When I was in junior high, I longed to craft a path to peace. But I had a few problems. I was just an adolescent. Moreover, I was an adolescent with a disability.
In my haste to be born, I made my entry into the world a few weeks early and startled my folks in the middle of the night. My umbilical cord was pinched like a garden hose during the process, and I lost some oxygen. As a result, I developed a pronounced speech impediment and a few physical coordination issues. These felt like severe limitations in my youth, keeping me from doing anything that would have a meaningful impact on the world.
I hadn’t yet recognized that great world leaders like Gandhi didn’t act as lone wolves. Now, I realize that their gift was to inspire the community around them to make a stand for significant change. Now, I see that the circumstances of my life were opportunities around which I could create an exciting and productive life.
For most of my life, I chose to believe that I had no business in a gym because of my disability. But in January 2009, encouraged to try yoga, I walked into the Sioux Falls YMCA with some hesitation and signed up for a monthly membership. I believed that the main benefit would be to improve my physical flexibility.
But yoga’s impact on me, its impact on my fellow students, and its peaceful influence upon the world are far less visible — and much farther reaching — than touching one’s toes. The secret is consciously paying attention to and working with one’s breath, and consciously entering into the commonality of breath that connects us.
Before this, I experienced anxiety on a daily basis. I would often act to reduce my anxiety, either by choosing to flee situations that were causing me stress, or by attempting to control them. Neither approach left the people around me feeling especially peaceful. My disability looked like an enormous threat that I either needed to deny or manipulate. I never stopped to imagine that I was the one who was making my physical circumstances into a disability. I assumed that both my anxiety and my physical limitations were just part of life and became resigned to them.
Gradually, I noticed that cultivating a consistent, deep breath changed both how I felt and how I viewed the world.
Attending yoga classes has taught me to become conscious of my breath, and the skill of breathing deeply on a consistent basis. I have discovered that the physical circumstances of my speech impediment and minor coordination issues are, in fact, some of my greatest gifts. They allow me to connect with a wide variety of people in a significant and meaningful way. Giving a speech used to be something I avoided. Now, I seek out opportunities to speak to people about journeying from limitations to achieving the extraordinary.
Gandhi famously said:
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
I used to think this change had to be something complex and gigantic, but what I have found is that this change can be far simpler — as simple as a deep breath. This breath cascades through us, connecting us to every other person on the planet, and gifts us, moment by moment, with the opportunity to be the change we wish to see.