Have you ever noticed that when you’re anxious or excited, your breathing becomes rapid and shallow? Or that when you’re hyper-focused you tend to hold your breath? How are emotions, attention, and breathing linked and more importantly, what can we do about it?
Understanding how emotions can both interfere with or enhance your performance is especially important when your 4-legged teammate is over 1000 lbs and not always in control of their own emotional state. As the team leader, our job is to focus and develop awareness of our own emotions to be a good partner to our horse. Being emotionally responsible will also help us tune into our horse and better manage their emotional state.
Emotions are signals to pay attention. Your brain and your body use them to provide information about your circumstances in a simple, quick way. It is important to realize that despite its efficiency, there can be emotional misfires. By regaining our composure, we can discern and apply these signals to our training, rather than becoming their victims. 1
Commonly experienced emotions:
Anticipation/ Nervousness/ Anxiety
Defensiveness/ Guilt/ Embarrassment
The point is not that you shouldn’t feel your emotions, but rather you should accept, interpret and use them as a somewhat imprecise alert system. The first step to exploring the intent of the alert is to identify that you are experiencing an emotion in the moment. That’s where breath-work comes into play.
Breathing happens automatically, so most of us really only think about it when it becomes challenged. Our breath provides a connection between the mind and body with a powerful link to our emotions. 2 Breath training can increase focus, reduce anxiety, and improve endurance in athletic performance. 3 Professional athletes understand this and use breath training to help improve both mental and physical performance. The idea is to settle your physiology so your mind can take control again. Learning to control our breath lets us manage our emotions with a clear head. This gives us the power to respond rather than react to every situation we encounter with our horses. When we use our training we can make better decisions instead of being controlled by our emotions.
One highly effective breathing exercises for controlling stress and improving focus is Box Breathing. It is so effective that it is taught to and used by the Navy Seals. 4 Those guys know something about high pressure situations!
Edited by Catherine Respess & Alexandra Grant
2 JF Thayer, RD Lane - Journal of affective disorders, 2000 - jad-journal.com