During our initial stages of work, there are many approaches to take. Depending on the sport, level, where they are in the season and length of time they will be able to work with me, we create a program that will get the most out of the sessions. But, one aspect we always focus on is breathing. How much experience children have with mindful exploration, can carve our work on breathing, mindfulness and eventually visualization. I have found that if kids learn aspects of this type of skill while they are young, and can actually breathe regularly and deeply for at least 5 minutes, they are able to focus and not feel “awkward” when practicing it in high school and beyond and can see and feel the benefits on the field, court, ice, water and classroom. Also, mindfulness/visualization/meditation takes practice, baby steps and takes individuals being comfortable in their own skin.In a way, its a confidence building exercise as well.
Initially, the first step is breathing. I often work with my athletes on breathing before we even try to do visualization or mindfulness exercises. Our bodies have been so programed (especially for women) to hold in our stomachs (hence we all want flat stomachs, six packs, abs of steel) that we sometimes forget how to get a full, deep breath in and how just 5 or 6 full breathes can really change your state of mind.
Here, I will cover a simple breathing exercise that can be done in the morning, after school, before practice, homework, or before bed to relax you and get you ready for slumber. (Adults, don’t be shy to practice with your kids!) This is best done at least an hour after a meal so your belly isn’t full.
Set an alarm for 5 minutes. Lie down or sit up in a cross legged position or with your legs stretched out; whichever is most comfortable for you. Slowly allow your eyes to close. Take a deep breath in and feel your entire belly fill up with air all the way to your chest. You can feel your chest take up more and more air as it expands. When you feel as if you cant take up any more air, hold it for a count of 5 (count in your head) then slowly let the air out trying to take as much time as it took to fill your lungs up as it does to let the air out. At the bottom of the breath, hold the breath out for a count of five. At this point, you might be able to feel the beating of your heart in your head. (This is a cue that you are sending more blood to your head than you usually do and blood pumping around your body is a good thing! It makes you think clearer and less reactionary!)
Now, we are going to continue doing this breathing for 5 minutes. Not worrying about counting the the number of breathes, only focusing on this train of thought: Breathing in through your belly, chest, throat, nose, as you feel them expand- hold your breath for 3 counts. Then out (exhale) through your nose, throat, chest, belly as you feel them compress or deflate – hold it for 3 counts.Then repeat. Over and over again.
When the timer goes off, try to take one more deep breathe in and slowly let the air out. Lie still for a minute before slowly rolling to one side, sitting up and continuing on with your day/night or falling fast asleep.. Remember, at the beginning you might fall asleep. That is ok and sometimes when you finally start breathing, you can finally start relaxing and that is when you can take your game to another level.