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Now that you have a sense of what your Zone is, you need to learn how to return to your ideal performance state when going gets tough. When tension creeps into your relaxed, high-energy, high-output state, your effort increases but your performance drops. Stress and anxiety are the biggest threat to your Zone.

Remember figure skater Joannie Rochette at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics? She started her routine and felt a surge of sadness about her mother’s death because the crowd was applauding her so enthusiastically. So she went back to the boards and spent some time doing deliberate breathing with her coach. Then she went out and skated brilliantly on her way to a bronze medal.

The reason breathing is so effective is that the centres of your brain that control breathing are closely linked to the area that controls stress. If you can calm the electrical activity in the breathing centre, then you have a good chance of calming the stress. That’s why yoga and meditation work.

Deep, controlled breathing to calm anxiety or stress is often called Combat Breathing. You can do it anytime you feel that you are out of your Zone.
Here’s how:

1) Get into good posture by aligning your spine and stretching yourself upward. You can be lying down, sitting in a chair or standing. Then relax your muscles.

2) Do a scan for tension in your body and then focus on that area while you take a slow deep breath. Think about “letting go” of the tension as you exhale. (It might take a few breaths to get an area like your shoulders or forehead to release and relax).

3) When you feel you have addressed the tense areas, start taking controlled breaths. (I usually take 4 seconds to inhale, hold it for 2 seconds and then exhale for 6 seconds).

The key is to realize you are stressed and take slow deep breaths – no matter what you are trying to get in the Zone for – a presentation, a performance, a competition, or an exam.

Today's Power Up: Relaxation Breathing

Practice relaxation breathing when stress or tension prevent you from being in your Zone

Take a moment to practice relaxation breathing at least once per day, ideally during a moment when you're feeling tense or stressed. If you practice it enough the relaxation response will become almost automatic whenever you're feeling anxious.