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Down the Leash

Julie Bacon #mindyourmind Meditation Mental Game

I’m making the leap that if you’re reading this, you already believe achieving success in the ring includes having control over our minds and emotions when it’s our turn to shine. Easier said than done, of course. The big question is, How?! Wouldn’t we all #mindourmind if we could?

Some of the answer comes through controlling the control-ables. From making sure we arrive on time, to having a good plan for crating and “getting to the ring,” it’s important to put as many things on autopilot as possible.

It’s no secret I have a home on the anal-retentive spectrum, so it’s no surprise I am highly organized when it comes to packing for a trial. The van is packed and ready the night before, I know my ring times and I allow for time to take my dogs for their morning walk. Each of my dogs has his or her quirks and through trial and error I know what settles them. I stick to my logistical plans.

Perhaps you’re not on this spectrum with me – lucky you! Yet taking care of the things we can control allows you to free up your valuable energy and attention for the things that will pop up.

Valuable energy units

Think of it this way. Let’s pretend we have 10 units of energy. If we have to spend these precious units looking for our leash, then we have less to use for changing our plan when a reactive dog crates next to us and we need to relocate.

Another way those “energy units” get used is when we arrive to a trial knowing we may be in a bit over our head. Maybe we didn’t prepare enough – for a million solid reasons – or maybe we entered just to learn what we need to train. For whatever reason, we are spending energy units being nervous because we don’t feel ready.

Still, even if we are perfectly prepared and completely organized, we can still feel the nerves, excitement and buzz surrounding competition. Not only are these nerves normal, many elite athletes feed off of them. Whether you feed off of the energy or just feel complete performance anxiety, you’re spending precious energy units coping.

Speaking of coping …

Meanwhile, all of our worries, excitement and stress travel down the leash and to our partners without them understanding what’s behind the emotions. All they know is that something is wrong with their teammate and captain. Our dogs show their reactions in different ways – some disconnect, some stress up, others shut down. Often we say, “I don’t know what happened to my dog?!” when we are the ones our dogs don’t recognize!

One of the arguments that convinced me to give meditation a real try, was being told I could learn to control my energy levels – high-highs and low-lows. I’ve often told the story of giving myself a migraine not once, but twice, in national competitions. Both times I was overly excited – not fearful – and happy about walking into the ring, yet too much of a good thing made me unable to function at my best.

Meditation done on the regular can help build the skills needed to control breathing and call in focus when we most need it. Through meditation I practice eliminating stray thoughts, consciously breathing and connecting to the present moment. Like any “muscle,” this has to be strengthened so we can call on it when standing at the gate, “on deck.”

Oh, the places you’ll go

There are many, many kinds of meditation and I hope you will keep looking until you find one that suits you. The most basic – and portable – is one that focuses on the breath. “Box Breathing” means you sit or lie comfortably and focus only on your breath, counting to four as you breathe in, then hold for four, exhale for four and finally hold for four counts. In 4, hold 4, out 4, hold 4. You can work up to six or even eight counts, all the while focused on just your breath.

As thoughts come in, just notice them and let them go like passing a billboard on a highway or letting a cloud blow on by. Each time come back to your breath and focus on it only. Set a timer on your phone as start with just a minute, working up to as many as you like.

The portability of this type of meditation means that whenever I am feeling un-grounded, nervous or distracted I can use my breath to rejoin the present and let the errant thoughts float by me. When I’m standing at the gate I want to feel the ground beneath me and look into the eyes of my dog, reconnecting me to what’s important. In that moment I am aware and in control of what I’m sending down the leash and it’s all good.

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