Breathe in 2, 3, Out, 2, 3

BreatheIn this first series of four blogs focussing on basic psychological skills, we will be examining the skill of Relaxation.
There are two major reasons as to why the ability to relax as a performer is important. Firstly most, if not all, performers will experience a level of anxiety prior to, and during a performance. It is the ability to control this anxiety and make it manageable and even use it to their advantage that distinguishes an elite performer from an average performer. Secondly, research shows that being relaxed during a performance is one important characteristic of experiencing peak performance.
So how do we achieve relaxation?
The easiest and most common way is through meditation. Sit (or lie) in a comfortable position free from anything that might restrict your body. You may choose to listen to soft classical music or nature-related music in the background. Close your eyes and take in 3 deep breathes to prepare your body and mind for the meditation.
In both the inhalation and exhalation of your breathe, you should aim for six seconds to complete each action, so in total one action of breathing in and out should equal approximately twelve seconds.
Benefits of meditation
There are a number of benefits of meditation which include:
Reduction in stress related symptoms such as anxiety
Clarity of mind
Physical relaxation
Good supply of oxygen to the body
Lower blood pressure
Improvement in cardiovascular and respiratory efficiency
Sound easy?
Unfortunately meditation is not as easy as it seems. Surprisingly many people find it hard to sit still and relax. It is very common that many thoughts are going to be racing through your mind – your shopping list, your ‘to do’ list, the last song you heard on the radio, or you might start to fidget, or you might start to notice physical sensations in certain parts of your body. It is difficult not to be distracted by all of this. Part of your job in meditation is not to be led down the paths of any of these thoughts or entertain them. Just notice them and know that they are in your realm of awareness, but don’t attach any emotion to them. Concentrate your efforts on focussing on your breathe going in and out of your body. As soon as you find yourself getting distracted by thoughts or physical sensations, always bring your awareness back to your breathing. Ideally you should aim to meditate at least once a day for 15-20 minutes.
How does relaxing improve performance?
Your ability to relax will affect your ability to manage your stress and anxiety prior to and during your performance. This will have an overall affect on your performance because you will have greater clarity of mind and be able to cope better with the surges of adrenalin that floods your body. Your aim is to instantly be able to get into the same state of relaxation as you would in your meditation session, prior to and during a performance. To be able to achieve this skill requires continued and consistent practice. Even though it may be challenging at first, once you have established a good pattern and routine in meditating, it will become easier and the benefits are very rewarding.
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