An ode to my lungs

Have you ever taken a moment to stop and think about how amazing your lungs are? The more I spend time doing yoga and meditating, the more I am learning to connect with my breath and the more I am in awe of the work my lungs do every day.

Working in tandem, perfectly synchronized, they function tirelessly, day in and day out. Breathing in and breathing out. Together they take air from the outside world and extract from it life itself, transferring oxygen molecules to my red blood cells, delivering it in seconds to thirsty tissues all over my body. 

At the same time, my lungs deftly accept and remove the waste products my tissues create, ferrying carbon dioxide back into the outside world, exchanging it for fresh, useful breaths of air, over and over again.

In addition to this constant exchange, my lungs possess an impressive array of skills. They have the power to calm me down during moments of anxiety, serving as a steady center on which to focus my mind. When I step outside to go for a run, they adjust their behaviour instantly to suit my body’s needs, quickening their pace in coordination with so many other moving parts. If I choose to submerge myself in water, they wait patiently as I hold my breath, filling up with air to replenish me immediately upon returning to the surface with a desperate gasp.

When I turn my awareness to my lungs, they willingly submit to my authority as I speed them up or slow them down. And the moment my attention wanders, they resume their slow, steady rhythm, holding nothing against me for my inability to keep them in my thoughts for more than a few seconds at a time. 

Most days, I take them completely for granted, and yet they never quit, never go on strike, never demand a raise or better benefits. They simply do their job, quietly, consistently, continuously. They stretch and expand like a balloon, pushing themselves to their limits, inflating and deflating again and again and never taking a break, all so that I may survive and be nourished.

But of all my lungs’ impressive abilities, the most amazing of all is this: they have the power to heal. 

Think about it: if time heals all wounds, then my lungs, with their constant, steady flow of breaths in and breaths out, are the ultimate healers. When I am hurting, I know that every single breath that I take carries me one tiny step further along the path of healing, growing, learning, and accepting. Consider the fact that each breath contains about two seconds to inhale and three seconds to exhale. That means every time I breathe, I am approximately five seconds further away from the source of the pain I have experienced. 

My lungs also have the power to bring me back when I have lost my way. When my thoughts are spiraling out of control, when it feels like everything is going to shit and nothing will ever be ok again, my lungs whisper in a quiet voice “Come back. Stay here. Breathe.” All I have to do is listen, sink down beneath the noise and tune into my breath, and without fail, I stop spiraling and sliding and find peace and calm, if only for a moment. In this space, I remind myself that each breath is a step in the right direction. I am not stagnant, I am not slipping backwards. I am actively healing and my lungs are my medicine.

With all that is going on in the world right now, I find that gratitude is more important than ever. We are living through a pandemic that is teaching us that we can not take anything for granted, especially the strength and power of our lungs to carry us through each day and into the next.

So today, I am taking a moment to say thank you. I am recognizing the healing powers of my lungs and choosing to give them a little more attention. When I feel overwhelmed by everything going on in the world these days, I will take a moment to pause and check in with my amazing lungs, remembering that every breath offers me a tiny bit of forward progress and for that, I am forever grateful.