According to Dr. Tiffany Jones, or Dr. Tiff, most of us aren’t breathing correctly. Or, at least, we’re not focusing on our breath the way we should be.
Dr. Tiff is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant. At a more basic level, she is a performance coach who helps with mindset and pushing through barriers athletes think they might not be able to. She works with anyone from college teams, to professional soccer players and golfers, to CompTrain athletes Cole Sager and Katrin Davidsdottir. And Katrin and Cole, like most of us should, started with their breath.
The way Dr. Tiff sees it, the breath is a gateway to awareness. And the more aware we can be during our workouts, the more competitive we can be. An example she uses when talking about this is, “if Kat has a workout with legless rope climbs and the movement before she gets to those rope climbs, she’s already feeling stress about the rope climbs, then they aren’t going to go well.”
We’ve all experienced this scenario. We’ve all had these negative thoughts about the next movement or the next round, then, without fail, that movement or that round feels more difficult and becomes harder because our thoughts told us it would be. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How does Dr. Tiff work to combat this cycle? Elite athletes in the sport like Cole and Katrin experience thoughts like this, but in addition to their physical fitness, their mental fitness is just as elite. This is because they’ve learned to become aware and redirect their thoughts in the middle of the workout. And it started with the breath. That’s how she works to combat the cycle.
Cole and Katrin are different athletes and approach things differently. But this isn’t a concern. Dr. Tiff takes different approaches using the same methodology. Cole likes to break down each movement and is a technician in all senses of the word– so when working on breathing techniques, Dr. Tiff says to count the inhales and exhales and each breath. Katrin is more of a feeler, so she focuses on what the breath feels like– how does it feel moving through the nose and into the belly? Both athletes are doing the same thing and both of them are training awareness, but they’re taking different approaches based on the type of athlete and person they are.
We can use this for ourselves as well. No one knows how we operate better than we do, so here are a few ways we can train awareness through breath. Practice one or all three and work to see what works best for you:
– Ooo-a-g breath: Imagine you’re breathing in through your nose and on your exhale out of your mouth, you’re trying to steam a window to draw a heart or smiley face.
– Box breathing: Breath in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breath out for a count of four, hold for a count of four.
– Diaphragmatic breathing: This is also known as belly breathing. When you breathe in, feel your stomach expand.
But the breath is just the first step toward awareness. Focusing on our breath is a wall walk. It is a step toward greater awareness- our handstand pushup.
Once athletes work on breathing and open more space for awareness, the next step is to allow yourself to be vulnerable. To improve, you must be able to be vulnerable. This is something Dr. Tiff looks for in her athletes and is a way for us to improve as athletes as well.
Our vulnerability allows us to express our fears before a workout and our feelings toward it after. This is an important part of the process. So much so, Dr. Tiff has all of her athletes write what she calls, RUTs: Raw Unfiltered Thoughts directly after a practice, workout, race, or event in competition. When she says directly after, she means it. No getting on your phone, no talking to anyone; this can alter the story in your mind. Once you’re done, write everything down. Swear in it, make it a drawing, it doesn’t matter- just write it down. Our brains will store it into our memory 55% more effectively if it is written according to Dr. Tiff.
The more we write these, the more we can notice thought patterns. If we are honest and vulnerable with ourselves in these RUTs, we can start to see where our fears happen and where our thoughts get in our own way. One we recognize these things, we can be aware of them as they come up.
It all comes back to awareness.
We train breathing and awareness and write our thoughts down so that, when the lights are on and it’s time to perform, we have access to the tools necessary. We know that legless rope climbs are a movement that make us nervous, so going into the workout, once the thought comes up that we might not be able to do the rope climbs, we can recognize we aren’t being present. We can focus on our breathing and redirect that thought to our breath and what is happening now.
If we can do that, then we can overcome that obstacle and perform better. We have trained the rope climbs, and now we can train our awareness.
Try for yourself. The next workout you do, right when you’re finished, write your own RUT. What do you notice?