Using the Breath to Reach the “Flow” State
In our previous article, “Learning to Harness the Breath for Increased Athletic Performance,” we discussed how to incorporate nasal breathing to help improve your aerobic capacity and efficiency. Not only can nasal breathing help improve your capacity, but it also has the power to keep your mind calm in the midst of chaos in sporting events and life. The ability to stay calm and present is paramount to peak performance.
“Flow” is the mental state where you are fully engaged in an activity, energized, focused, and in total enjoyment of the process. It is also known as being “in the zone.” When you think of athletes like Michael Jordan taking over a game, Laird Hamilton surfing 70 ft. waves or Tom Brady leading a game-winning drive, they are in a flow state and know the tactics and tools that allow them to reach this state.
One of the main triggers to reach a flow state is your breath. A breath practice will allow you to reach full concentration, helping you to enter the flow state. The Special Forces teach techniques such as Box Breathing because it calms the mind and accelerates the entry into a flow state. This allows our elite military units to focus on the task at hand and not be distracted by the myriad of obstacles they will face in the line of duty.
Before a competition, while you want to be amped up, you do not want to be overly excited as this can lead to performance anxiety and wastes energy needed to compete. One technique we use to calm our athletes before a competition is tactical breathing. Tactical breathing involves inhaling through the nose for three seconds, pausing then exhaling through the nose for six seconds. Breathing through the nose will help activate the diaphragm and keep the secondary respiratory muscles from fatiguing too early. This same technique can be used before giving a presentation at work or a big meeting. Tactical breathing slows the mind and keeps you in a calm focused state, allowing you to perform at your optimal level.
With all of the distractions of modern society, it can be difficult to do the deep work needed to excel in our chosen professions. We are constantly bombarded with notifications and new information. Blocking these distractions out takes focus. A breath practice teaches your mind to stay focused on a single task. This is one of the reasons you see companies like Google and Apple incorporating mindfulness training into their corporate wellness programs. You can use the same techniques we’ve discussed before to begin a mindfulness practice.
To Sum it Up
Tactical Breathing is a simple technique that anyone can use. Whether you are preparing for a big presentation or heading into competition, try it out and the increase in your performance. It takes only three to five minutes a day to change how your brain responds in stressful situations. It is your choice. Do you want external factors to control your thoughts and actions? Or, do you want to control your response to external events? A breath practice will allow you to self-regulate and enter a flow state, optimizing your performance
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