Developing a rhythm for breathing and for life.

Swimming has a rhythm of breathing. No matter the stroke you are using, it requires regularity and a pace to breathe and refill your lungs with oxygen. Mess up that rhythm or timing and the ease of the stroke is broken. Inhale at the wrong moment and you take in water, coughing and spluttering your way to the end of the lap. (Guess how I know this?!) The early stages of learning how to swim focus on floating, kicking and moving your arms. Moving past those early stages requires learning how to breathe and work your body together in that rhythm. It doesn’t come naturally. It has to be practiced.

As I pushed through my laps this morning, I was reminded again of this breathing rhythm. I was struck by how much focus we need to place on it for learning how to swim and yet we barely pay attention to it in the rest of our lives. It is this automatic process that happens to keep us alive. And yet, our pattern of breathing has a massive impact on our emotions, our alertness and our sense of well-being. Learning breathing exercises is a basic component of coping strategies for anxiety and stress. Slowing our breathing rhythm releases a sense of calm and allows our mind to focus more effectively.

Finding a rhythm extends beyond our breathing if we want to thrive in our lives and move past merely surviving. Having a rhythm to my days and my weeks doesn’t make me immune to distraction or interruptions. It doesn’t lock me in to a rigid schedule that allows no flexibility for those moments that life throws my way. It does give me an ease of knowing what the next right thing is for me to do. It gives me the headspace to know what is coming up, a broad strokes picture of my day or week ahead.

Like learning how to breathe while swimming, it felt unnatural and forced at first. It required conscious thought and intent to set up. I am reaching a stage now where it feels more automatic and flowing. I notice when my rhythm is thrown out by the unexpected or by the choice to pursue a distraction. It can feel like that awkward intake of breath at the wrong moment. It takes a recalibration to return to my rhythm and keep working in that.

Developing this rhythm for life forces you to evaluate everything that you are doing and the pace you try to sustain. Cramming in too much and keeping up a frenetic pace doesn’t work when structuring your rhythm, particularly in the beginning of new rhythms or seasons. It’s like those complicated cup stacking tricks I’ve seen on videos then tried. When you try to copy them, you have to slow it right down and break it down into small bits. You have to practice and then work up to the pace that is sustainable for you. Each of us will have a different pace, a different rhythm, and a different amount that we can fit into that rhythm. Trying to imitate someone else rarely works completely or without going on that journey of practice and work.

Maybe life feels chaotic and out of sync right now. Maybe that idea of a gentle rhythm to your days and weeks tugs at your heart. You can take steps toward that right now. You can choose one thing in your life to assign a time or a day. You can identify one item on your to do list that is jarring to that sense of rhythm, isn’t in line with your goals and values or can be delegated to someone else. You can try a rhythm for a few weeks then adjust as you need to. And while you are at it, check the rhythm of your breathing and slow it down. Your body, mind and soul will thank you for it.

Part of the extra motivation for my swimming this month is the Laps For Life challenge. You can find out more about it and consider donating to this amazing cause here.

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