Like clockwork, a 2 a.m. asthma attack shut down my airways and jolted me out of sleep. The sweet relief of breath was at arm’s length, in the emergency situation inhaler on my night table. One quick spray and within seconds I felt my bronchial tubes begin to relax, permitting precious air to enter.
The next development was all too foreseeable. The drug made my heart race, and I could not fall back asleep till just moments prior to the alarm clock rang, ending my quick respite.
Situations like this are typical of the hold asthma applied on my life for several years. Episodes came and went, with spasms gripping my bronchial tubes, inflammation swelling the mucous membranes, and phlegm choking the breath out of me.
The attacks were at their worst when I lived in Florida, where the extreme humidity triggered mildew to flourish, aggravating my condition. I often felt like I was trying to breathe under water. Nor did I do my task as a tech writer in an old airplane garage– filled with mold, chemical fumes, and cigarette smoke– help matters. I cannot count the times when it appeared impossible to think clearly enough to get through the day. I tried allergic reaction shots, however hated needing to poke myself with a needle, so I quit the job instead. When a doctor told me my only alternative was to take medication for the rest of my life, I finally discovered the courage to say enough.
My very first agenda was to stop an attack without using inhalers. I accomplished this within weeks through a variety of methods, consisting of taking first hot, then cold showers to unwind the spasms, and hovering over steam instilled with eucalyptus oil for long durations. However I was still living from one attack to the next. I had to get to the root of the problem.
When I started digging, clues turned up all over (even in King Tut’s tomb, where the anti-inflammatory herb licorice, now referred to as a decongestant, was discovered along with other treasures). Eventually, though, putting the disease behind me required having the tendency to much more than my closed air passages. Top of the list?Tension.
When I began paying attention, I recognized practically anything– a cold, due date pressures, bad news, or bad weather– might begin me wheezing. Emotional tension of any kind was a particularly powerful trigger.
Elson Haas, a doctor and director of the Preventive Medication Center of Marin in San Rafael, California, isn’t amazed. Tension kicks off physiological reactions that lead straight to breathing difficulties, he states. Exactly what’s the first thing individuals do when they’re anxious? Take much shorter breaths, of course. Plus, the body releases specific hormonal agents when we’re under stress (particularly adrenaline and cortisol) that open up the respiratory tracts– however once the stress goes away and these hormonal agents go away, the bronchial tubes can tighten up once again.
Clearly, I needed to coax my body into staying calm. (Stop and smell the roses? I disliked them!).
You ‘d believe my living situation would have been an aid. I belonged to a yoga community at the time, and exactly what better method to relax than breathing deeply and doing a couple of sun salutations? However we also did a lot of service work, taking care of individuals who were troubled or dying, and I found it tough to say no to anyone in requirement. As an outcome, I experienced “compassion fatigue.” On some events, I ‘d be gotten rid of by wrenching grief, which was especially bad for my lungs. As sobs burst forth, I saw an unconscious desire to hold back the circulation, which led to– you guessed it, another asthma attack. I required space to breathe.
One of the first people I relied on for assistance was homeopath Jana Shiloh of Sedona, Arizona, who treated me with the herb pulsatilla, the “windflower,” an apt metaphor for the way I felt– blown around by outdoors impacts. It helped enormously.
The next action was to develop a trouble-free zone for myself. I began by making a point of not going straight home after work so about avoid the many responsibilities that may capture me. Instead, I ‘d invest 20 minutes riding my bike or walking on the beach, relieved by the noises of the ocean. Asking a buddy to massage my shoulders helped, too. As my muscles softened, my breathing became visibly less labored. I also began to meditate and to utilize yoga to work on my breathing. Breathing in and breathing out to the count of ten assisted me to manage my breath and relax my mind at the same time.
I also took a series of dance classes that approach motion as spiritual practice. Those sessions offered me insight into how I move through my world and face obstacles. In one, everyone danced randomly through a small area; the concept was for us to observe whether we felt pushed around and tense or enjoyed our own dexterity, welcoming each brand-new face with a smile. It was one “aha!” after the other, as I found out to change my initial responses, which were regularly restricted, into welcoming smiles.
Ultimately, I felt as if I was in control of my life again. I had given up inhalers, and I had actually determined, and learnt how to manage, the key ways which tension was exacerbating my asthma. Then, my strategies were tested.
One day, I went to check out a good friend with AIDS who was on his deathbed. As I walked into Robert’s home, a cat rubbed up against me. Then I saw a 2nd, and a 3rd, and I panicked. I’m extremely allergic to cats and I generally react with serious asthma attacks. As I approached my buddy’s bedside, more cats materialized until seven of them had me surrounded.
My mind went into overdrive. Would I be the one who ends up in the healthcare facility? I wheezed just by taking a look at those cats, however how could I leave Robert? Then I recalled something I ‘d recently learned: By focusing my attention on the top of my head, I could raise my awareness above the panic that was contributing to my shallow breathing. I imagined the breath leaving through that space. In yoga, this is thought to be the place where the spirit leaves the body throughout meditation.
Maybe that choice was more apt than I recognized. As I held Robert’s hand, I breathed deeply and was transferred to a broad open area, just like states I had experienced in deep meditation. It felt as though some essence was sustaining me, as if I were a plant taking in sunlight.
In my peripheral vision, I saw cats on every side of me and had to stop a distracting rush of worry. If I allowed myself to sink into it, I would remain in severe trouble. I could make the see short, I told myself. However later on when I took a look at the clock, I was surprised to find that a number of hours had actually passed and not only was I breathing simply great, I felt completely restored.
My pal Robert died 2 days later, however not prior to teaching me something I will never ever forget about the power of empathy. For love is what kept me glued to Robert’s side, determined not to let my own problems keep me from a greater task. Potent medicine. And a last frontier for conquering what ailed me.