I don’t know if I was born asthmatic or if it began during the first year of my life. In any case, until I was 40 I was medicated daily to stay alive.
No one used the term asthma until I was six years old. Pediatricians told my mother that I had bronchitis; then they said it was spastic bronchitis. I was given antibiotics continually. The night before my first day of school, a major asthma attack brought us to the ER. Antibiotics were replaced by cortisone pills and steroid inhalers. Our visits to the ER became more frequent. When I played, I never ran. I didn’t jump. “She may grow out of it”, my mother was told. But when I was 18, a pulmonologist concluded that I was on the verge of respiratory disability. In my thirties, my lungs were functioning like a 70-year old’s.
Then, at the age of 40, nearly certified as a Paula practitioner, I scheduled a session for myself to work on an old pelvic injury. My teacher noticed that it was difficult for me to breathe and suggested that I change my position. I was determined to “fix that pelvis” and tried to stay on the floor longer. She asked if I wanted to use my inhaler. “No”, I said. “I’ll just sit up”. Trying to accept the fact that I probably wouldn’t be able to focus on my pelvis, I breathed. It was agonizing. It took so much effort. I just wanted to rest. So many times in the past I had thought of giving up, of making the breath so shallow and effortless that it would cease. I would simply stop the struggle for air.
However, I knew from my experience that it wouldn’t work. Even if I stopped breathing for a few seconds, my body would desperately ask for another breath, which would cause coughing and more effort. I flared my nostrils a little. Fresh, cool air filled my nose. I did it again. Then again. Some minutes later, my teacher asked how I was doing. My breathing was effortless. The airways were clear. “What did you do?” she asked. “Only flared and relaxed my nostrils,” I replied.
And that was it.
It’s been six years since that day. Never once have I used an inhaler, seen a doctor, or fallen into respiratory distress. I’ve been to places where I used to get allergic reactions, have colds, and take care of sick people, without being affected. Nothing dramatic or earth- shattering had happened that day six years earlier. The exercise was helpful, of course; but it wasn’t the exercise alone that solved the problem. It was developing a trust with my body, a process through which I learned to accept the signals it sends me.
I had intended to work on my hip injury that day in class. It had not occurred to me to rid myself of an illness I had thought was incurable. My body, however, was signalling something else. The point is, if you let your body lead the way, it will direct the energy to the place that needs it most. We don’t know what our bodies’ priorities are, but if we give them our time and attention, we’re on the right path to helping them help us.
This is what we do in a Paula session. We give ourselves the time and the space to deepen our understanding of what the body needs. And we trust it to direct us there. This process is fascinating and unpredictable; and it always makes us feel better. At times this kind of work feels like magic. But really the magic is in the body’s ability to heal itself. We just need to know how to allow it to do so.