Imagine walking onto a tennis court. Your opponent takes his position as you prepared to serve. As you are tossing the ball in the air, you also throw a cautionary look at your opponent that communicates, “I am in charge here!” “I got the edge!” If you are like most athletes, you are probably saying to yourself, yes, I can imagine myself in this situation. You are also probably thinking how great it would be to have the edge, to reach my personal peak performance goal!
When an athlete describes “being in the zone” they are referring to reaching their desired level of peak performance. The mind frees itself of processing thoughts. The body instantaneously becomes relaxed and the mind becomes mentally energized. When we are learning a new technique or sport we are engaging the left side of our brain, while being in the zone requires our right brain process. The left side of our brain relates to verbal language while the right side relates to non-verbal language of body sensations.
The non-verbal language I am referring to is known as somatic psychology. Somatic psychology is a branch of clinical psychology that focuses at the non-verbal bi-directional communication that happens between the brain and the nervous system.
Are you thinking how to identify this non-verbal language? Well guess what? You have probably had this sensation at some point today. Sweaty palms, dry mouth, butterflies in your stomach these are all non-verbal responses that trigger a thinking process. Non-verbal clues are great when you learn how to use them to your advantage. However, when the brain translates these sensations into negative thoughts, such as being intimidated by the pitcher, they feed into the discomfort you are already feeling. What we are feeling at that moment translates into how the body responds. Your brain and the nervous system are having a bi-directional communication.
When we are under the gun to perform and the heat is on, that bi-directional talk is very loud. Using the sweaty palms example, we grab a towel and dry our hands. But, are we really “fixing” the problem? Well not really! So, how do we deal with this bi-directional communication to get the edge?
Breathing from the diaphragm rather than form the upper chest will help you to slow down. Just do this simple, but powerful exercise: have a sit and make sure your feet are well planted on the ground. Place a hand on your belly area and, with each inhale, notice your hand moving out as if you had a balloon inside of you. Follow this inhale with a slow exhale through your nose. Repeat this diaphragm breathing a few times and notice you body slowing down.
Alex Diaz, PhD