Many years ago now, around this time of year, I came down with a bad case of bronchitis. My lungs were not the same afterwards. I was diagnosed with asthma. About 10 years ago, I started having more and more reactions to the medications. In 2009 I went for acupuncture. More than a year into treatment with Dr. Aung, on the first smoky day of the wildfire season, after standing outside for 20 minutes for a work function, I realized that I wasn’t wheezing like I normally would, I wasn’t having trouble breathing at all. I went for all the tests. There was no sign of the asthma. I threw away my inhalers.
Fast forward to November 2018. I caught a virus in mid-November, a bad cold that went to my chest and sat there, the way I used to feel when I had asthma. I would have to catch my breath while talking. I would sleep for 10 hours and feel in the morning as if I had slept for five. This went on for weeks. I couldn’t figure out why after so many years, it felt like the asthma had returned. “You just need rest and time,” the doctor kept saying. “Rest and time.”
The very first time I saw Dr. Aung, there was still ice underfoot, but spring was on the air. I came out of the clinic afterwards, my whole body vibrating, shot through with bits of air and light. The street was awash with the drab pastels of that season, an amalgam of sensations and shapes: office towers angled overhead, the sky clouded, the bare trees and my scarf bending with the wind, the feel of a cracked sidewalk under my feet, all of it lifting me, threatening to carry me in its current. For the whole two blocks to my bus stop, cars were coming and going on the street, all around me people were passing, their voices hushed, but I felt connected to each one, reverent, the feeling of their day close to mine—excited, happy, sad, fearful—a swirl—everything speeding as we passed each other. It was like looking at the world through a kaleidoscope.
When I went looking for that experience this week, the place where my journal fell open was about two months into my treatment. It was the record of a conversation with Dr. Aung.
“Can I give you a hug?” he asked me.
I took his hug and I said to him, “I don’t know why, but my
asthma is really bad this week.”
“Sometimes sadness does that to us.”
“You’re right! That’s what it is!”
I can tell by looking at you; I can see.”
Sometimes it takes us a while to see what’s changed inside. There has been some sadness in my life of late. Losses, not with the permanence of death, but losses still, of trust, of surety, of innocence. Midwinter can be a difficult time. It’s why we gather our families and friends around us, why we feast and sing and tell stories of hope. Without sadness we wouldn’t have joy. Without darkness, light.
I went twice to Dr. Aung this week for acupuncture and cupping. Both work on the theory of qi or ch’i, variously translated as the dynamic life force or flow of energy. It’s a concept not unlike the Hebrew concept of ruach, which means wind, breath, and spirit. To breathe is to live; to breathe is to pray. Both are true. The practice of qi gong is the practice of balancing energy. Blockages stop the flow. Our breath is what connects us to everything.
Within hours of the first visit this week, my lungs had calmed. I slept the deepest sleep I had in a month. I’m recovering my breath and with it my spirits.