As a snowboard instructor in high school, I could have replaced myself with a cardboard cut-out and a speaker yelling “bend your knees!” and it probably would have been as effective as my actual coaching. It seems like no matter the sport, to learn is to bend one’s knees.
We stiffen with fear; we should loosen. In snowboarding, just like life, I could always tell when a student was past their comfort zone when they straightened their knees on top of a steep hill – invariably losing an edge and wiping out. The paradox of fear then, is that it requires softness, flexibility, and direct view down the hill for us to handle it well.
So, what is the equivalent of “Bend your knees!” for the rest of life? Quite simply, it is to breathe. In terms of our brain’s ability to regulate emotion, we are limited with what we can do to get an emotional reaction under control. But we do have a powerful tool when we remember to take a deep breath. In so doing, we engage the brain’s circuitry for relaxation, we move more oxygen into the brain, and we become aware of what we feel so we can react nimbly.
Fear shortens and speeds our breathing cycles, which routes more blood and resources away from the brain, which intensifies our stiffness and limits our ability to see all the options we have to handle a challenge. Focusing on breathing doesn’t get rid of the fear right away, and it doesn’t rid us of challenges, but it does plant our feet in the moment and help us channel productive energy into solving, or accepting, a problem.
The C4’s F.R.O.G. Program focuses on Optimism and Gratitude for improving health and connection, but all of our program exercises begin with taking a deep breath. The Ranch inspires deep breaths – it is pretty much everyone’s reaction to visiting the grounds. They park, step out, and take a deep breath. Focusing on the breath is something we can do anytime though, and the result is amazingly effective. Breathing helps us stay loose, focus on the basics, and avoid a bad wipeout. Now BREATHE!
Written by Glenn R. Fox, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer, The C4 Foundation