As we approach the show ring, or we get back on after a fall, or we have to remember a pattern to ride, we all get those nerves that kick in and make us feel super nervous. This could play a massive part in your body position and affect how you ride and the tension you provide throughout your body.
In this situation, we see riders holding their breath, tense through their knees, and hunching at their shoulders or leaning forwards. These are all positions and things that happen as reflexes. But let us look at the actual issues.
When we look at breathing mechanics and how we breathe automatically, we find the answers to all those annoying things that happen that we just do not seem to have control of when we are stressed and nervous.
In this case, the brain stem plays a key role in all those reflexes and automatic reactions that happen. The brain stem is split into 3 areas and each of these has a different role and link with breathing. The midbrain is stimulated by breath holds, so in this case, is the area we are going to look at.
The midbrain has many functions from eye control, to hearing, from autonomic control to motor control. But one thing to remember with nerves and neural networks is when we activate something it has a "lightbulb" glow that has a knock-on effect on the things that surround it. One saying in the neuro world is " what lives next to one another, activate one another'.
Let us look at this in your riding. If you hold your breath when you are riding you activate the Midbrain. In this same area of the brain, it has a reflex network for global flexor tone. This means it helps large areas of the body go into flexion. It also has signalled for an increase in Symapthetics, our fight, flight or freeze body state.
The midbrain has a network for activating an increase in sympathetic tone. If we are nervous and are already in a stressed state with nerves, holding your breath is also going to drive this sympathetic stressed state higher, increasing heart rate, breathing rate, and stress hormone release. This is then a steady spiral upwards. No wonder our horse picks up on "show nerves"
When you ride and hold your breath you activate your midbrain which has a knock-on effect into global flexion and increased sympathics. It will increase the sympathics, you will be heightened from a threat response, your visual field will be narrowed, your muscles will become tighter and much more. If you are holding your breath your body will activate the global flexion of the body, that is shoulders falling forwards, that is retracting the legs up, and trunk flexion forwards to name a few.
If we can learn to control our breathing and know we get these "nerves" that appear there are many physical ways we can start to combat them before we spiral into that downhill spiral.
In our riders, we teach breathing mechanics to help you control your body state. This is so much more than some box breathing. We teach you how to hack into your body system meaning you can up and down-regulate yourself as needed. In performance enhancement, this is a key fundamental skill to aid with body control, midline stability and performance.