It’s that time again… time to explore your athlete brain.
Tournament season is upon us once again. Each year the WFTDA holds the “Big 5“, which are regional tournaments to decide the players for the Hydra Cup. Previous to this, there are tournaments, upon tournaments, upon tournaments to help decide rankings and to provide fun and derby action.
This year, New Hampshire Roller Derby will be represented at the 2012 East Coast Derby Extravaganza (ECDX) by their Skate Free or Die! All Stars, as well as those who managed to get into the mixed team/challenge bouts. This is a first for us as a league, we’ve never been invited to a tournament before. Sure, it might be “old hat” for a few SFoD skaters, but for the majority of us it’s all new, baby. And it’s scary as hell!
Just thinking about that… My chest is tight. My eyes won’t focus. I have forgotten how to skate. Panic is starting to set in!
That’s a key for me: “Just Breathe”. It’s something we do every day without thinking, and there is a power to calm in it. Yoga instructors know it, psychologists and therapists know it, and now you can know the power in it, too. I’ll walk you through my breathing techniques. They may be rudimentary, but they seem to work just fine.
First, get comfortable. Yeah, your in your gear and it stinks. Yeah, your left skate might be a little too tight tonight and maybe you have cramps. Still, I bet if you lay back, curl into a ball, or just sit still, you can make yourself comfortable. Find a position, go ahead, we have some time.
Next, close your eyes. Block the light with those pretty little lids, maybe drape an arm over to stop the urge to peek. Try to block out the sounds around you. Focus a little on what is making you panic, find the spots in your body that are tense (shoulders, knees, stomach). Recognize them for what they are, which is something that needs to just go away. Assign your panic, tension or setbacks a color. Make a color you don’t like, maybe one you hate. Think about being calm. You know what that feels like. It’s like a cool beer on a hot night, or a soak in Woody Yankabitch’s hot tub during WoodyStock. Or, for some, it’s a “Shower Beer” (you’ll have to ask Moxie or Killa). Assign your calm a color, something you love.
Now you’re ready to really begin: The first breath is the deepest. Take it in, expand your chest as far as it will go, really “open” that rib cage. And let it out sllloooowwwww… very slow. Some find that counting to 10 or 20 helps them push out that first breath better. You want to completely empty your lungs, so really push that breath out.
Breathe in slow… begin. Each breath should be deep and focused, hold it for a second or three, then let it out slow.
Start at the top of your head. Breathe deep in, and as you exhale picture the calm colors replacing your “bad” colors. With each deep breath, you want to imagine you are calming and that you are physically pushing the panic and tension out of you. Everything bad you think it going away and being replaced with the positive. “I will make that clear for my jammer. I will block. I can do this.”
Each time you breathe in and out, each time you replace the panic with your calm… move lower. Relax your shoulders, breathe in and out, and fill your shoulders and chest with your calming color. Think about all the great things you’re going to do on that track. Next your chest to your stomach, push those butterflies out. They have no place here. And keep going: your stomach to your hips that are going to deliver devastation to your opponents, your hips to your legs that are going to carry you with speed and accuracy. Next your legs to your skates, that are going to help you score points, booty block, and move with your team.
Finally, the last push. Breathe in deep deep deep, as deep as that first breath… and push the negative out of your body into the floor, and away.
Open your eyes. You’re ready now to do anything.
Go scale that mountain! Go skate that tournament! Go get your points! Hit that jammer! Because Baby, you can do anything!
And there you have it. My breathing exercises. I loved leading my team in these during our 2011 season. Leading these helped me be calm. I have had to teach myself to do this for myself alone.
You may say now “Irate, that’s all hippy bull and doesn’t work.” Please tell that to professional athletes who do this before every game… because I don’t think they got that memo. Breathing can help calm, and focus. Anything is worth a try, and that is how I discovered this for myself and my teams.