All the people I’ve met who really knew what they were doing had one thing in common:
They took time to breathe.
I used to ride motorcycles a lot: every chance I could, in fact. I wasn’t part of the chopper-cruiser scene, though I bore those types no malice. They were on two wheels and were showing they had made a choice in existential freedom–and thus had my respect in a certain way. See: there’s no rational justification for riding a 150-horsepower bicycle (nor even a 50-horsepower one, as is the case with most Harleys). You need to make that choice for yourself.
I was a sport rider. I would go out to the local racetracks on trackdays and would ride around the circuit going very fast–well, fast for me, that is. I was on a small V-twin and was in my early 30’s — well past the age when I had something to prove to the guys in the pits. I was just a guy having some Walter Mitty fun.
But usually some 19-year-old hotshot would show up on a Suzuki GSXR and I could tell he was going to crash out on the first lap, perhaps taking someone else with him. Most times, I was right. Within a few minutes after the start of the first session, I would watch two hormonally-charged boys in colorful leathers headbutting each other with their helmets on the track post-crash, their mangled bikes in a smoking pile somewhere off in the background.
I knew it was going to end up like that. I looked at that kid and I knew he wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t REALLY breathing.
It’s not an age thing. There was this one kid named “Gordo” who rode a Yamaha R1, which was a motorcycle with enough horsepower to pull a travel trailer at a pretty good clip. He had just turned 19. I could tell by talking to him that I could have trusted him with my life: I could see him breathing. He led our little group on a blast of a ride through Salt River Canyon once along US60, dragging knee at every turn. There was a grace and quietude to his riding.
In just about everything I’ve studied seriously enough to get passably good at (motorcycling, skiing, guitar, shooting, sex) “breathing” shows up in the title of a lesson in all the major books. It’s usually a lesson that’s far enough back to keep from discouraging hot-heads who just want to get started and who think (if they think at all) that breathing is bullshit. After these types have bought the book, glanced over the first few chapters, then gone out and crashed their toys, they let the book go to Goodwill while they mourn their broken bikes, broken skis, broken legs, broken hearts.
But see, I’m a little more patient. And weird.
Thus, I think it all gets back to breathing. If you’re not breathing freely and easily, your body and your brain aren’t getting the oxygen they need. Your body starts saying “Looks like we’re under stress. Something’s about to happen. Be ready for sudden action!” and you stop thinking. You start reacting instead.
This happens on motorcycles. It happens on ski slopes. It happens in bed on top of another person. It happens behind a keyboard.
Think about that for a bit. Just think.
By the way: I hear that taking a deep breath helps.
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In my debut novel Eye of the Diamond-T, there’s quite a bit of breathing, actually. Check it out at www.diamondtbook.com