The Foundational Mental Skill That Every Performer Should Know and Train
Powell Cucchiella, LMHC
Here we go! The foundational skill that every performer should know and train. I'm reminded of the Karate Kid where Daniel had to train the foundational movements so they became automatic when needed in his performance. This is no different. This critical mental skill is rhythmic breathing!
Controlling the breath has been known for centuries in many different cultures to have a positive impact on the brain, mind, emotions, body, and spirit. Science has caught up with reliable evidence! To share a few: It triggers a relaxation response. It resets the mind. It puts you into the present moment. It can energize the body or calm it down. It is foundation for mental training; and should be a part of the regimen, hands down!
I have read countless sport/performance psychology books, journal submissions, and articles and I would say that I’m hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t support the use of breath in the variety of ways it is used for performance.
Breathing for Performance Anxiety
Rhythmic breathing is most known for its use to calm down nerves and anxiety. When we feel fear or doubt about our performance, or even when we are really excited, the part of our brain that controls emotions kicks in and triggers our stress response. This is why our body tightens/tenses, we feel a pit in our stomach and our heart rate and breath quicken. Our thoughts often race as well and it’s hard to focus or think about success. Our behaviors change dramatically too! Some performers avoid thinking about the performance and distract themselves while others overthink and overcompensate using valuable energy. Slowing down our breathing was the gift given to us to counter the stress response. It tells our brain and body that it is not in the danger that it thinks it is, and gives us our control back.
Breathing As A Mental Training Tool
Breathing is not just impactful for those trying to bring down their stress/arousal levels. Controlled breathing for a few minutes a day does so much more. As you regulate your breathing you are also putting your mind and focus in the present moment. You are training your attention to be focused on the breath and the count. As you exhale, and the body settles, you are becoming aware of your thoughts, emotions, and physiology. You then have the power to direct your attention/focus/thoughts towards your goals or your process. Rhythmic breathing is literally a reset button so that you can gain control over the process that helps you to be consistent and confident.
How many minutes a day should we train?
Whenever I work with clients, I always ask them how many hours they put in to training the physical, technical, and tactical part of their performance. The usual answer is 10-20 hours a week. So how much is a good start for the mental? How about 5 minutes a day! Truly, it takes 2 minutes for your body, brain, and mind to shift but 5 minutes adds the focused piece as well and is surely a low end amount of time to dedicate to something that has such an impact.
How Do I Do It?
We have heard since we are toddles to take a deep breath but no know one ever teaches us how! I must admit, there are likely 100’s of different ways to breathe that people find different uses for. I have looked into many of them and have tried to find the similarities that are most effective for our purpose of stress reduction, focus, and a mental/emotional reset. Here is what I have discovered:
- Breathe in smoothly and slowly through the nose
- Fill the diaphragm first, and then chest, and then up into the throat. This a complete breath, filling the entire system.
- Breathe out smoothly and slowly through the nose or mouth.
- The breath should be rhythmic. I have found that the rhythm doesn’t matter but there are a few rules to choosing: a) The in breath should be less seconds than the out breath and b) the total breath should AT LEAST be 10 seconds in length.
- Repeat the rhythm for at least 2 minutes
Try 5 in 5 out, or 4 in 8 out, or a box breath: 5 in, 5 hold, 5 out, 5 hold. I currently live in Albany, NY, where the area code is 518. My work with kids and adolescents is teaching a 5 second inhale, hold for 1, and out for 8. The apple watch, with its “Breathe App” does a 4 in 4 out to a flower that grows and shrinks to the rhythm..
You see the specific seconds do not matter as long as they meet the rules above.
Here is a link to an audio that I recorded so you can get a sense of what the training looks like: Mental Training- Rhythmic Breathing- 5 in 5 out
Put In The Time!
Remember that mental training is a practice! We were gifted a few different ways in which we can train the mental and emotional aspect of our lives to perform consistently and confidently. Rhythmic breathing is at the top of the list. Put in the time. I think you would agree.
As always, if you have any questions, you can find me on my instagram or facebook at positively_elite. Or at my email at [email protected]
Thanks for reading!