Mindful breathing is one of the easiest changes that you can make in your life, and one that you may see the most benefits from. I learned about meditation from my dad. I remember him going into a room for hours; he would come out looking stoned. Maybe he was, but I like to think he was just blissfully relaxed.
According to pops, mediation is simply paying attention to breath. By his definition, I’m a monk. I don’t practice traditional meditation consistently, but I continue to use the techniques daily. Even though I’m not sitting in a lotus position chanting, I use breath control to regulate mood, to calm nerves, to change body language and to generally adjust my outlook on life.
When I introduce friends to meditation, I recommend following their breath from their nose into their stomachs (rather than their chests) for five minutes.
If I have an upcoming event requiring calming my nerves (for example, a performance), I try to slow my breathing to a crawl. I set a timer or look at my watch and allocate one full minute. During these 60 seconds, I challenge myself to take as few breaths as possible while maintaining a natural, slow rhythm. Without fail, I’ll feel more relaxed and focused on the back end.
During 2000, with the Texas Rangers, I, along with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, practiced meditation prior to games. I became close to Don Kalkstein, a Sports Psychology consultant to the Rangers and Dallas Mavericks, Sport Psychology Consultant. He told me Monday evening,
Effective breathing strategies can decrease stress and muscle tension. It’s also effective in calming nerves, sharpening focus, minimizing negative and distracting thoughts, reducing fatigue and promoting stamina. Unfortunately, proper breathing is an often overlooked component of performance preparation.
I felt more relaxed heading to the plate. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I hit in 28 straight games that year.
The health claims of attention to breath have been scientifically backed up. From Gretchen Cuda of NPR:
There are plenty of ways to relieve stress — exercise, a long soak in a hot bath, or even a massage. But believe it or not, something you’re doing right now, probably without even thinking about it, is a proven stress reliever: breathing. As it turns out, deep breathing is not only relaxing, it’s been scientifically proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, the immune system — and maybe even the expression of genes.
The stress reduction is the element of this discussion that is most noteworthy. Elevated stress levels contribute to everything from increased disease susceptibility to heart attacks. Any way to reduce this risk is worth looking into.
My best proof of concept on the benefits of focused breathing comes from my 2011 Spring Training with the Los Angeles Dodgers. During my physical, my initial blood pressure reading came up high enough that our doctor considered medication. I knew that the stress of trying to make the club was impacting the readings and asked that they not write the prescription. They agreed, with the caveat that they would check my blood pressure every day. Every day prior to the reading, I sat for five minutes, simply breathing. My readings following each meditation session were within normal range.
It turns out I didn’t need medication after all, I needed to connect with my breath.
Peace of mind,