Mindful Living, Mindful Shooting — Part VII
Scuttlebutt has it that the recommended practice regimen for DI has been revised. Yes! It’s now urged that only ten minutes a day might do the trick.
Apparently, too many of us complained about the puke factor.
But don’t confuse the puke factor with the pucker factor. The pucker factor has not undergone revision, though concerns about it have been raised as well.
The pucker factor is something we can still look forward to.
Especially, of course, if we’ve not become sufficiently familiar with…the puke factor.
Our Breath, Our Posture, Our Toss
There’s not likely a universal breathing technique for DI suited to every shooter, any more than there is one grip or shooting style. But DIs who begin to focus on how breathing affects shooting are gaining insight.
Our breath has a lot in common with our toss. With both, we can only take one at a time. Also, they’re both accomplished largely by habit, with conscious modulation playing an important role, too.
But we practice shooting a lot more than we practice breathing. You just don’t often hear someone say, “My breathing’s been a little off lately. I gotta get in some extra practice.”
But then…that’s not as far-fetched as it may sound.
We learn the fundamentals of DI and then build up and integrate the elements of our skill over time. It might be wise to apply a little of that same logic to how we’re breathing when we shoot, as well.
What’s in a Breath?
Breathing is metabolic. Its rhythms are regulated automatically by the brain to keep our muscles, organs and nervous system working right for the conditions we encounter or anticipate.
Our everyday breathing rates and rhythms can be accorded no presumptive application in our DI skillset, however, because the mental and physical requirements of dice influencing are highly specialized.
Some DIs use an athletic-style breathing approach in their DI efforts. But does dice influencing involve the same mental and physical dynamics as athletics?
Cross-country runners, for example, develop incredible aerobic-exchange capacities to accommodate the grueling demands of their sport.
Basketball players seem to modulate their breathing well enough to nail free throws in relaxed form just seconds after running up and down the court for extended periods of time.
Weight lifters huff and puff in pre-determined patterns to meet the needs of their demanding work.
Obviously, the energy and skill demands in sports vary, and they are entirely different from DI. Any comparison with breathing styles in athletic activities only begins our inquiry.
Less Energy, More Precision
First, compared with athletic activities, DIs require only a miniscule level of energy to satisfy the relatively low—though highly refined—mental and physical demands involved.
Because we rely on such refined motor-coordination skills, if we’re to achieve consistency, we need to maintain our energy with even greater precision and better balance compared to any higher-energy activity. For precision skills, a much smaller range of energy variances yields much larger relative swings within our preferred mental and physical energy states. The tolerances are narrow.
Think of a loose spark-plug wire in a car with an eight- or twelve-cylinder engine, compared with a four-banger. With bigger engines, the problem might barely even be noticed. The more efficient engine’s performance, on the other hand, will be noticeably degraded just pulling out of the driveway. Same real-energy variance; big difference in effect.
Not only is energy regulation more critical in precision dice than in more physically demanding activities, but our energy must also be sustained and maintained through a unique cycle in which our highly concentrated efforts each time we shoot, alternate over and over with periods of considerably less-demanding activity as we wait for the dice.
Thus, not only how we breathe when we shoot, but also how we breathe between tosses and between turns with the dice as well; all affect the consistency of our energy each time we pick up the dice.
As we discussed a moment ago, because our breathing patterns are subject to automatic controls, they are largely determined by habit. Whether each of our individual, habitual breathing patterns are best suited for executing a controlled throw of the dice, is worth considering.
Shallow Breathing versus Deeper Breathing
Many of us don’t breathe as well as we might. Some experts suggest that due to chronic societal stress, quick and shallow breathing has become the norm.
Rarely is a “freeze, fight, or flight” response necessary to literally save our skin. But once a stress response becomes the habitual reaction to the minor inconveniences of everyday life, it begins to feel normal. Chronic shallow breathing is one of the most common symptoms of stress. And it leads to further problems like undue stress on the heart and constricting blood vessels, in a vicious cycle ultimately leading to millions of prescriptions for a wide variety of anxiolitic medications.
Learning to reshape our stress response with improved breathing is among the objectives of practices such as yoga and meditation. Slower, steadier, and fuller breathing not only helps manage our stress response, it also improves our spatial awareness, emotional resilience, physical stamina, and even our memory and concentration.
Taking a few deep breaths is always relaxing. But if we’re going to alter deeply-engrained breathing patterns in support of our skills and for improving our game, the change must emerge at a pace that allows it to become securely integrated as an element of our skillset, just like any other.
Otherwise, our energies at critical times will always remain in too much flux to deliver the stability we need for the increased consistency we seek.
Motor and Mental Coordination — Shooting in Rhythm with Our Breath
Besides affecting our mental and physical energy, breathing also contributes to our feeling of presence; it influences our overall posture; and it defines our sense of timing and rhythm. The subtle and not-so-subtle movements, not only of our lungs, but our diaphragm, belly, ribcage, shoulders, spine, internal organs, and even the nervous-system energies inherent to breathing—all contribute to the quality of our spatial awareness, balance, and coordination.
At the critical juncture in our routine when we’ve resolved our intentions, our energies are narrowly focused. Any divergence of mental or physical resources at that critical point diminishes our concentration. Any unwarranted physical movement, too, can degrade the quality of our shot.
As we better sense how breathing always entails movement, how it continually affects our posture, and how it influences our mental state, too, we’re going to want to consider whether the breathing and tossing rhythms we’ve been using are to our greatest advantage.
Some shooters may find they’re more focused between their breaths—during that brief moment after exhaling, but before taking their next breath.
Time-stretcher Relaxation Exercise Revisited
There is an astonishingly close connection between the attention we pay to the dice every time we pick them up, and the likelihood we’ll be getting the job done on a given toss.
Fortunately, the dice are perfect for the job, because their inherent design allows exactly the controlled response we want from them. Working to become intimately familiar with the qualities of the dice that allow our influence seems well advised.
A working checklist of careful observations we can make about the dice could begin something like this:
Paying close attention, the dice may begin to feel as if they are practically an extension of our fingertips.
With this much information about the dice, and this much connection with them, we automatically know that they will do exactly what we tell them to do.
When you think about it, the dice always do exactly what we tell them to do. Dice can only do as they’re told, as they react to the forces we impart. We have to make sure the directions we give them are right for the job.
Listening closely to what the dice have to say as we hold them helps us focus, and makes each toss feel more natural and immediate. It helps us have the confidence we need to expect familiar results from our toss in conformity with our intentions.
Deeper Focus Dice-Awareness Technique
Just as real beauty is always more than skin deep; let’s look at the dice even more carefully—just for good measure.
During the time-stretcher exercise between practice tosses we can patiently and carefully examine the dice.
But first, how is the light? Do you see reflections or glare? You may want to supplement or modify your lighting to optimize the effects of this effort.
Is there a stamped dice-manufacturer imprint in view, and if so, is there paint in the grooves of the stamp? Did the stamp strike each die straight on?
Look inside the dice, too. With polished dice we can see our fingertips in direct contact with the opposite side, like pranksters pressing their faces up against a window. With sanded dice we can see the shadows formed by our fingers on the opposite surface.
We can sense the inner cube-shaped contour of the dice, viewing them as if seen from within. Gently rocking the dice, we might see distortions of their true shape and dimensions.
Looking carefully at dice is a bit like looking at precision-cut gemstones.
Maybe the pips, instead of looking as they do in their familiar numeric configurations, begin to look like glyphs from an ancient Mayan temple painting, or communication from a distant galaxy’s higher intelligence.
Dice are cool!
Through efforts like these, we can establish richly detailed associations for our spontaneous apprehension and appreciation of the dice themselves, that will help inform and focus our energies, whenever we pick them up.
Extending Deep Awareness Into the Body
By priming our ability to direct our attention in increasingly refined ways, first by studying the dice, we can begin to expect to find a similar experience as we direct our attention to our body.
Most of us are familiar with body-scan relaxation techniques, but maybe never integrated them with our practice this way. One of the memorable inspirations of Kent Glines’ guided-relaxation sessions for me, was learning that whenever we think we’re relaxed, we can always relax a little more.
Standing in shooting position, we might start by moving our attention to our feet, one at a time; and then move our focus to the ankles, and then our calves, and so on, staying on any area as long as necessary to feel satisfied with the effort before moving on.
The amount of time we spend on relaxation techniques is up to us. Just make sure we’re paying as much attention as we pay to those dice, or more.
In a later installment, we’ll discuss how integrative
and calming sensory-awareness exercises deepen our practice to
enhance our skills. Suffice to say at this point, increased
complexity and synchrony of our awareness helps us develop
clarity as we sharpen and refine our skills. Weaving a multi-layered
tapestry of concentrated sensate experience draws us in to our
skillfully executed toss with increasing detail.
Extending Deep Awareness to the Earth’s Gravitational Field…and Beyond
Gravity is something we can’t escape, while we’re on the planet anyway, and yet we rarely pause to really appreciate its effects. That’s odd considering what an important partner we have in this always-identical, perfectly precision, and rather spectacular force that shapes and informs the space we live in and throw the dice through.
When you think about it, the force of gravity is the only component of our game that is absolutely consistent and 100% replicable—and without any effort on our part. Improving familiarity with gravity’s effects on us and on our game seems like a promising direction for further evaluation.
Next time, we’ll continue where we’re leaving off, and we’ll be discussing several additional matters of some gravity in Two Minds, One Toss. Later on, we’ll be discussing the mental dynamics of creating precise baseline mechanics in The Curare Effect: Turning Up the Gain By Turning Down the Noise.
© 2006 Jeffrey47