Slow Down and Breathe

Stress.  It’s a killer – in life and at the craps table.  Stepping up to the table and taking charge of the dice can be very stressful. Even our practice sessions can drive stress levels up when the dice just won’t behave like they should. So how do you handle this stress at the table? Simple. Take a deep breath. Hold it. Now breathe out slowly – five, four three, two, one, ahhhh. You’d think that breathing easy would come naturally to everyone. After all, we start breathing on our own from the moment the doctor slaps us on our newborn bottoms. But the fact is, most of us do not breathe efficiently. That means your blood is never fully oxygenated, and you don’t reach your full energy potential. It can also lead to serious health issues.

I’ve had a keen awareness of this since being diagnosed with sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea stop breathing anywhere from 10 seconds to 3 minutes at time while they are sleeping – and this can happen literally hundreds of times a night. All of this can lead to heart attack or stroke. However, the most common side effect is a severely bruised leg from your wife kicking you while shouting “Breathe damn it!”

It was this spousal abuse, not the lack of sleep, which ultimately sent me to the doctor’s office in search of a cure. And one of the first things the sleep specialist checked to diagnose my sleep apnea was the oxygen level in my blood. Untreated, my blood oxygen level was in the mid eighties to low nineties. Not good but not particularly serious. But these days it’s in the mid to high nineties, and the result is a marked improvement in my energy level.

Now what, you may ask, does this have to do with craps and precision shooting? Just this. Most people are “lazy” breathers. They use only the top halves of their lungs with any regularity. The bottom halves of the lungs go unused. As a result, more carbon dioxide builds up in the bloodstream. That in turn makes the blood more acidic, which puts more pressure on your heart, causes physical stress, and muscle tension.

Stress and tension. Ever experienced those at the craps table? Ahhhhh. Now you’re starting to get the picture.

More and more professional athletes are learning the importance of proper breathing techniques. They are learning how to release performance anxiety by fully expanding their diaphragms through a technique sometimes referred to as “belly breathing.”

Most of the breathing techniques being taught these days have their origins in Eastern philosophies such as yoga and tai chi, and most can be learned on your own with just a little guidance and practice. Make a point of sitting quietly for a few minutes a day and just breathing. A simple count-down breathing technique – breathing in on the count of one, holding it for a couple of seconds, then breathing out to a five, four, three, two, one countdown is a good way to begin. Start low and go slow – practicing your breathing for three to five minutes a day at first, gradually working up to fifteen to twenty minutes. Soon you will see the energy connection, gain discipline, and improve your ability to focus.

Practicing deep breathing and relaxation techniques in your hotel room before heading down to the tables gives you something you can apply in the heat of the game – an energy reserve you can draw on when the pressure mounts. And if you feel yourself getting tense at the tables, you’ll be able to breathe your troubles away.