Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Week 32: Courage Breath

In our form of karate, we practice different sorts of breathing as well as learning to kiai (what people think of as the "Aiii-yah" in badly dubbed martial arts movies). While a kiai is described as an " inner gathering of energy released in a single explosive focus of will", there are also "focus breaths" and "courage breaths". A focus breath occurs anytime you strike, block, or someone punches at you, and serves to both focus your energy as well as tensing your abdominal muscles to protect your core organs, it's short and sharp and comes from the gut. A courage breath is a slow breath that you take in through the nose and release through the back of your mouth in a Darth Vader-like manner. We use these while making slow, intense, focused movements in a kata, or while gathering energy and mental calm before performing a move.

It's funny, but at stressful times in my life (like, oh, when the kids are bickering while I'm line at the bank, not that this ever happens to me....), I find myself using a courage breath to momentarily center myself and give myself just a tiny mental time-out and re-focusing. It might sound a bit weird to the people around when you suddenly emit a Vader-ish breath or two, but it really does work. And keeps you from knocking your kids heads together.

While training, preparing, and planning for an Ironman is undoubtably thrilling and exciting, it's also nerve-wracking and to be truthful, a bit fear-inducing. I can get butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it too much, and I've learned never ever to think about it late at night or I'll be up for hours from the sudden jolt of adrenaline. Clearly, my body knows how serious it is, even if my mind can fool itself into thinking these are trivial details about an event that is far, far away (though creeping up, week by week).

I've decided to employ the courage breath as a regular part of my Ironman training. Borrowing from my martial arts, my plan is to use this breath both during training (since the intervals that are the bulk of my current regimen regularly make me nervous) and during racing when I'm sure there will be some moments when I will need to call on my reserves of courage and calm. I'm going to practice drawing in and letting go of that courage breath when I'm standing on a cold, misty lakeshore in my wetsuit, or heading to the track at dawn.

One thing I've learned well from karate is that nothing, not even breathing, can be done well if you don't practice it with intention. So today my intention is to breathe well, and take courage from my breath. You can follow along, everybody now... inhale..... and aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh. See, don't you feel better already?

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