It has come to my attention recently that I hold my breath. What does this have to do with academia? Probably everything.
I hold my breath when I am nervous, when I am excited, when I am thinking, and when I am working. I hold my breath when I watch television. I especially hold my breath when I fret, and goodness knows this is a profession that facilitates fretting.
I may well have reached a new fretting-record in the last few months. Between teaching four courses, travelling to several conferences, attempting to write, and trying to keep my personal life afloat at home and with my friends I suspect I have held my breath for a sum total of about six weeks. Sometimes I feel kind of smug about being able to ‘handle’ the stress of the schedule I keep. Lately though, I have felt like lying on the floor and drinking wine through a straw while watching reruns of Mad Men. The end of the semester always leaves me feeling depleted and even more breathless than usual, and not in a Godard/Truffaut kind of way. My thought pattern goes something like this: I have accomplished so much! And there is so much more to do! So much! All of the things must be done! I will write a book! I will make bread from scratch! I will write a book while making bread from scratch and learning French and teaching a spring course!
I practice yoga pretty regularly and have just started working on drop-backs. Drop-backs require that you go from standing at the front of your mat to ending up in a backbend. The in-between bit is where the dropping comes in: to make it into a drop-back you have to have a balance between leaning forward from the waist down in order to counter gravity. You also have to lean waaaay back from the wait up and look toward the floor. Somewhere between upright and upside down your hands catch you and voila! You have dropped back. It looks a little like this:
Well, actually my drop-backs look nothing like this, but you get the picture. Here’s where the breathing comes in: if you hold your breath at any stage of this crazy set of moves things do not proceed well. I get tunnel vision, constriction in my chest, and find it hard to think straight and remember seemingly obvious actions such as ‘place hands on floor to save head.’
The third or fourth time through this morning–after having forgotten each time to breathe–I asked my teacher why it was so difficult. It was a rhetorical question, I did not expect him to answer, but he did. He told me that I was thinking too much. As I thought about that he tipped me backwards quickly. I had no time to think, I just popped my hand down and landed. He did this several times in a row. It felt like I was moving faster than a speeding metronome. And just like that I realized that I was breathing without thinking about it.
Huh. Heavy-handed metaphor for surviving academia? Yes. Compelling for me today? Yes.