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Coming up for air

I’ve never been an avid swimmer. While admittedly I’ve spent afternoons with ridiculous looking swimming goggle intents around my eyes and remnants of chlorine smell on my skin, the feeling after going swimming has always outweighed the actual process of being in the pool swimming laps. Nonetheless, after the first several minutes of a continuous swim when the breath and stroke pace normalise, something akin to the practice of yoga sets in; rather than ‘working’ to swim, the process of swimming becomes fluid and self-sustaining for a longer (and more enjoyable) period of time. Life can sometimes feel this way too.

In practice, the act of coming up for air can translate into anything that brings us out of a state of self absorbtion into a more open space. This new sense of space invites dimensionality and a shift in perspective. It can be as simple as taking a deep breath, going for a walk, reading a book or making time to catch up with a friend.

When undertaking something new whether it be a job, relationship or a change in circumstance, it takes adjusting; ‘coming up for air’ in these moments sometimes seems more of a necessity than a moment to savor. As we adapt to the new situation over time, however, we have a choice to set a pace that promotes a more nourishing breath, one that can be enjoyable and delicious.

Life is a largely unknown journey. We do the best we can with the information we have based on our past experiences and expectations for our futures, but so much remains out of our control. For some, life is nothing but a series of events leading to gasps for air; necessary holidays to catch up on sleep or investment into programs to provide a reprise from the toxicity of daily life. The more we can readily adapt and adjust into a sustainable daily rhythm free from expectation and full of delight, the more we can be with our breath as we come up for air regularly.

In my own life, I’ve recently moved through a rapid transition of several different ‘swimming’ patterns, and finally have a sense I’ve arrived in a place where I can rest into my breath. The first pattern existed based on an old habit behaviour; one that through awareness I have routinely sought to break, but even more regularly reverted back to. This lifestyle was largely based on expectation and drive. Whether it came from my upbringing, is a part of my human nature, or exists as a cultural norm, I had an inherent expectation of self to strive to be hardworking and successful in all that I did; as mother, in my relationships and in my professional life. I routinely overfilled my schedule, and as a result had a sense that I never quite had the time to catch my breath. I chose to swim in the fast lane, at best keeping up, at worst rushing to get to the end of the pool only to turn around for the next lap.

The second pattern emerged rapidly without warning or control. As a longterm illness eventually caught up with me, everything around me, all that I strove to achieve and all that I was passionate about in my life came to a toppling down..I was treading water in the slow lane and gasping for air. Forced to let go of everything extra and stripped of any false sense of me, after a prolonged period of caring for my most basic self with huge benefits from modern medicine and the support of friends and family, I’ve arrived. I’m living in the present.

The third pattern I’ve adopted over the course of the past month is a self-regulated pace that feels sustainable and appropriate for where I am in my life at this moment. This includes a whole sense of self; one that is made up as me as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, transplant patient, yoga practitioner, body worker and teacher, among other things. These days I’m more interested in the negative space in my diary rather than sorting through complicated overlapping colour blocks.

Whether swimming in a pool, a sea or the proverbial ocean of life, we all need to come up for air at some point. Asking some fundamental questions about how we go about doing this and what the quality of breath is may uncover answers or more interesting questions about the ebb and flow of our daily existence. Happy swimming.

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