The following post is an excerpt from my book ‘Confident Rider Confident Horse’:
“Breathe with Calm Focused Breath
I teach this technique to all of my students – and I use it myself. When you’re stressed, anxious, or fearful, you breathe with short, shallow breaths, without any rhythm, and often even hold your breath. This keeps those stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) going through your body. This is what makes you feel nauseous, shake and sweat. Your heart pounds and your body tenses. Your head aches. You go “fetal” – tipping forward in the saddle. None of these symptoms of stress are fun – for you or for your horse. Horses are incredibly sensitive to the body language and energy of the people around them. They even mirror your breathing. This is why your stress and tension can affect how your horse feels. As soon as you recognize the first symptom of fear, changing your breathing is the fastest way to help you to feel more calm and confident. Try this breathing exercise:
- Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, your back straight and your chest open. Let your hands rest gently on your lap.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth
- Put one hand on your belly (at your navel) and the other hand on your chest
- Focus on your breath
- Count to 5 slowly as you inhale and feel your belly expand and then your chest lift slightly
- Hold your breath for a count of 3
- Exhale slowly for a count of 5. Feel your chest drop and your belly deflate moving back towards your spine.
- Your heart may pump a bit more to start with as it adjusts to the new way you are breathing. It will soon pass and you will feel more calm and relaxed.
- Repeat several more times – inhaling for a count of 5, holding for 3, exhaling for a count of 5 – feeling the movement your belly out as in inhale and in as you exhale.
- Practice this new way of breathing as often as you can throughout your day. Anytime you feel stressed or anxious, take a few slow, CALM FOCUSED BREATHS and notice how quickly you calm down.
- The more you practice, the more natural it will feel.
This way of breathing allows your mind to slow down and relax. When you are in a relaxed state you’re better able to see things as they really are because you’re not experiencing the cluttered thinking caused by your emotions. With practice, you’ll be able to calm your mind using your calm focused breathing exercise any time. This practice allows you to respond to stressful events with a level head, and you’ll find that your emotions are less in control of you. The next time you feel anxiety or fear creeping into your mind, remember that you have a choice. You can react from your emotions and complicate the situation or you can respond in a way that encourages you and your horse to feel more calm and confident. With calm focused breathing, and the relaxation it brings, you’re always only a few short minutes away from the stress relief you crave. Instead of reacting negatively when you feel anxious or afraid, you’ll look for solutions and feel more confident. The choice is always yours. In the meantime, take a few minutes today to practice your calm focused breath, clear your mind of its worries, and relax. Do the same tomorrow and the next day. Like physical exercise, the benefits of this breathing exercise are accumulative. The more you practice, the more benefits you’ll receive and the better you’ll become at staying calm and building your confidence.”
Adjusting your breathing can also help improve your performance – even when you aren’t feeling nervous. The authors of the book, Perfect Breathing: Transform Your Life One Breath at a Time, interviewed people who push their bodies to the limits – professional athletes, dancers, fighter pilots, archers, astronauts, etc. All of them use breathing techniques to focus their minds, keep their emotions under control and to get every ounce of performance from their bodies.
Try the Calm, Focused Breath exercise and then share your experiences in the comments below. Also, share any other breathing techniques you have found to be helpful in keeping you focused and calm, and enhancing your performance.
Enjoy the journey.My book is now available! “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”. Click here to order.
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You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).
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Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship