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SOTW columnist
Neal Sharpe
 
Neil Sharpe is with the Genetic Testing Research Group, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and serves as a consultant in clinical protocols and health policy. Neil has extensive experience with the emotional and psychological aspects of performance and well being. He is the author and co-author of two professional texts and numerous peer reviewed papers. Neil and his sax have terrified the unsuspecting since the 1950's.















Anxiety, Emotions and Performing Well

by Neil Sharpe

Part 2- Relaxation and Concentration

Is performing sometimes like jumping from an emotional fry pan into the fire? Welcome to the club.

How we respond to distractions, to the constant onrush of expectations, worries, and setbacks is a key factor in how we perform. If you are having trouble with pressure, you may have a hard time sleeping. Fatigue breeds anxiety. Anxiety triggers physical problems like headaches, muscles stiffness and soreness (especially in the lower back, neck, and shoulders), an upset stomach, and difficulty in swallowing.

Learning how to physically relax can make a big difference.

Physical Relaxation

1. Chee Gung

Find a quiet place, a different environment. Begin with the Write It Down technique described in Part One.

Let your arms hand loosely at your sides while keeping your back and neck straight. Close your eyes, inhale gently, and raise your arms, palms facing skyward moving upward in a large circle, until they reach full extension about your head. While inhaling, imagine that you are breathing in a cool, relaxing, blue mist. Next, slowly lower your arms, palms facing downwards, to hang loosely at your sides. As you do so, let your breath flow out, and imagine that a hot, orange stream of tension is flowing out of your body. Repeat four times or as many times as you find comfortable. Add the following.

2. Waves

  • Sit quietly in a chair. Slowly take in a deep breath, then gently let it flow out. Repeat three or four times (this exercise also can be done following the technique Counting To Ten). With your eyes closed, imagine a tap has been placed on each of your fingers and each of your toes one at a time. Feel the taps being opened one at a time. This imagery may be sketchy at first, but if you keep at it, the image will become clearer. A precise image isn't necessary; a general impression works fine.
  • Imagine your body is filled with a liquid that begins to slowly flow out when the taps are opened. Start with the top of your head and feel the liquid flowing out of the taps, opening a clear, empty space at the top of your head, then your forehead, the back of your head, your eyes, cheeks, throat, and neck leaving them relaxed, quiet, and peaceful.
  • Imagine the liquid is slowly flowing out of your shoulders, your arms, your hands, and each of your fingers. Continue this for each part of your body down to the toes.
  • Starting at the top of your head, mentally sail through your body to see whether there is any tension remaining. Feel the tension, feel through the tension, feel the tension breaking down, gradually flowing away.
  • Slowly take a deep breath, count silently to five, and then exhale slowly. Do this several times, each time feeling a wave of relaxation flowing downward from the top of your head throughout your entire body, like waves gently washing to shore, leaving your body relaxed, calm, and at peace.

Close your eyes and beginning with the top of your head, mentally trace down through your entire body, moving various muscles, while slowing counting to the number ten, then open your eyes.

With practice, this exercise can be done quickly and effectively.

In The Groove

Now that you are familiar with the basic techniques, you are ready to develop a daily routine. With practice, these integrated exercises can be done quickly and effectively.

  1. Write it Down
  2. Chee Gung
  3. Counting To Ten
  4. Clouds and Rivers (wherever required)
  5. Waves

When you are comfortable with the above routine, it's time to begin the single most critical technique, Performance Rehearsal. However, if you like, the following exercise can be added to the above routine to enhance concentration skills.

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Broad/Narrow Concentration

Focusing on a single object in a room is an example of narrow concentration. Focusing on a room as a whole is an example of broad concentration. With practice, you can learn to integrate both of these types of focus to the point where they work seamlessly. The benefits can be significant, enabling you to better maintain focus under high stress situations.

  • To begin, breathe in slowly from the abdomen, pause, and mentally say the number "one". When you exhale, however, focus only on the sound of your breathing. If you prefer, make the sound "mu" every time you breathe out.
  • Breathe in slowly, pause, and mentally say the number, "two". Pause, then breathe out slowly focusing only on your breath.
  • Repeat this cycle until you reach the number "five"
  • Repeat this cycle three more times for a total of four, or as many times as you find comfortable.

When you have finished counting, slowly open your eyes, and focus on a single object. Examine its every detail. Notice its shape, its colors; trace with your eyes any shadows, its design or lettering. After doing this for a few moments, expand your focus to encompass the entire room. Observe the room as a whole for a few moments; return your focus to the object. Repeat this process four times or as many times as feels comfortable.

Performance Rehearsal- Basic Technique

Performance Rehearsal is critical if we want to consistently perform at out best. This technique is like watching a movie in which you are the director and star.

To give you an idea of how this technique works, begin with something you know well such as the room in which you're sitting. This way you easily can compare your mental imagery to the real thing.

Begin by closing your eyes and mentally try to see the general shape of the room. Imagine the location of the door, the window(s), various pieces of furniture, etc. Open your eyes and compare it to the real location and objects. If the images seem difficult or sketchy, don't worry; with practice they will become clearer. Again, a precise image isn't necessary; a general impression can work well.

Close your eyes and again see the mental image of the room. Do this a few more times until you gradually become more comfortable with the image. When this general image is familiar, focus on a specific object in the room.

With your eyes open, look at an object for a few seconds and then close your eyes and see this image. Try to this image in mind for 10 to 20 seconds. Open your eyes and compare your image to the real object. Close your eyes and repeat for the same time period. Do this as many times as feels comfortable.

Repeat this exercise for four to five consecutive days until the image of the object becomes easier to see mentally. With this foundation, you're ready to begin Performance Rehearsal described in Part Three.

Feeling Fine

When people are under pressure, a common tendency is to recall past problems and setbacks at the expense of remembering what went well. Our emotions are soon controlling the situation.

A fundamental rule of Performance Rehearsal is go into the past only to recall the positive. The past is over and done. The only place it exists is in the memory. If there are lessons to be learned, learn them, then move on. Negativity accomplishes nothing.

Right now, without evaluating, take a pen and a piece of paper and jot down, in point form, past successes, times when you were pleased with the way you practiced or performed. For some people, this may seem difficult at first, but you didn't get this far without achieving certain goals and acquiring certain skills.

  1. What was the event?
  2. What type of feelings did you experience?
  3. When did you experience these feelings?
  4. Write down a phrase or a word that reminds you of this time and these feelings
Use this phrase or word to regain focus when you find yourself slipping into thoughts about past difficulties and setbacks.
prevPart 1 of this article: Focus         Part 3: Performing Well next
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Created: November 25, 2003
Update: December 29, 2003

©2003 Harri Rautiainen
and respective authors

saxontheweb.net
Neil Sharpe is with the Genetic Testing Research Group, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and serves as a consultant in clinical protocols and health policy. Neil has extensive experience with the emotional and psychological aspects of performance and well being. He is the author and co-author of two professional texts and numerous peer reviewed papers. Neil and his sax have terrified the unsuspecting since the 1950's.
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A Related SOTW article: Psyching Out Improv Demons by Roger Freundlich

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