Psychological Pointers

Relax and Just Breathe

Živa Dvoršak

May 1, 2021

Breathing is a primary human function that we perform automatically. Does this mean that we can just ignore it and everything connected to breathing will be correct? I invite you to start observing your breathing just as it is at this very moment.

Is your breath deep, long, and smooth? Or is it more shallow, quick, and ragged?
What about your neck and shoulders? Are they relaxed or tense?

Breathing is more than an exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Right away, it shows us in what physical and psychological state we are in.

Now, picture yourself on a shooting range, participating in an important competition (or imagine a significant event in your life). Hear the Range Officer saying “match start”. What do you feel? Has your breath changed? Is there any tension? Even when you only think about such an event, your body will probably react and your breathing change.

When we experience stress, our breath moves to the upper body and becomes shallower and more uneven. Consequently, not enough oxygen is supplied to the body, which causes muscle tension and makes our thoughts more and more confusing. At the same time, quick and shallow breathing deepens the feeling of anxiety, reduces concentration, increases nervous tension, and causes greater fatigue. No wonder our shots don’t find the middle of the target!

On the other hand, when we breathe fully, slowly, and with the diaphragm (“from the belly”), we calm down, feel better, and have a greater sense of self-control; we come closer to what your coach calls “focus”. As a result, we feel more comfortable in our body, which also affects our self-confidence, sense of control over situations, and control over confusing thoughts. We also find it easier to process unpleasant feelings such as fear and frustration, allowing ourselves to experience more pleasing ones such as excitement and joy faster.

A Breathing Technique to Help You Relax

Luckily, breathing techniques are the most basic and the most straightforward methods of deep relaxation that can be performed anywhere, at any time. We’ll describe a basic breathing technique that you can also use before and during competition (or any other stressful event). But don’t forget: even this requires training, so to get full potential when you really need it, you need to practice on a regular basis.

Before we start, close your eyes and direct your thoughts to your breathing. After a few normal breaths, take a deep one and give it a score on a scale from 1 to 10. Remember this number. Now we can start.

Two girls in shooting kit sitting on chairs and practicing a breathing technique

Sit straight but relaxed on a chair, keeping your feet flat on the floor; sit on the floor in the butterfly pose or in a kneeling position; or lie down on your back.

Place your right palm on your abdomen and your left palm on your chest.

Breathe through your nose if possible.

Focus on the abdomen and intentionally slow down your breathing. Try making only your right hand move and your left hand stay still.

The breaths should be soft and the length of inhalation and exhalation as even as possible. Every time you breathe in or out, you can count to 3, then 4, etc. When your breaths become more relaxed and naturally more extended (don’t force this), you can gradually lengthen the time of each cycle.

After a few breaths, start adding short pauses at the end of inhaling and exhaling. Your goal is to establish an even cycle with equally long inhales, exhales, and pauses in between. This technique is also called box or square breathing as it can be visualised like this:

a square directing the breaths in a breathing technique

One set of diaphragmatic breathing exercises can range from a few breaths to five, ten or more minutes of breathing – even a short exercise gives our body information on how a certain way of contracting the respiratory muscles affects our well-being.

Make ten such breaths. Then release control, make a few normal breaths and then take one deep breath. Score it again – do you feel any difference? Is your breathing deeper, longer, smoother, more natural?

You can do this exercise anywhere and any time. Experiment in the next two weeks, taking 10 “belly” breaths when you wake up, or before each practice, or when you stand in line for groceries, or when you lie down in your bed at night. Quite simply, whenever you think of it!

Observe your reactions throughout the day and see if such breathing affects any part of your daily life.

Once you are a trained breather, use this technique in times of stress – on the shooting line, during an exam, at the dentist. The mere action will transport you to your state of calm, you will be able to regain focus and perform better with an improved concentration

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2 thoughts on “Relax and Just Breathe”

  1. Very nice and concise piece, something w forget too often. Might help with my shaking in kneeling, might come from being out of air at the key moment. Do you have recs on core training for shooters?
    Will write that in my diary…

    1. Thank you, Guido! If you feel like you are running out of air, our next blog should also come in handy – we will list a few exercises to improve your lung capacity and strength. Another thing to consider: make your preparation time before zoning in on the actual shot (breathing) longer & make the last phase of fine aiming (no breathing) shorter.
      And yes, we are planning a whole month focused on the importance of core strength.

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