Posted by Tyler Bradstreet
The goal of Mindful Breathing is to:
(a) calm you down somewhat, make you aware of thoughts that may be unpleasant or self-defeating, which you can explore and “cognitively restructure” later, (b) take some of your attention away from these intrusive thoughts that are unpleasant or self-defeating, and (c) focus most of your attention on the present moment or what is happening right now in your breathing, your body, and in the place
where you are.
The procedure or steps in Mindful Breathing involves:
1. Doing whatever needs to be done as in washing the dishes or straightening up your office. In regards to sport, doing whatever needs to be done as in being at practice, listening to coach, or watching tape.
2. Keep your posture as erect and still as possible as you stand, walk, or sit. Be sure to sit, stand, or walk as tall and erect as you can with your shoulders back and your back as straight as
medically possible. (See your physician about how erect a posture you can assume if you feel any pain or have had any back or other pain problems in the past.).
3. Concentrate on your:
- Breath as it goes in and out of your nostrils—try to not breathe through your mouth.
- Belly as it expands and contracts with the breath—you can put a hand on your belly to make this more real.
- Other parts of your body. This is an in-the-body rather than out-of-body experience. It is designed to make you aware of all bodily sensations.
- Sounds around you.
- Sights around you
- Favorite mantra or word pair to utter to yourself silently as you inhale and exhale. Say one word to yourself slowly, the whole time that you inhale. Say the second word to yourself slowly as you exhale.
Some mantras that I and my clients have found useful include:
These are not sport-specific examples, but if that works for you, by all means come up with a mantra that rolls off the tongue and is believable to you – something you feel comfortable saying (“Play . . . Smart” “Solid . . . Contact” “De . . . Fense”.)
The “No . . . Thought” word pair has helped worriers and ruminators as has “Here . . . Now” which gently reminds you to pay attention to the sights and sounds of the moment. Experiment with these and others of your own.
The “My . . . Movie” phrase reminds us that our mind when we are awake is like a movie that we direct. Hence, we have some control over and responsibility for what is played in the movie. We decide what it plays.
Gently and endlessly acknowledge intrusive thoughts, greet them as you might an old friend who is not a favorite but whom you know nonetheless, and then gently refocus your attention to your breath, body, sound, or mantra. It is fine to spend your whole time in Mindful Breathing just redirecting your attention from thoughts about the past or future to the present moment.
Your thoughts can range from “I’m a terrible athlete” to “This is a waste” to “What shall I eat for lunch?” Thoughts will pop up continually. It is okay. This is just part of Mindful Breathing. Do not try to banish or suppress worries when they come. Welcome them as you might an annoying relative that you have to see by acknowledging them in the back of your mind and then gently trying to refocus your attention on the task at hand.
1. What am I doing?
2. What are my goals for this situation?
If we ask these questions, the abyss of worrying about not placing first last week or about what others think of your performance becomes, “I am performing my event and want to stay in this moment, and really do my best.” So if you ruminate too much or have a problem with negative feelings intruding on your event, ask yourself these questions over and over, whenever you get distracted from the task at hand.
By asking yourself, “What am I doing?” you can then refocus your attention on the task at hand and try to do the best that you can at that task since, in mindfulness terms, the present moment is all that you have. It is the most important time in your life in so far as it is all you have, the past being a memory and the future, a fantasy or expectation. By asking yourself, “What are my goals for this situation?” we are invited to consider an activity in terms of our personal goals.
Remember, the goal of mindfulness is single-pointed concentration on whatever it is we are doing in this moment.
Until next time…
Tyler C. Bradstreet
Master’s Student: Sport and Exercise Psychology
Teaching Fellow: Department of Kinesiology, Health Promotion, and Recreation
Sport Psychology Consultant: Center for Sport Psychology and Performance Excellence
University of North Texas: Denton, TX