They Always Forget to BREEEATHE: the Key to Free-Flowing, Accurate Performance

For years, I trained and competed. I was young, faced the best athletes, and did well. But even after ten-plus years, I was still learning about my body, how to breathe…relax…and use awareness… Use mental skills to consistently win. I didn’t know breathing could help.

Then, my freshman year in college, I was struck. Beata Jencks was an older, grey-haired, German woman with a really thick accent; she was intellectual, warm, and one of my brilliant professors.  I took her 2-day workshop on psychophysiology along with many student-athletes. I was mesmerized, post knee surgery, to learn the interconnection of the mind and body for healing and maximal body function. Then she used me as an example: “Lisa, Lisa, come up here,” she prodded. I gimped through the desk-aisle on my crutches. Beata proceeded to teach me and the class how to breathe and assist our bodies to take action. She referred to my knee injury, the exact spot where the meniscus was repaired. Then carefully, and mindfully, she explained how to breathe deeply and be in tune with each body part; she described being aware of my body’s status (tense, injured, or ill), and to visualize the lively inner workings (muscle fibers, tendons, blood cells, bone cells…), that they are in constant action, mending and radiating. As I started to focus on my knee, I imagined the healing inside my body. I could “see” the tissues and cells mending as I breathed new air and sent vital energy to my knee. It was amazing. I felt different. I was uplifted. Throughout the workshop, Beata taught from her book,Your Body – Biofeedback at its Best. And above all, Beata Jencks demonstrated that the breath was central to creating affirmative action. The breath is central to ALL body movement.

finished easy golf swing  In every sport, for competition and games, athletes and active adults aim to play their best. They want to win! But the most common problem is trying — trying so hard they clench muscles, get tight, and often forget to breathe deeply. Of course, we all breathe involuntarily. Of course. But to keep oxygenating the muscles, and produce smooth, fast, powerful, expanded movement, maximum voluntary breathing is necessary. Athletes don’t realize that breathing is an integral tool to heighten physical play—free your movement to a natural swing, kick, or shot, run faster, swim faster… So, allow me to share…

I currently teach deep breathing and imagery to my athlete-clients. My clients become more aware of their body, their thoughts, and how to channel their energy toward positive and productive action. Everything derives from the breath. For myself, as a national champion gymnast and former coach at Stanford University, I highly recommend you give the practice of deep breathing a try; incorporate it into your preparation and competition. Here is information and steps to ready your mind and body for top performance!

breathing lying down

KNOW

1. You can train yourself to breathe fully and intentionally; create a respiratory rhythm that enables you to do [and be at] your best.

2. You can accomplish a careful retraining of productive breathing by using your imagination and joint movement. (Yes! Use your imagination!)

3. Understand that shallow tight breathing constricts your air and body movement.

4. Often, held unnecessarily, the short breath tenses muscles throughout the body; you limit actions and “fight” yourself.

5. Progressive relaxation is a valuable exercise. It teaches you to recognize the difference, when your body is tight and when it is loose. You intentionally tense up your muscles, inhaling and holding your breath, then blow out, releasing completely to be relaxed and limp. Like a wet noodle. Experiencing these two states — tense, then relaxed — bestows an acute awareness of your body so you can prepare to perform.

Breathing exercises

DO

1. Inhale completely through your nose, filling your lungs, chest and diaphragm with air. Count slowly to 3 or 4 while inhaling. Feel the expansion of the ribs. Feel your abdomen spread. Be in tune with this In-Breath.

2. Hold the breath for a moment…again, fully aware of this sensation, being expanded, tight, and filled with air.

3. Exhale slowly on the Out-Breath, counting to 6 or 8 (twice as long as the inhale). As you exhale and empty your body, the Out-Breath brings you to be calmer and more Zen-like. In this state, you release tension and can get ‘in the zone.’ A “relaxed readiness.” Clear. Sure. Distractions and doubts leave, and you can focus sharply on your tasks.

4. Do this deep breathing often — in practice, 3 times in a row (to create change) before you start to perform a move or play. Practice breathing at night, before bed. 5 times in a row. Relax all muscles, become heavy, on the out-breath. After a week, or 7 days, of doing this intentionally, you can reduce to 2 times in a row. Do 30 days. Make this a habit.

You CAN create positive change in your body and mind through breathing practice. Dr. Ken Ravizza and Dr. Keith Henschen, both ground-breaking sport psychologists, taught me all the mental tools, including deep slow breathing. Use deep breathing, along with positive talk, and you can ground yourself into a calm, focused state. And you will improve your performance.

Me, talking to college track team about breathing and applying mental skills to performance.

Me, talking to college track team about breathing and applying mental skills to performance.

Breathing rocks! And if interested in group or one-on-one lessons, let me know. I’d be happy to work with you!

reach, sweat, believe,

mitz

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I JUMP ON THE LINE: How Athletes Self-actualize Success

“Come on! Jump on the line! You keep hitting the back of the board!” coaches say.

In gymnastics, there’s a line, a ‘sweet spot’ on the springboard. The line is key to hitting and compressing the board to get ultimate power and flight for the vault. It is hard. Because a gymnast runs full speed, and to jump on the line takes courage and practice. If you jump over the line, you may crash into the vault-table. Painful, could get seriously hurt. So many gymnasts jump behind the line. It’s safer, but less power. Less of a vault. Less of a score.

JUMP ON THE LINE: Speed and hitting the sweet spot--the line--on springboard is key to a Huge Vault!

JUMP ON THE LINE: Speed and hitting the sweet spot–the line–on springboard is key to a Huge Vault!

So it comes down to the question: Are you happy with what you’re doing, whatever you’re doing? Or do you want more? And if so…What do you want?

THINK: Most people think about what they want. It’s easy to think: I want to make the All-Star team, I want to be a fashion designer, I want to make a million dollars. Lots of people think those things. The thought is in your mind: I want…  And there’s no doubt, you have a desire. You may be distracted, “But how?” and there may be low-lying doubts, “I’m not sure I can.” But all-in-all, it’s clear — you are wishing.

SAY: Many people will take it another step further. For instance, in conversation, an athlete will say in a determined voice, “I will make the All-Star team.”

PRACTICE: And the athlete works for it, she practices, she sweats and cramps, and pushes herself hard — awesome! The wish is there and the work is there. Two for two. Game on.

BUT SOMETHING IS MISSING…

KNOW: This is the hardest thing for most athletes, professionals, or anyone who aspires. What is missing is KNOWING. Having 100% complete knowledge that your ‘want’ and ‘will’ is going to manifest into real life. Huhh? Yep, know what you want and manifest that into real life. For the athlete, you see the full vision — you’re on the All-Star team, wearing the team uniform, practicing with teammates, getting cues from the coach, traveling to away games, playing for the team, and, winning. You got it? You are there. You’re good enough. You are on the team, already. Perhaps it’s in your head, but that’s a minor detail. The bottom line is, or the higher mind acts as if, you have it. You already have it. It is real. You see it, believe it, and know it. The best athletes in the world use this type of vision and mindset of ‘knowing.’ It’s what makes them the best.

So, what are the steps to doing that, manifesting and self-actualizing what you want? Here is one powerful exercise that I used with the team I coached when I was at Stanford University… And the team was successful.

Me coaching at Stanford with Linda Chun (gymnast). We worked a lot on programming the mind. And it worked!

Me coaching at Stanford with Linda Chun (gymnast). We worked a lot on programming the mind. And it worked!

TO SELF-ACTUALIZE, PROGRAM THE MIND: I was the women’s gymnastics coach at Stanford University in the 90s. We had a volunteer sport psychologist, a Masters student, working with the team. For a few months, he facilitated discussion and/or mental exercises on a weekly basis. The team’s ultimate goal for the season was to compete at NCAA National Championships. And we needed help with jumping on the line. The ladies struggled. It seemed to be a psychological block. They held back. But they wanted to improve. They were hungry.

THE MENTAL EXERCISE: We gave the gymnasts recorders and they did this…they found a quiet spot near the gym and followed these instructions: Say and record what you need to do, say it multiple times, and listen to it repeatedly (3x), 6 days a week for two weeks (minimum).

DEVICE: Use a mini-recorder/mobile device and tape yourself saying each line (note the emphasis on certain words):

First series – WANT

I want to jump on the line.

I want to jump on the line.

I want to jump on the line.

I want to jump on the line.

I want to jump on the line.

 

Second series – WILL

I will jump on the line.

I will jump on the line.

I will jump on the line.

I will jump on the line.

I will jump on the line.

 

Third series – I DO

I jump on the line.

I jump on the line.

I jump on the line.

I jump on the line.

Know you can HIT THE LINE. Whatever you want, KNOW you can. Program your mind and manifest what you want.

Know you can HIT THE LINE. Whatever you want, KNOW you can do it. Program your mind, SEE it, and manifest what you want.

ATHLETES PROGRAM THEIR BRAINS TO PERFORM ACCURATELY. Through repetitive phrases, you are embedding in your mind what you will do. There is thought, spoken word, and the successful result. LISTEN to your recording, and visualize yourself doing the physical task. Feel it in your muscles. By speaking it, you tap into your personal power. You create the desired experience. It’s real in your mind.

You jump on the line. It’s what you do.  The Stanford Team did improve – they got MUCH better at hitting the line on the board. And they did go to Nationals – 1990s. Fabulous ladies.

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Now, what is your desire! What do you want to make happen? Program your mind. Write it down. Say it. Listen to it. You can do it!

Reach, sweat, believe,

~Mitz

And a shout out to Utah Gymnastics, my college team – they WON NCAA REGIONALS, TODAY in Arkansas. They are heading to Nationals! Go Utah!  

Utah Gymnastics Team 2014 - Pac 12 Champs. NCAA Regionals Champs. And cross fingers - NCAA National Champs. Ha!

Utah Gymnastics Team 2014 – Pac 12 Champs. NCAA Regionals Champs. And cross fingers – NCAA National Champs. Ha!

You want to Excel – then PRETEND

Sport is so darn mental, and competitive, you need magic tools in your brain pocket if you want to really excel. One tool I strongly recommend, and you make think I’m completely nuts, is a child-like approach – Pretend. Now, I’m totally serious. I am. Because when you pretend you’re Wonder Woman, or you impersonate an awesome athlete – like Gabby Douglas, Missy Franklin, or Hope Solo – you reach for the highest energy and skill level on the planet, and you get a boost, a rush, a flair! and you CAN ABSOLUTELY produce exceptional performances. You can. When I was 7, my sister, Sheila, and I pretended we were actresses and singers. We danced and sang in our living room as if we were in the movie, The Sound of Music. Sheila, two years older, got to be Maria. I was one of the children. But it didn’t matter who was who because we played the tape, sang and danced, and we were fully absorbed in that imaginary world: In Austria, singing “Do-a-deer” on the grassy hill, at the fountain, riding bikes. We were silly and loud. Confidence oozed from our beings. We were IT. And through our imagination, through PRETEND…we transformed into amazing performers.

TheSoundofMusic-Still1

In gymnastics, that screwball balance beam requires much pretending. Otherwise, you’re screwed. I’d pretend my feet were massive, like Sasquatch, so there’s no way my foot could slip off. Or that my hips were cable-strapped to the beam, no way I’d lose my balance. This gave me confidence and it worked most of the time. Until age 12, I had to compete a side aerial (a no-handed cartwheel). This foolish trick, side-flipping through space to land on the beam, was thrilling, but also risky. It jerked my thoughts away from sureness. I kept concentrating, but I fell. A lot. What was wrong? I did many, many, MANY side aerials on the line on the carpet, 100, and on the low beam, another 100, and I stuck them. I was a machine. But on the high beam, especially in competition, with judges, parents, and competitors all around me – my focus and confidence blew away with the wind.

Enter, silly mother with good ideas. (And, this is silly.) It’s the day before a meet. I’m concerned about nailing the side aerial. My mom says: “Lisa, you won’t fall. You can’t fall. You see, God has you. He’s a puppeteer high above you, and you are the marionette. You are attached to his strings. He’s holding you up!” I sat there, “Huh?” trying to imagine me on the beam, with strings going up to heaven, and God controlling me, holding me up. My mom laughed and smiled, exuberantly. She acted convinced. Like it was true. She was PRETENDING. So…I tried. Old man in they sky, white hair, white beard, white robe, he’s a puppeteer, I’m the puppet. Got it. The next day, I competed. Nervous stomach arrived (always did). I went to beam and warmed up. The side aerial felt fine, but nerves lingered. I paused, recalled my mom’s voice, held onto that image of God and his puppet strings attached to me, all the while hearing, “You can’t fall–he’s holding you up!” I started to get into it, really pretend. I began to relax and feel the confidence – I couldn’t fall. It was impossible.

You may not believe it, I hardly did myself, but on the beam in front of judges and parents, I was in another reality – the PRETEND reality – and that Good Guy in the sky wanted me to stay on the beam. And I did! HA! Now it doesn’t have to be God, it can be Sponge Bob, the Easter Bunny, or someone you know and trust. But the truth is, and I’d lay my life down, PRETEND WORKS. Numerous times after that, I pretended / visualized images and won many competitions. It’s silly. But we do create magic in our minds. Just like children. It’s fantasy. But, you must try it 100%. Pretend. You can do it, and I bet you will not only improve–

YOU WILL EXCEL.

(from the Mitzel files…sophomore year at Utah)

meets0008

Side aerial – mid air – competing for NCAA National Champions, the University of Utah.

Reach, sweat, and believe,

~mitz

Plan your success – be the smart athlete

Aside

“Hello and Welcome!” This site is dedicated to you, every female athlete in every sport. And I’m going to give you my guts: straight-up advice, personal grief, snappy, funny stories, and invaluable insight from my experience [as an athlete and college coach], and wisdom from leaders in the sports world. Hope you like it!

First, Plan Your Success: When you’re reaching for the top, you can not give up easily. Look at Diana Nyad swimming to Cuba, or the USA Oracle team winning America’s Cup (down by 7 races and won the next 8 in a row). These athletes are smart, determined, and surround themselves with supportive people.

So engage your mind. Be the smart athlete. Surround yourself with great influences and positive people (a coach, parent, teacher, doctor, teammate, etc). People who keep you on track; awesome people who encourage and push you. Recruit your own ‘champions‘ as supporters and guides. And become a champion for yourself.

Sheila: My older sister, Sheila, is one of my champions. From the time we were small, she was fiercely determined. Such a role model for me (except when she wanted to play Barbies, blech). Last March, Sheila ran the L.A. marathon in 3:32 hrs, an 8 min-mile average! Wahoo! Now, she’s fighting back after a TBI. But she’s tough. If anyone can do it, she can. You always make me want to be better, Sheila. I love you!

LM sis Sheil

Sheila trying to be taller than me. haha

Sheila running FAST

S kicking major butt

Here is your Action Item #1:

Identify your best supporters – your ‘champions‘ – write down their names, great things they say, get pictures to enjoy, talk and listen to them regularly. Remember–Smart Athletes surround themselves with powerful and positive influences. You can do it!

Reach, sweat, and believe.

~mitz