Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ten Breaths

Yesterday, I had my toenails painted by a former Tibetan monk. And he told me the secret to a less stressful life.

That sounds like a zippy opening for a chick-lit novel, doesn't it? But it is, in fact, what happened to me yesterday afternoon. The funniest thing is that I'm still marveling at how my life can surprise me. I somehow had the idea that I knew where the surprises in my life would come from---and isn't that the dumbest thing you've ever heard? They wouldn't be surprises if I knew which corner of the sky to look for them in. They wouldn't be unexpected if I could anticipate the moment they would happen. And yet, I'd grown comfortable with my "surprises" happening on days like Christmas, when I finally open the gifts I have carefully been avoiding knowing too much about. Or surprise! I won the snowflake I had been actively bidding on in the Robert's Snow auction. Surprise me! I might say to the sushi chef, knowing full well that he would put delectable, fresh sashimi on my plate.

So, I deserved what I got when I took my toes into that salon. I deserved the slightly confused, weird feeling I got when a man instead of a woman walked out to say he'd be giving me my pedicure. I deserved the first fifteen minutes of watching him, tensely and critically, to see if he could handle the delicate job of smoothing my exercise-roughened feet. It wasn't until I mentioned that I did yoga that who he was emerged.

He told me that he did yoga, too. That he had studied metaphysics as a Tibetan monk for eighteen years. That he had come to the US to be part of a Buddhist community that had since moved. That he had had several other jobs, including caring for Alzheimer patients and preparing sushi for Whole Foods. He told me, when I asked, that the traditional Tibetan diet doesn't include small animals, like chicken or fish, because each animal's life is considered equal to every other, so it's more ethical to kill one large animal, like a yak, which can feed an entire village.

He also shared with me a quick tip for stress relief: Ten Breaths. No special breath, he warned. That's too tiring. And don't think that more than ten is better...more is just intimidating, and you won't do it. Just STOP what you are doing, count ten of your normal breaths, and then resume your life. Repeat, if you need to. He said it was like rebooting your computer, running one program to quiet all the other ones that had become locked up.

This guy wasn't a guru. He did kind of ramble. I wondered why he had left the Buddhist community. But I can tell you that he surprised me. Every time I look at my freshly painted toenails, I think:

Ten toes.
Ten breaths.
Can it really be that simple?


  1. I love your rambling former Tibetan monk. And yes, it does sound like the opening to a chick lit novel!

    10 breaths sounds like a good way to just pause and reorient yourself in the world. I'm trying it today.

  2. This post is right up my alley. I'm breathing right now and I LOVE your toes...

  3. What great advice and you have great feet to match! Thanks for sharing your surprising afternoon.









  4. The best manicure I ever had was from a guy who spent the entire time talking smack with the barber about Madden Football. When I left, they played a rematch on the salon's TV.

  5. What a completely doable stress relief technique! I think I'm going to write "breathe!" in ink on my wall.

  6. Now that everyone's breathing, can I make you laugh by telling you that my nail polish color is Espresso Your Style? You can go here to try it on virtually.

  7. What a cool story. Definitely a novel in progress when you think about the reasons why he left the Buddhist community. Love your toes!

  8. My daughter is crazy about painting people's toenails, so I will probably never have to look anywhere else for a pedicure (I only reluctantly agreed to letting her give me one). But this is a great story, and your ex-priest is right about the ten breaths. Eight work too, as long as you make them deep and slow. I've never tried a number under that; it might be interesting to try and find the minimum number of breaths that would work to relieve stress.

    And what cute toes you have!


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