Crossing the Intersection


We do it when we first come out of the womb.  The old school way of reminding a baby to breathe was to to give it a swat on its behind.  This doesn’t seem too far removed from the Zen stories of the Zen master swatting a student on the back with a stick to induce awakening.  We inhale to take in an element our bodies need and that is given to us from green plants.


We exhale out an element that our bodies do not need and that can be utilized by our green friends.

Carbon Dioxide.

Breathing is global.  It’s a collaborative act.  It’s intimacy on a grand scale.  How deep we breathe shows how in touch we our with our potential and our ability to process and transmit information.  How well we inhale shows how well we receive.

I lie back on my bed thinking about breathing.  What are the benefits?  The yoga texts cover a lot of territory.  When does one begin to practice pranayama?  At what time of the practice to do it?  Breath sequences.  Breath ratios…….

Crossing the intersection on the yellow light, I can see it’s going to be too late.  The car is turning in front of me and I, riding a black 73’ Honda 750 motorcycle, am not going to avoid the impact.  The Beverly/New Hampshire intersection is wider than usual as New Hampshire entered into Beverly unevenly.  Traffic is unusually thick this afternoon due to the building of the Red-Line subway nearby.

So here it comes.  An impact.  Focus narrows and something larger takes over. Something I’ve prepared for?  Again?  I thought this when I was in ICU after the first skull fracture.  At that time for some reason, I knew this fracture was going to happen and that I prepared myself to survive it.  Here, heading west on Beverly Avenue, I am just coming back from teaching a class in Pasadena.  I am decked out in my leathers.  I love riding this bike.  I love the cadence I took on wearing high heeled leather-to-the-knee boots, blue jeans and black leather jackets.  I love the feeling free as I ride and the consciousness required to navigate and balance a motorcycle at high speeds.  The dominant thought in my mind is the sweat lodge the ladies and I plan to do together in the upcoming weeks.  How will it come together?  Will it come together?  And will we pull it off?

I am going to hit the car at a good speed.  Somehow, in someway, a hard landing is going to happen again.  Whatever linear space and logic line I am traveling at this moment vanishes in a nano-second and my body seems to take over.

The moment before it happens, my body relaxes and I turn into the car.  Time seems to both compress and expand as I feel this relaxation take over.  Later I hear the words, “Yoga teaches you how to fall,” remembering all the times I efforted to hold handstands or awkwardly hitting the wall coming into these poses and berating myself for falling out.  Here’s another realization of, “There is no waste!”  I have no time to think for I have given over to my body and what it has learned from a concentrated breathing and moving practice.

I hit, leave the Honda and somersault over the hood, my right arm impacting the hood as I crossed over.  I pancake flat on the other side, Buster Keaton style.  And this is where the momentum stops.

I open my eyes.  I am still conscious.  I am still awake.  Immediately I begin to ujayyi breathe without thought.  Again I am amazed at how quickly this happens.  In trauma, a practiced breathing technique will kick in naturally or will be resorted to naturally in order to stay present, to not panic and to minimize the effects of the trauma. I remember learning that in martial arts, if one cannot stop the punch then one send chi/energy to where the punch is going to land in order to minimize its effects.  I can hear noise around me.  I feel hot in my leathers.   I am oddly happy and proud that I am conscious and did not black out like I did when I had the skull fracture.

The driver gets out and asks if I am ok.   I say that I am, that I am going to stay on the ground and that I think they should call 911.  I’ve been through this before.  I know the protocols the paramedics are going to take me through.  I begin to take myself through the same sequence.  I am breathing.  I am conscious.  I wiggle toes of left foot and move my left leg.  No pain.  I do the same with the right.  The same.  I wiggle fingers of left arm and move the arm.  No pain.  I do the same with the right.  Sharp pain in the right forearm, ulna and radius.  OK.  I keep breathing.  First issue noted.  I move my body slowly side to side.  No initial pain.  I do the same with my head.  The same.  I scan my body from the toes of my feet to the crown of my head.  The only dominant pain is in the right forearm.  I keep breathing.  I stay on my back.  I can hear car engines from the backed up cars on Beverly and the talking of people into their cel-phone.  I play with range of motion in my arms and legs.  I can hear a siren in the distance coming closer.  It sounds like it is coming from Silverlake.  Yeah, I am sure of it.  I hear the nervous chatter around me with people asking if I am ok.  I say yes and wish they would go away.  They are making me nervous.  I just want to lie here and wait for the paramedics to arrive and give them the information they need to know.

They arrive.  Looking under the car, I can see their black shoes walk towards us and then towards the back of the vehicle.

As they arrive, I feel that they’ve come with an adrenalized wave.   They are hot, momentum-filled having ridden to the rescue and bouncy as all hell.  I feel as though, while I’ve been the one in the accident, I am also the one who is the most relaxed having already done the protocols they are taking me through now.

Breath matters.  I was amazed that with the onset of trauma, deep breathing was immediate and second nature. It was the first thing I relied on to stay present, to stay open, to stay current (both in the sense of time and electricity) and to minimize damage. I am also convinced that it’s concentrated use in a moving physical practice allowed my body to relax pre-impact, pre-trauma.

I am advantaged before and after.

One Comment

  1. Wendy Gorrie
    Posted December 20, 2010 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    Wow! I remember you referring to an accident in your past, but reading the narrative is like watching it happen. Nicely done. I am interested. My boy and I attend a Aikido class, which I so enjoyed, but have not had a chance to repeat. I want to practice those moves that are important so they become reflex, but also those moves that will protect me while traveling and weaponless when I am attacked.

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