With the greatest blizzard of the century (okay, it’s only 2005) lingering in huge piles on either side of our well-plowed roads, we all got a good taste of having a big time out this winter. On my end this is about the most fun I’ve had since moving back home to the Cape from Seattle five years ago – appointments, classes, clients all canceled, and nowhere to go but outside and play (and shovel!) for three days.
Time on my hands, that’s what I had. I never have time on my hands. My hands never move slowly enough to get much of anything on them other than massage oil or the occasional flavor of whatever it was I was too rushed to use the fork for to feed myself.
In 1977 I lived in a village in the southernmost part of Mexico. That was the last time I’d had time on my hands. There was no electricity, no roads in or out of the village, and were only 11 families that lived on the beach in shacks. We dove there and made a living selling oysters and fish to other villages that had electricity. When a woman who was teaching me how to make tortillas arranged the next time we should meet, she pointed to a place on the horizon above the tree line and said “Regressarse manana cuando el so se sube alla” – “Come back here tomorrow when the sun rises above that tree.”
Today I’m luxuriating in not having to look at the clock for even one moment. The liberty of being unleashed and unharnessed from the circular dance of the second hand is quite exhilarating. I’m reveling even as others I talk to are distraught over the interruption of their routines and to whom the thought of losing time is unnerving. To me it’s astoundingly liberating.
As I sit studying my Ayurvedic texts (and who knows how many hours I’ve been doing it, I haven’t timed it or needed to – I could measure it in cups of tea, I suppose) I’m reading about the elements of ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Interestingly the element of air is associated with subtle movements, ideas of direction, velocity, change and TIME.
Movement, direction, velocity, change, wind, and current are characteristics I can associate with air, but where does TIME connect to it? On further study I learn that time is concurrent with air in that it “takes time” to create movement and change. More to the point, it requires patience to allow change, to allow movement. Patience is time. I’ve bumped into a new perspective.
I’m accustomed to having time be the villain of my over-scheduled life. Time for this, no time for that, losing, finding, making time. Now I’m seeing time as a virtue – the virtue of patience. Allowing time to create change. My professor refers to relationship and the patience required to allow our partners to express themselves and be heard clearly. We need time and patience to grow, to allow the element of air to create space for us to breathe.
Breath is another aspect of life (and the element of air) affected by time, and patience. When we’re rushed for time we tend to breathe shallowly. As we “shallow-breathe” we trap air in our chest, and this breathing only in the chest cavity overactivates the adrenals, our fight-or-flight response (the sympathetic nervous system). Overtime, this can cause imbalance and even illness.
On the other hand, to breathe into the belly and exhale fully requires focus and patience in order to allow change to occur. What kind of change? From deep breath in the belly we activate the part of our nervous system that regulates involuntary muscles and valves (the parasympathetic system). In simpler terms, breathing from the chest is like a bird flapping its wings against the wind – energetic, not soothing. Breathing from the belly, in and out, back and forth, is like the cradling of a baby in its mother’s arms – calming and nurturing.
It’s really good for me to sit with this information and allow myself to notice that the simple act of moving breath in and out of my lungs (which I do every second of every day) can influence how I perceive time. Even if I am eating with my fingers, I can still change my awareness of how I’m using my time by deeply breathing in the flavors. I don’t have to sit under a tree and study my breath to create change. I can be engaged with my regularly scheduled activities and still remember to notice, observe, and release the element of air moving through me. That moment of patient awareness creates change in me. Just pulling a few breaths down below the solar plexus in towards the navel and out again can create an astounding shift in my awareness of myself and how I am with my time. It’s a matter of changing my velocity and direction from hyperactivity to present awareness.
As the season of Spring approaches, and it feels like the earth is revving up to shake off the lethargy of winter, I’ll be watching my breath to make sure I keep this elemental awareness of air, patience, time and change in check. Try it for yourself. Pause. Now take in a longer-than-usual inhalation. Pause and hold it there for one moment. Now exhale it all the way out. Pause. Notice anything different?
By Patricia Duffy, Spring 2005
Patricia Duffy is owner and director of Oasis Integrative Therapies and director at the Life Center for Health Yoga Studio in Orleans. She has a Master’s in Counseling from Antioch, and is a Licensed Massage Therapist in practice for 18 years, specializing in medical massage. She is a certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist and has certifications in yoga teacher training in both Kripalu and Iyengar Yoga.