How to stay in the zone?
The vagus nerve also known as the 10th Cranial Nerve is the longest most complex of nerves and plays a significant role in athletes and anyone pursuing success. It runs from the brain through the face, thorax and abdomen hence influencing important organs in our body. Enhancing your vagal tone helps you to stay in the zone, calm and reacting appropriately to the situation with minimal lag time.
The sympathetic system prepares you for fight or flight response but the parasympathetic system does the opposite. Athletes need to have quick reflexes in a calm manner. Executing the same aids to your horse in a precise, purposeful quick manner makes a difference to the outcome of the extended trot or approach to the jump. Good vagal means your brain is alert but not noisy. Your reflexes are quick but not hectic.
How to develop a healthy vagal tone? To start with, find the sweet spot where your level of skill matches the task. From there continuously push the limits by increasing the challenge. This will help you be more comfortable with difficult tasks. Set yourself up for success and push a little beyond that.
Slow abdominal breathing stimulates your vagus nerve and activates your parasympathetic nervous system. Anytime and anywhere as you are going about your activities, practice inhaling for 4 seconds and exhaling for 8 seconds. Do several rounds of this. You can also try this while you are riding. Instead of seconds it can be 8 beats or 8 strides. Research has shown longer exhalation stimulates the vagus nerve and the deep diaphragmatic breathing starts the calming 'rest and digest response. Activities that utilize deep breathing are yoga, meditation, Pilates and taichi.
So 2 really simple ways to start honing your mental game before show season. In training, continuously push boundaries and practice deep breathing, even on the horse and see how responds! Being in a heightened calm state will help quicken your reflexes while staying clear headed.
We hope you find this post helpful and if you would like to know more about the vagus nerve or how to improve your performance let us know in the comment section below!