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  • Writer's pictureHollie

Second Wind

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. 

From the moment we emerge from the womb gasping, to the moment we depart with but a whisper of air, our breath is a constant companion, and breathing, a most fundamental act of life. It is the thread that weaves through every moment of our lives, linking us to our environment and anchoring us in the present. Each breath we take delivers oxygen to our cells, fueling our bodies and minds.

Yet, despite its essential role in sustaining life, we often take it for granted, letting it slip into the background of our awareness. Most of the time, it occurs effortlessly and without conscious thought, driven by the autonomic processes of our body. Yet, when we bring awareness and intention to our breath, it transforms into a profound power that can do much more than simply keep us alive. 

Whether practising athletics or the arts, breath is a crucial ally. Athletes across various disciplines use breath control to optimise their performance. Swimmers learn to synchronise their strokes with their breathing to maximise efficiency and endurance, while runners use rhythmic breathing to maintain a steady pace. In archery, controlled breathing steadies the hand and sharpens focus. Martial artists harness the breath to channel energy and maintain composure. In yoga, pranayama (lit. life energy manipulation) is a central practice that enhances flexibility, strength, and mental clarity. Perhaps you can think of even more examples that show the vital role breath plays in every aspect of our lives.

Although breathing is an involuntary process, it can be consciously controlled. When we breathe intentionally, we can influence our physiological and psychological states. When we are stressed or anxious, our breathing often becomes shallow and rapid. This type of breathing can exacerbate feelings of panic and discomfort, and by consciously slowing and deepening our breath, we can counteract these effects. This also reduces the activity of the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for processing fear and emotional responses, thus allowing us to regain control over our emotions. Deep, slow breathing signals the brain that it is safe to relax, leading to a cascade of calming effects throughout the body. The heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, and the mind becomes more grounded in the present. 

One of my favourite breathwork exercises combines two simple, yet effective techniques - belly breathing and box breathing. Would you like to give it a go? 

Sitting with good posture; one hand on your heart and the other on your belly, breathe in deeply, allowing the lungs to fully fill with air, paying attention to the gentle rise and fall of your lower hand. This mindful awareness of the breath’s movement within the body cultivates a sense of presence and connection with the self, and to the here and now. If that feels comfortable, feel free to add in a bit of box breathing, which involves inhaling, holding, and exhaling for 4 equal counts. The rhythmic structure not only regulates the breath, but also helps distract the mind. It can help you cope with panic and stress when feeling overwhelmed, or it can be a tool to help you hit the pause button when things start to feel out of control. It can be your second wind.

By simply returning to our breath, we can find refuge in the midst of life's chaos, and reconnect with the rhythm of our own bodies, and to that sacred space within ourselves. So, take a moment now. Inhale deeply, feel the expansion of your chest, the rush of air filling your lungs, and exhale slowly, releasing tension with each breath. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. As you do, remember the resilience that resides within you, in every breath you take. Remember that you are unmistakably, undeniably, unapologetically alive.

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