Spiral In, Spiral Out
Last week I wrote on the eve of the first of two weeks of horse showing at Sonoma Horse Park. I broke through and had an excellent week riding Dazzler in the .85 and .95 Amateur Jumpers. I was quite nervous at first but when I took 5-10 minutes before showing to do a mind-body balancing breathing exercise called alternate nostril breathing (Listen to Performance Preparation Guided Breathing) combined with some simple stretches, my nerves became tolerable and sharpened my focus. It took a tremendous amount of self-discipline to get myself to take time to do this and the resistance and distractions could have easily prevented me. But the truth is that the adrenaline I experienced was so uncomfortable that I really needed to do something! So I found a quiet spot on a tack trunk in the shade (it was a blistering hot week) and practiced. I closed my eyes and imagined the breath coming up through my left nostril, crossing over the top of my brain, and gliding down my right nostril. At the bottom of my exhale, I paused for a second or two and then inhaled up through the right nostril, imagined the breath crossing over my brain, and gliding down my left nostril. The rhythm I established was about four counts in, pause, and then four counts out, pause. After 10 rounds of this practice, I shifted to natural breathing while tuning into each of my senses for a breath or two. When I felt ready, I stood up and stretched my arms up over my head, then stretching tall to the left and right. I folded forward to the comfortable spot where my hands hang toward the ground, engaged my core and came up slowly. I finished with a few calf stretches and proceeded to meet my trainer at the ring for the course walk. Wow! What a difference this made in my ability to learn the course, imagine riding the course, and maintain what I had learned. Any time I felt nerves come back over me, I imagined the breath coming up through my left nostril, crossing over my brain, out the right, coming back up the right, crossing over and gliding down the left. It became an automatic response to stress. My rounds on Dazzler started out strong and got better as we went. I had to contend with the stress as I described above but the ease in the ring and even some aggressive riding resulted.
As with any big event, the mind and body need to spiral in until the MindZone© is reached and then gently spiral out as well. Spiral in-Spiral out is a technique I use to achieve the heightened focus necessary to reach your personal MindZone©. The process begins on the day the performance is to take place. The “performance” ranges from an important conversation to a test or exam to an athletic competition or game. When you wake up it is time to begin to gently focus on the MindZone© you intend to achieve. The first steps are to be aware of your breath and your body in space as you begin to move about taking care of the business of getting up and dressed. I usually add some simple yoga stretches to this routine including forward bends and over the head stretches. As you go through the day toward the warm up and actual event, imagine yourself on a spiral, getting closer to the actual time of the performance. Stay present in each stage, being careful not to rush. If adrenaline or butterflies come up, use your breath to support your mind and body to stay connected. It is important to acknowledge each step of the process as a loop in the spiral. For example, the first loop is the wake up and get dressed time… the second loop is driving to the event… the third loop is arriving… the fourth is getting oriented… the fifth is the course walk or warm up… the sixth is the back gate or the moments before you “go on stage”… the center of the spiral is the actual event.
In the center of the spiral you will have access to all of your physical and intellectual tools. The adrenaline is fuel for focus. The MindZone© is a perfect blend of intuitive and analytic. If your event has many stages or takes place over the course of a day, you will have to spiral out a rung or two when your don’t need optimum performance so as to savor this state as it is not usually prolonged long periods of time. This whole process requires practice and personalization. For some it is simpler than others, depending on needs. For me it is a five-six step process as described above. I often use breathing exercises when I am half way there to support my nervous system to stay connected to the intended activity, rather than allowing the fight-flight-freeze response to override my plan. If you are interested in learning more about your personal MindZone© and developing a practice to accessing it regularly, contact me to begin this gratifying work.
I offer individual consultations to support athletes to create a personalized mental practice program. Please contact me to learn more or consider joining The (W)inner Circle: A Brain Training program, designed for equestrian athletes to develop hands-on techniques to understand and influence the mind-body connection. Focus on developing skills for peak performance in the show ring and in life.
My intentions for this second week with Dazzler at Sonoma Horse Park are to blend my grounded energy from lessons at home with horse show inspired adrenaline to the show ring. I will practice my spiral in with breathing exercises daily. Additionally, I will intentionally spiral out between classes or when I am done competing, retracing the energy and emotions of the day so as to reinforce the habit. If you decide to experiment with this practice, please let me know how it goes as I am constantly evolving my work and endlessly curious about others’ experiences under pressure.