Excerpts

  • 2. The Five Deep Breaths

    They who hold balance beyond sway of love or hate,

    Beyond reach of profit or loss,

    Beyond care of praise or blame,

    Have attained the highest post in the world.

    Lao-Tzu

    The Way Of Life

    Pressure and anxiety flow from:

    • expectations (e.g. from family, friends, bosses, coaches, the media, and especially your own).
    • the perceived importance of an event. Any event, whether an audition, speech, meeting, presentation, etc., can trigger unique forms of pressure; e.g. for some elite athletes winning a national competition is one thing, competing in the Olympics can be quite another.
    • the audience.
    • competitors whose perceived strengths, experience and skills may intimidate you.

    In pressure-filled situations, the body takes faster, shallower breaths, decreasing the amount of oxygen in our system. The result? Your heart rate and blood pressure shift into overdrive to make up the difference. This can trigger the fight-flight syndrome; muscles tighten and your mind becomes more emotional and anxious.

    Breathing from the abdomen instead of the chest is an effective tool to cope with pressure.

    Focused breathing helps to replenish the supply of oxygen, slows the heart rate, and gives you a break from negative inner conversations with that voice in your head. Golf legend Bobby Jones said, "The enemy in golf is tension” and used breathing techniques to mentally calm himself before taking a shot.

    Let’s try a simple experiment:

    -Stand quietly.

    -Take a slow deep breath and say the number “one”. Pause, and let your breath out slowly while saying the number “two”.

    -Take another slow deep breath and mentally say the number “three”. Pause before letting your breath out slowly, while mentally saying the number “four”.

    -Continue until you reach the number “ten”.

    When you were focusing on your breath, what happened to your thoughts and emotions? They were there before you started counting, they returned as soon as you stopped. Where were they while you were counting?

    This simple experiment demonstrates two important principles. First, you are not your thoughts and emotions. They are transitory, flowing through and beyond you. What were you thinking or worrying about a year ago today, or a month ago?

    Second,  you can control your thoughts and emotions; initially, this may last for only a few seconds, but this is the first step in learning how to maintain your focus and push through distractions under any type of pressure.

    Experiment by repeating the above technique, three times, then six, and so on. Although counting your breath repeated times may seem boring, it:

    -identifies negative conditioned responses

    -illustrates the focus needed to perform consistently well, especially when everything around you seems to be falling apart

    Tennis champion Roger Federer, down two sets to none, (in 2012 at Wimbledon) and two points away from being eliminated, said “Oh, my God, it was brutal. The thing, when you’re down is to stay calm, even though it’s hard…You just try to play tough and focus point for point. Sounds so boring, but it’s the right thing to do out there.”

    Change your focus, change the mind.