Techniques for Mind & Body Relaxation
Hello everybody. I’m Coach Suzanne, and today I’m going to talk about techniques for arousal regulation, in particular, some relaxation strategies. Arousal regulation is when you’re over-aroused, meaning you’re overly activated. You might be feeling really anxious or overwhelmed, or it might be that you’re really excited. Anything that’s on the higher end of the activation scale, versus the other side of the spectrum where you’re really calm, relaxed, or maybe even bored.
Finding a Balance
During competitions, we want our athletes to be somewhere in the middle. Depending on their events or their sport, it might be a little bit different. For the most part, we don’t want them to be too highly aroused or under aroused. Most of the time, we see our athletes on the higher end, they aren’t really nervous or anxious.
I’m going to talk to you about some relaxation strategies to help bring them back to the middle, moderate level of arousal where they can perform at their best.
Muscle to Mind
The first way to do this is the muscle to mind technique. This is exactly what it sounds like – you’re going to relax your body to then in turn, relax your mind. There are different strategies for doing this:
- Deep breathing
- Muscle Relaxation
- Body Scans
Mind to Muscle
The other technique is mind to muscle. The idea here is when you can calm your mind, your body can calm down as well. Some strategies here are:
- Listening to music
1. Deep Breathing
You might have heard us talk about this before. Deep breathing is one of the most powerful things you can do when you’re nervous, anxious, or worried. It gives you a second to calm your body. Once you calm down our body, you have time to clear your mind, put things into perspective, and realize maybe something isn’t as big of a threat as what you might’ve first assumed it was.
With deep breathing, you want to do belly breathing. If you haven’t done this before, you’re going to breathe through your diaphragm. As you inhale, you’re going to think about a balloon in your belly. You want to fill that balloon up. Breathe in slowly through your nose and expand your belly, really fill that belly up. As you exhale, you’re going to slowly let the air out.
There are a lot of different types of breathing techniques you can use.
- Rhythmic breathing – Inhale for four counts, hold it for four counts, exhale for four counts. You want to repeat this for about a minute.
- Sigh with exhalation – Inhale for eight counts, hold it for seven or eight counts, and then exhale through your mouth and let out a big sigh. While doing this, you can use imagery of getting rid of all the negativity, all of the stress, anxiety, anything that you want to think about. That’s one of my favorite breathing techniques.
2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This is where you start from one end of the body, whether it’s the head or the toes, and go through each muscle group. As you do that, you’re going to visualize that muscle group and squeeze it. For example, if you’re starting at your feet, think about your feet and squeeze them as tight as possible for 10 seconds, then release. As you release, you’re letting go of any negative energy or anxiety with it. Then you move up (or down) your body. If you start with your feet, next you go to your calves. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, and then let it go. Do that all the way up to my head. Even when you get to your face, scrunch it up and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, and then let it go. This is going to really help get you into total relaxation.
Again, this is going to depend on your sport or on the event you’re doing. Sometimes you don’t want to be completely relaxed at a competition or a game, but those techniques might be good to do the night before, especially if you’re somebody who can’t sleep because you’re thinking about the big game or meet and you’re worried. Progressive muscle relaxation can actually help you fall asleep because it puts you into that state of relaxation.
3. Body Scans
This is similar to the progressive muscle relaxation, but instead of doing it for your whole body, you’re just going to take 10 seconds to scan your body and ask, “Where is there tension? Where am I tight? Where do I feel a bit of stress?” A lot of us carry stress in our neck and shoulders. Once you’ve done your scan, make not – “I’m feeling some stress and tension right here. Maybe I’ll squeeze that and then let it go.” That’s that takes just a few seconds so you can use it in a game, you can use it at timeout, or right before an event.
Those are my three muscle to mind techniques – deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and body scans. The idea is that when we calm our body, our mind is going to be calmer and more relaxed as well.
Next, let’s talk about how to relax the mind which then helps relax the body.
1. Listening to music.
It’s actually really cool that our body responds to certain types of music and to the beat of the music. When you listen to music, your heart rate is going to try to match the beat. If you’re trying to make your playlist, or maybe your pre-competition playlist, you don’t want to put a lot of really fast songs on there if you’re trying to relax, right. When you’re trying to pump yourself up, then absolutely do, but if you need to bring it down a little bit, look at slower songs. It doesn’t have to be classical music, but think of some of your favorite songs that have a slower beat, because like I said, your heart rate is actually going to try to match the beat of the music.
One of the signs your body gives to tell you you’re nervous is when your heart rate speeds up. It’s hard to feel calm when your heart is racing, so if you can get some slower music that can slow down your heart rate, you’ll feel a little bit calmer, less anxious, and less nervous.
We love to use imagery, but when you use imagery, it doesn’t necessarily have to be you imagining your performance. You don’t have to use imagery just for learning a new skill or imagining your routine. You can use imagery to think about anything. If you’re going to use it for relaxation, you might imagine your happy place, wherever that is. Maybe it’s hanging out in your room with your friends. It might be you on a beach or some vacation that you went on where you just felt really calm and relaxed.
Anytime you use imagery, you want to be sure you use all of our senses. You’re not just visualizing by closing your eyes and thinking about it, you want to use your sense of hearing, smell, taste, and touch – everything that you possibly can to transport yourself to that place. The whole purpose of imagery is to almost trick your mind into thinking you’re somewhere else. So figure out what is relaxing for you.
Mindfulness really just means awareness. It means being in the present moment and not allowing yourself to think about the future or the past, or even what’s coming up in the next 30 seconds. It’s focusing on what’s happening right here right now.
“Right now I’m going to just notice my breath. I’m going to notice what’s going on around me. And maybe I do notice I feel a little bit anxious. Oh, I’m noticing that my heart is racing.”
As you notice it, you can then use one of those other techniques. If your heart is racing, maybe you need to take a deep breath or a couple of deep breaths to feel a bit better.
It’s hard to make any changes if you’re not even aware of what you need to change yet. You don’t even realize how anxious you are, but using mindfulness will tell you, “All right, I’m feeling those butterflies in my stomach. That’s my cue to do some progressive muscle relaxation. That’s my cue to go over to this corner for just a couple of minutes by myself and do some imagery, take some deep breaths. If I can, I’m going to listen to my slow music playlist to help bring my heart rate down.” That’s how you can use mindfulness to build that awareness and stay in the present moment.
Those were my mind to muscle techniques. With mindfulness, cues will help. I have some athletes who like to write on their wrists things like “breathe” or “relax”. I love the wristband trick where I’m taking my wristband off one wrist and putting it on the other wrist. That’s my cue to relax. Use cues to remind yourself when it’s time to take that deep breath and when it’s time to relax because you are getting too anxious.
That’s all I have for you tonight. I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know if you try any of these techniques and what works for you.