In new school year, making room to lie still and just breathe

We are three weeks into the new school year, and I am breathless. Crumpled schedules lie on the kitchen counter (“I’ve already memorized it Mom!”), pencils of all lengths and colors spill out of open backpacks at the bottom of the stairs, socks and a sweaty football jersey leave a trail to the washing machine — and every size of sneaker, basketball shoe and soccer cleat is in a heap by the front door. So long, summer!

The start of the school year is always chaotic as everyone in my family tries to figure out where they’re supposed to be and when. Actually, the kids all figure it out pretty quickly; I’m the one who stares at the big color-coded calendar in the kitchen for many minutes each day, trying to memorize the schedule. Is under-8 soccer today and under-14 on Thursday, or is it the other way around? And ballet is twice a week now, so that means I can squeeze in a Trader Joe’s run after I drop her off. Football happens at school, thank goodness, and he can easily get his homework done after bar mitzvah lessons. I find it difficult to catch my breath in all this back-to-school mayhem, so I decide to force the issue and take a yoga class.

My yoga of choice is Bikram yoga. It’s anything but relaxing. A series of 26 postures in a studio heated to 110 degrees or above, it often feels as if I am torturing and healing myself in equal measure. The heat quickly warms my muscles and allows my body to twist and turn, but at times it is almost impossible to remain still and composed in the humid, fiery air. The postures are restorative but extremely energetic and at the end of each one my heart is racing and the blood pounds in my head. “Just breathe” is my mantra.

After the final posture, spine twist, the yoga teacher gently instructs us to lie flat on our backs in savasana, corpse pose. We are to lie, as the pose suggests, completely still with our bodies relaxed and our palms facing the ceiling. “You may think the benefit comes from all that intense twisting and turning you just did,” she says, “but here, now, here is where the magic happens. In savasana.”

I’m more than a little skeptical that in order to achieve maximum results, to accomplish what I want to achieve — good health, a clear head, overall wellness and the space to breathe — I simply have to lie still and do nothing.

But she’s right.

As I imagine it is with all yoga, I leave my class feeling focused and centered, with a little more room to think and a lot more room to breathe.

It’s no coincidence that in our own Jewish religion, we are commanded to have down time. The fourth of our Ten Commandments states: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Hashem your God. On it you shall not do any work… For in six days Hashem made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.”

I think of that color-coded calendar in the kitchen at home. Our crammed schedule that doesn’t only happen on weekdays but often spills into the weekend too. No wonder I’m breathless. We have to create more room, more time to be still, to be quiet, to let the magic happen.

I know it’s not easy to do. Even without the additional after-school activities, which my kids enjoy and some might even consider downtime, school itself is busy and demanding. And a rare free afternoon usually means skateboarding with friends or catching up on homework. I hardly ever see my kids lying on their beds or on the carpet, perfectly still and calm.

This school year I am adding something new to the calendar: big blocks of blank space. Space to think and breathe and be.

Namaste and Shabbat Shalom.

Nicki Gilbert

Nicki Gilbert is a writer, Alcatraz swimmer and country music lover who lives in Piedmont with her husband, four kids and dachshund puppy. Her blog is