It’s a strange thing, realizing you’ve forgotten what a full pair of lungs feels like.

I try and fail to summon air into my belly, inhaling and exhaling as I move through morning yoga on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, again. I used to be able to let go, but lately I feel like the menacing outside follows me in through the studio doors, the gloom and the stress floating through my mind and filling up my chest.

No vacancy, lungs—try again later.

In this moment, however, I feel like it’s the outside that’s doing the healing.

I’m sitting on a large rock, and the water is so pure that I can see all the way to the bottom. My toes are wiggling in the rough and sandy riverbed, finally freed

from polish
and socks
and sweat
and obligation.

Sunglasses abandoned, baseball cap secured firmly on my head, I stretch out my arms behind me and lean back so the sunlight saturates my skin.

My ribcage expands, and for the first time in a long time, my lungs begin to introduce themselves to the crisp mountain air of the Gold Country. They’re hesitant at first, as if they don’t truly have permission. Isn’t there something else they should be doing, some responsibility they should be carrying rather than this indulgence?

My ribcage contracts again, and my lungs empty. They try again, as a team this time: expanding and allowing the air in. Do I trust them? Do I really think that it will help? Do I really want to admit that I need helping?

My lungs let in a little bit more this time—halfway. Progress. As they contract again, I anticipate the third attempt with eagerness. Naturally, freely, and finally without the weight of self-imposed responsibility, I expand for the first time as a holistic being, and accept the outside in—to heal and to rejuvenate—with the unadulterated mountain air.

Katherine is a San Francisco-based book lover, thought scribbler, and Harry Potter nerd. She loves trying new food, exploring new places, and deep conversation. One day, she hopes to own a pet koi fish and have wall-to-wall bookshelves.