Cycling Breath Through Grief

I’m guilty of shallow mouth breathing during exercise. On a Monday in July, my indoor cycling instructor broke down the elements of proper diaphragmatic breath.

First, posture. Chest up, shoulders back, spine straight. No compressing the diaphragm by slouching. Release tension in neck, shoulders. Loosen grip the handlebars. Close the mouth. Count each pedal stroke.

In through the nose. I center my gaze on the handlebars’ height-adjustment-numbers in front of me as he counts. 1, 2, 3, 4.
Hold. 1, 2, 3, 4.
Out through the nose. My eyes travel down the adjustment numbers: 4, 3, 2, 1.
Hold.
After a few rounds, extend the exhale longer than the inhale.

It’s challenging to train the breath while feeling the exertion, pumping my legs, and attending to posture at the same time. The first few rounds are uneven. I need more air. I can’t hold the exhale. I open my mouth and gulp in air. Lightheaded, I stop the count. Jump back in. Stop. Restart. By the end of class, I’ve found a rhythm.

When I practice it, breathing diaphragmatically through the nose at a deeper and slower cadence improves my cycling performance. It boosts endurance. I’m less exhausted after.

I found myself naturally continuing the breath sequence outside of cycle class. Even and steady. In. Hold. Out. Hold.

 
Two days later, I received shocking news: My beloved cat Leyna was dead.

 

Grief hit.

I breathed.

In. Hold. Out. Hold. In. Hold. Out. Hold.

Each time a wave of sadness washed over me, I came back to my breath. In. Hold. Out. Hold. Fill belly. Allow belly to deflate. Because I’d been practicing, the breath flowed, along with the emotions. When I observed myself holding, I consciously inhaled deep and exhaled long. Let go of the distressing thoughts.

One day when grief was particularly strong, I stepped outside. Felt fresh air on my skin and the insides of my nostrils. “Leyna, I miss you.”

In.
A baby white feather floated down from the sky.
Hold.
I caught it on the tip of my finger.
Out.

I’m grateful for divine timing. That class was exactly when I most needed it.

Practicing the breath supported my grieving process. It was messy. Breathing didn’t take away the tears or the loss. But it made a difference. I focused on what I could control. I moved the energy through me with each breath cycle, each pedal stroke.