When I made my living as a scuba instructor, I used to joke that I spent my days teaching people how to breathe.
There would be a little requisite chuckling at this totally silly notion, but the truth is, my job was no small feat.
I spent my days teaching people how to breathe – something they already did, without even thinking about it – but in a context that was completely foreign to them. They had to learn how to set up the equipment they would need to breathe from, to put it on along with nearly a hundred pounds of cold water diving gear and wade safely into the surf without being knocked over by a rogue wave. They had to learn to trust a tiny little regulator to draw air from a compressed air tank on their back and to take that first, exhilarating, terrifying breath underwater.
There’s nothing like that first breath, by the way. It’s when you realize that you’ve only ever seen a small portion of the world – the part with concrete and soil and trees and buildings – but never THIS.
Scuba diving comes with as many challenges as rewards, to be sure, but the first of these challenges is that of just breathing. I have seen many an eye go wide as it slips beneath the surface of the training pool for the first time, and I’ve had to draw my hands toward my chest and then away in the signal for BREATHE. And when you’re scuba diving, breathing is indeed the one primary, essential skill required. Hold your breath like you’re trained for an entire lifetime to do when your face hits the water and it’s a recipe for total disaster.
I can’t help but see the parallels between this work and the work I do now.
As a coach and doula supporting women through transition and transformational life experiences, I rarely find myself teaching women how to navigate these times of change in their lives. Rarely do I support them to do anything they don’t already know how to do.
In the early days of my coaching and doula work, this made me nervous. Why would anyone hire me to do something they already knew how to do? This made marketing a bitch, but it also showed up in my day-to-day practice, where I would try to DO things that ensured my value. I would fiddle about the birth room, arranging and massaging and rocking and bouncing, never quite comfortable just sitting and allowing the birth to unfold without much help from me, if that was indeed what was happening. I would give reams of advice during coaching sessions, implying that there was anything I could say that might resonate with my client deeply enough to fix whatever was going on in her life at that time.
All that doing came from two not-so-lovely headspaces: the first was one of my own ego, trying to prove my worth. The second was from a place of distrust – albeit an unconscious one – in women’s ability to navigate their way through their experience of transition.
But what kind of doula would I be if I didn’t believe in the power of a woman’s body to birth autonomously, without intervention, be it from the medical system or my restless two hands?
What kind of coach would I be if I didn’t believe in the power of a woman’s intuition and self-knowledge to find the answers deep within and trust they will direct her on her path?
It would be silly to assume I could actually teach someone how to breathe, that I was any better at the drawing in and expulsion of air than they were, and had anything to offer in terms of how one might do this better.
Breathing underwater is a different thing. It requires the occasional reminder to take in air, a hand to hold, someone to show the way in a place that is totally new.
And that’s what my doula and coaching work is all about. I support women to do what they already know how to do, yes;
But almost every time I work with a woman, I support her to actually see what she is capable of when her self-belief falters. I shine a light for her, showing her toward her own wisdom, her own answers, her own way of breathing in this new and foreign context, be it the context of motherhood or the context of living in authenticity and alignment. I am the guide, signalling, every so often: BREATHE.
This is where the deepest manifestation of the potential for my work lies.