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Find Your Breath To Find Your Focus


Deep breathing and meditative breathing techniques can be valuable tools for athletes to enhance their performance by promoting physical and mental well-being.


Here are several ways in which these techniques can benefit athletes:

1. Stress Reduction:

  • Cortisol Regulation:  Deep breathing helps regulate cortisol, the stress hormone. Lower cortisol levels contribute to a more relaxed state, reducing the negative impact of stress on the body.

  • Anxiety and Nervousness:  Athletes often experience pre-competition anxiety. Meditative breathing can calm the nervous system, helping athletes manage anxiety and nervousness.

2. Improved Focus and Concentration:

  • Mind-Body Connection:  Deep breathing facilitates a stronger mind-body connection. This heightened awareness can improve concentration and focus during training and competition.

  • Reduced Distractions:  Meditative breathing helps athletes tune out distractions and stay in the present moment, preventing the mind from wandering or being overwhelmed.

3. Enhanced Recovery:

  • Oxygenation of Muscles:  Deep breathing ensures better oxygenation of muscles, aiding in faster recovery from intense physical exertion.

  • Reduced Muscle Tension:  Meditative breathing can help relax tense muscles, promoting quicker recovery and reducing the risk of injury.

4. Optimized Performance:

  • Increased Oxygen Intake:  Deep breathing maximizes oxygen intake, enhancing aerobic capacity and overall endurance.

  • Balanced Energy Levels:  Meditative breathing helps balance the autonomic nervous system, optimizing energy levels for peak performance.

5. Stress Resilience:

  • Resilience to Setbacks:  Athletes often face setbacks and failures. Mindfulness and meditative breathing can enhance resilience, helping athletes bounce back more effectively from challenges.

6. Improved Sleep Quality:

  • Relaxation for Recovery: Deep breathing before bedtime promotes relaxation and can contribute to better sleep quality, a crucial factor in an athlete's recovery process.

7. Injury Prevention:

  • Body Awareness: Mindful breathing fosters greater body awareness, helping athletes detect and address potential issues or imbalances that could lead to injuries.

8. Enhanced Decision-Making:

  • Clarity of Mind: Deep breathing can clear the mind of clutter and promote better decision-making, which is crucial in fast-paced, dynamic sports.

9. Positive Mental State:

  • Optimism and Confidence: Mindful breathing can contribute to a positive mental state, boosting confidence and optimism, which are vital for optimal athletic performance.

10. Team Building:

  • Group Dynamics: Incorporating deep breathing or meditation into team routines fosters a sense of unity and cohesion, promoting a positive team atmosphere.

11.  Long-Term Mental Resilience:

  • Mindfulness Training: Regular meditation contributes to long-term mental resilience, helping athletes navigate the ups and downs of their careers.

 

Tip #1 to help you use breathing to center your mind and body.

When life feels out of focus, always return to the basic of life....breathing...no breathing, no life!

-Mr. Miyagi


Learn to understand your breathing patterns.

Identify your breathing patterns. Take notice of how you breathe in different moments throughout the day. Do you have shallow breaths vs deep breaths, and do you breathe through your nose vs mouth?


Be aware of your emotions as well, like when you are feeling stressed, anxious, excited, or relaxed. E.g., athletes can feel relaxed at practice during warmups and drills, while feeling anxious or overly excited before competition. 


Lastly, be aware of how your body responds to your emotions. E.g., when a swimmer feels stressed before his race, his shoulders get stiff; when a fencer arrives at her competition venue, her chest gets tight and she feels short of breath; when a soccer player posts on social media after a match, her neck starts to ache from arching and staring at the screen. 


*Physical tension in the neck, shoulders, and chest can cause shallow breathing. If we have enough of these moments throughout the day, we can develop the habit of shallow breathing all the time. 


*Shallow breathing can trigger your emotions, which in turn can activate your fight or flight response (hyper arousal or acute stress response). These moments, feelings, and reactions could be a reason why you perform poorly, have trouble focusing, and feel off center. 

 

Tip #2 to help you use breathing to center your mind and body.

Sometimes the best solution is to rest, relax, and recharge. It’s hard to be your best on empty

-Sam Glenn 


How your breathing can regulate your mind and body.

  • Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) - in general, it’s our quick action and response center. SNS allows us to physically perform. At the extreme, it puts us on high alert 🚨, it’s our “fight or flight” response.

  • Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) - at the extreme, we are at rest. In general, it allows us to relax and calm both mind and body. It allows us to rest, recover, digest, feed, and breed. 

  • Both are part of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), it’s what bridges involuntary actions, like breathing and heart rate, with our thoughts and actions. 

With technology and the push to constantly multitask, we are consistently activating and using our SNS. Even when we think we are at rest or relaxing we are in a mindset of action and active thought.  The brain reacts the same way to imagining an action as it does to physical action. We need a balance of both systems to allow us to perform optimally in sport.


Finding a balance doesn’t mean we should, e.g., eat a sandwich and run a race at the same time or drive a car and text at the same time. The ideal for performance is to activate our SNS in a way that makes us ready vs start slow or start at fight or flight (overly worried, nervous, or excited). And, once we are done, we need to turn it off and activate our PNS. 


Homework

  • Map out your day. Identify the times you need to active your SNS for action and when you need to relax and activate your PNS.  E.g., at lunchtime, stop working or looking at social media. Just eat. Even if you take 10 min to just eat, it can serve as a moment to active your PNS. 


Check out these two links on mindful eating:

 

Tip #3 to help you use breathing to center your mind and body.

If you can learn how to use your mind, anything is possible

-Wim Hof

Diaphragmatic Breathing

When we breathe properly, the following things happen:

a. We have more energy. 

b. Our stress levels are reduced.

c. Our muscles perform at an optimal level, giving us a higher level of performance in sports.

d. Our immune system improves.

e. We have more focus and mental clarity.

f. We sleep better.

g. We can physically recover faster.


The Wim Hof Method is another approach to breathing and wellbeing. 

Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman, is a Dutch extreme athlete noted for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures. He has set Guinness world records for swimming under ice and prolonged full-body contact with ice, and still holds the record for a barefoot half-marathon on ice and snow.


The Wim Hof Method is built on three pillars, which are breathing, cold therapy and commitment. His three pillars combine breathing, exposure to cold, and meditation. 

It’s essentially:

Breathing = calm 

Cold 🥶= reduce inflammation and swelling

Meditation = will power and self control


On their own, each has its own benefits. 

Hof combines the three to create his Wim Hof method. Google Wim Hof or download the Wim Hof Method App for more! 


Reference


 

In the end, athletes can incorporate these techniques into their daily routines, including pre-competition rituals and regular training sessions, to experience the cumulative benefits over time. It's essential for athletes to explore different practices and find the ones that resonate best with their individual preferences and needs.


Incorporating these techniques into regular training routines can contribute to an athlete's overall well-being and performance. It's important for athletes to explore and practice these techniques to find what works best for them and to integrate them into their training and competition preparation.



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