by Alyssa Robinson
Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you? It can be a terrifying experience. The first time it happened to me I was 8 years old. As I was swinging across the monkey bars during recess, I tried to test my abilities by skipping bars and broadening my swing. My hand slipped on a bar, and I fell flat on my back.
I remember staring up at the clear blue sky when the realization set in that I couldn’t take a breath. I panicked. Looking back, it felt like a dream. I scrambled to my feet, still unable to breath, and ran over to the bench the 3rd grade teachers sat on during recess. I couldn’t even stand up straight. My body was hunched over as my knobby knees knocked together trying to move as quickly as I could. Wood chips flew up behind me with every heavy step. I couldn’t speak. I flailed my arms to get my teacher, Ms. Walters, to notice I was in distress. She looked up at me and started laughing. I’m sure I looked like an absolute clown. How could she laugh? I was dying!
She put her hands on my shoulders and softly told me to calm down. While she firmly held one shoulder, she rubbed my upper back in a circular motion until I could finally take in little stuttered breaths. That’s when she said, “You must have gotten the wind knocked out of you, sweetie.”
When I was finally able to calm myself, I looked up and saw that every other kid on the playground had stopped what they were doing to stare at my dramatic ordeal as it unfolded. I had tears and snot running down my face, wood chips stuck in my hair, and had just survived a near-death experience. It was an awful moment that left me feeling embarrassed. This is a core memory of which I remember every detail and feeling.
Do you know what actually happens to your body when you get the wind knocked out of you? Your diaphragm becomes temporarily paralyzed. Our diaphragms are in the shape of a dome, and we depend on them to expand and contract to make room for our lungs to take in and release oxygen. When your diaphragm contracts, the top of the dome goes down and pulls the lungs with it. When this system functions normally, you breathe easily without even thinking about it. But when something interrupts this flow and the diaphragm spasms, breathing can feel impossible. Sudden hard hits to the abdomen can cause diaphragm spasms and paralysis.
During Pastor Daniel’s sermon on Sunday titled, “Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask,” I was thinking of this experience. Getting the wind knocked out of me was the first time in my life I had to think about my breathing. It was the first time I realized how essential oxygen is to life, how painful and detrimental it is not to have it.
Focusing on the power of breath became captivating to me. I was a swimmer growing up, and because of it I had great lung strength. Learning the best breathing patterns to maintain your speed while getting the oxygen your body needed to perform was key to improvement. I then took that knowledge to other sports like running, water polo, and kickboxing. Controlling my breath, learning the opportune times to breathe, and even knowing how to breathe became indispensable knowledge for my sports of choice.
When I was in college, I was introduced to breathing in spirituality. A group of us at the Wesley Foundation did a study using Rob Bell’s Nooma videos that he released between 2002 and 2009. Episode 14 of this series was titled “Breathe.” He explained that the Hebrew pronunciation of God’s name was so sacred, they wouldn’t pronounce the vowels out of respect. And the way God’s name was spoken sounded like breathing. Rob Bell’s lesson sparked my exploration of my own spirituality. I encourage you to watch it. I wanted to think of God as breath, constantly flowing in and out of my lungs. It actually inspired my first tattoo: Yah-weh in Hebrew script on my ribs as a reminder to breathe in God’s Spirit every day.
Breath is powerful. It gives life, peace, and comfort. When I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I do breathing exercises to center and ground myself. When I’m feeling content, I breathe out a long sigh to connect with the moment.
Spiritual practices are one way to access God’s breath. Spiritual practices energize and sustain our faith, just like breathing. Bible engagement helps us know the heart of God. Passionate prayer centers us to align our hearts with God. Humble service allows us to breathe God’s Spirit into others. If we ignore spiritual practices, our faith can become stagnant or paralyzed... much like a diaphragm when you get the wind knocked out of you. Every spiritual practice connects us deeply and passionately into a relationship with God until it feels as natural as breathing.
Create your Blueprint for Spiritual Wellness to learn simple ways to improve on spiritual practices.
Bible engagement is a great place to begin with spiritual practices. Listen to this week’s Life + God episode to learn more about the origins and history of the Bible as a starting point. You can listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.