Breath Development Training: Tips, tricks and how to build that all important mental mindset to be calm and confident.

When it comes to surfing there is one huge factor that is debilitating – fear. 

That moment you see the bigger set behind the wave you just paddled over in a rush and you have the sinking feeling of, oh no, this is going to break on top of me and completely smash me… I’m going to die! And just like that, “boom” you have now entered fight or flight, tapping wholly into your sympathetic nervous system (directs the body’s rapid involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations *), the heart starts pumping harder and faster, we breath shorter and faster, adrenaline starts pumping through the body and we are extremely prone to panic if we cannot control the stress response. It sux and will leave a mental scar depending on the fright that was just ingrained. Unfortunately, it is all part of the sport and one you will need to be comfortable with, having a wave hold you down and completely thrash you around to the point of near drowning!  

So, how can we combat this and build up our tolerance to survive and keep calm? 

One way is breath development training. The key for this sport, and like most things in life, is that you must get outside of your comfort zone if you want to grow and adapt! There is no easy way around this, it is something you need to do in order to get to that next level. Personal development is all about how you respond to situations and the more you can upskill yourself in dealing with stress/bad situations, the better you will handle them going forwards and will have more confidence too.  

One simply does not learn by not doing or avoiding the situation. 

Breath development is about learning how to control fear and anxiety by tapping into your parasympathetic nervous system (controls the body’s ability to relax, slowing the heart rate and lowering the blood pressure after the sympathetic nervous system has activated the fight or flight response). A very, very critical system to tap into in order to keep calm and collected during stress.  

The key to it all this is mental mindset and developing your “go to place” is the key to success. The ‘go to place’ is your ability to simulate a non over-arousing, or under-arousing picture in your mind. Think nice lake, hills on the side, sunset setting on it, green trees on your right…it’s literally taking your mind off the situation at hand so you don’t panic and burn through vital energy and oxygen stores. The more you can ingrain this into your memory bank, the better! Everyone can hold their breath for a lot longer than they think they can, and by going into a bad situation with a negative mindset (I’m going to die) well that’s just setting you up for failure and already setting up panic mode – which is very, very hard to come back from. Instead, if we go, ‘right, breath in slow, hold 1,2 sec… breath out slowly, 1,2,3,4, then in again’ before a wave comes, well, that oxygen and longer breath pattern has just aided us immensely by tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system. Oxygen, funnily enough, is vital for survival and for brain function. Carbon dioxide on the other hand is not so good – we make bad decisions by having depleted oxygen stores.  

If we also get into a better mindset and think ‘ok I got this, I can hold my breath for over 30sec, and I’ll l just let the wave do its thing and not fight it’. Don’t fight with mother nature – it will win every time! Back yourself too, laugh at it once you come up – you got to eliminate all fear – take charge of it – tell it to **** right off!! But don’t get too carried away by getting yourself all hyped up either, as that’s equally as bad and will tap into fight mode and the sympathetic nervous system again! 

Breath Development drills like the following ones are great drills to implement in order to learn how to control stress, develop C02 tolerance and hold your breath for longer. The main thing that will adapt from such drills is your mental mindset – which is the main reason why you panic and struggle to hold your breath for longer periods.  

Breath Hold – Positive

Breath Hold – Negative

Spin and Pin

3 line return

Only do these drills with a partner or a few people, NEVER ON YOUR OWN! Shallow water blackouts are a real thing, and you can/will drown if you become so relaxed from CO2 build up and lack O2 that you will fall asleep in the water! Not ideal! 

Last tip: If you feel like you’re panicking and can’t get that ‘go to place’, count! Visualize the number and count up to 20… you’ll be surprised how effective that is and how soon enough you’ll find yourself back at the surface and less wasted from the wipe out. 

·         Extra info 

After the amygdala sends a distress signal (it’s a little nut shaped part in the middle of your brain), the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. These glands respond by pumping the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) into the bloodstream. 

The parasympathetic nervous system is part of the body’s autonomic nervous system. Its partner is the sympathetic nervous system, which control’s the body’s fight or flight response. The parasympathetic nervous system controls the body’s ability to relax. It’s sometimes called the “rest and digest” state. 

If you have any questions regarding these exercises, niggles or thinking … hmm maybe I could do some help then do feel free to contact me I can do in person or online consultations to help out, and if I don’t have the answers, I’ll find someone who does!