Hi my name is Emily Conrad, I coach snowboarding and specialize in managing emotions. I became familiar with many of the techniques I use by going to therapy after realizing I had been struggling with depression for many years. This is one of my favorite stories of my friend Kate, and how I adapted breathing techniques to match her adrenaline.
I met Kate in a group lesson that was far below her skill set. I asked her "How come she did not want to join the group above ours?" and she shared that she was in that group yesterday, and went on a run she had ridden before she had a panic attack. Since that incident she was unable to make turns down that run. I took her to that run after a warmup, and sure enough half way down she started to panic.
We sat down taking her emotions one at a time. First I had her focus on breathing in and out. Then I began pointing out the different colors of other peoples equipment. This grounded Kate and brought her out of the panic attack. I asked her what her fear was. This is called ‘thought labeling’ and helps take the power away from our emotions.
She stood up and attempted to make a turn, but she would not leave her heel edge. Her body looked tense and her breath was shallow. So we sat back down, and I told her to yell. She looked at me with bemused embarrassment and made a small “ah”. I laughed and said, “nobody cares about what we are doing” and let out a loud, “WHOOIE!!!” We did this several times until she was shouting and laughing. When we stood up to ride I told her to yell before each turn. She stood up and gave a yell then turned onto her toe edge. She continued hooting and turning all the way to the bottom, and we went back up two more times shouting the whole way down.
What yelling did for her is what I call the roller coaster effect. When riding a roller coaster, those who are yelling and screaming are more relaxed and moving with the ride than those holding their breath, which can result in whiplash or motion sickness. In Kate’s case she was unable to move her body because her body was so tense she wasn’t breathing deeply. By shouting, she was forced to take deep breaths relax her abdomen and calm her brain with the exhale.
The more we learn about our brains the more we can control them, hijack our fight or flight reflexes, and take ourselves to new and amazing places that once seemed impossible.