Originally Posted by LiquidFeet
No one has brought up dealing with fearful students who are hyperventilating yet.
Any instructors out there?
Not an instructor, but I've had plenty of experience with panicked people.
So, here are two words: belly breathing. This is written about in so many places that it's taking too long to find the studies themselves, but just the mere act of breathing into and out of the belly triggers the relaxation response, the release of happy hormones, and a reduction in overproduction of stress hormones. Best of all, belly breathing has an immediate physical effect on the endocrine system and autonomic nerve system, so you don't even have to believe it's going to work. You just have to try it to feel the effects.
One poor 14 year old girl who'd had a pot of boiling water spilled in her lap comes to mind. She was freaked out and showing some signs of shock, so after dumping several loads of ice into her lap and getting her hysterical mother out of her hair I helped her breath while we waited for the boat to take her to the mainland. I had her focus on inhaling into her belly, and within a few minutes she'd stopped shaking and hyperventilating and her heart rate was slowing down. Soon she could talk calmly, take direction, and start to harass the sister who'd been horsing around and knocked over the camp stove, and if she tensed up as we transferred her to the boat I could just remind her to keep breathing and she'd regain her calm.. Because she was so panicky it helped to start out by asking her to focus on my face, which helped keep her from going off into her own head instead of listening to me.
Step one is to try to relax the shoulders and encourage the upper chest to relax downward, but if they can't do this it's not a big deal. Step two is more important, because the abdomen has to be open in order for this to work. I tell them to stand or sit upright--not in a military pose, but out of the typical collapsed spine to a relaxed stance that opens the abdomen, and to try to relax the abs (belly, to most people) while still supporting the torso. Then you start to breath, inhaling through the nose, and focus on filling the belly with air (not anatomically correct, but easy for a layperson to understand). Watch for chest breathing, which is counterproductive. As they calm down I'll have them try to make their inhalation match their exhalation by having them count to 4 slowly on each. Modeling good breathing is important, gives them something to focus on besides their own pain or fear, and it helps with your performance, too.