever met.
I suddenly realised this lady actually reminded me of Nina. Her demeanour, her laugh, even her appearance in a way. If I squinted against the light and ignored the Indian inflection, I could’ve been in Petone having a cup of tea with aunty Neen. And do you know what I noted? At that moment, my breathing slowed and moved deep into my belly. And it stayed that way for the rest of the day. (Then when her husband told me he was a journalist and their son’s name was “Om” I was astounded; signs that all was Ok? Absolutely).
I collected my suitcase and armed with my Powerade Zero bottle and empty Beroocca tube, I strode towards the exit. Purposely focusing on not holding “bated breath” I looked out for a sign announcing my name.
Why on earth was I worried? There, directly in front of the door opening, was “ANNEKE WORTMAN” on a board. I joyously smiled and the young man holding the sign returned in kind.
He became my new buddy Baghsingh, and we had a fun forty-five minutes navigating the Delhi highway to the hotel. We shared photos, language translations and laughed lots and my mood soared. I felt so stupid for my morning manic. All was well in the world.
I’m now in my Delhi hotel room (complete with whizzing wifi I’ll have you know). I roamed the markets down the road for an hour (literally the only non-Indian there) gathering more gifts, and then I retired to my room. I’ve spent the last few hours doing yoga, writing, reading, stretching, repacking. I’m about to sink into a comfy bed complete with plush pillows and I couldn’t be happier.
And the whole time I’ve been writing this? (Apologies for any mistakes/non flow/shitness, I’m so overtired), I’ve been listening to the Michelle Branch tune Breathe. Sometimes you just need reminding.
I don’t want to be a pigeon, frantically flapping around. I don’t want to be a tortoise either. I just want to be a happy, harmonised human.