A different kind of heart rate training

Usually we are monitoring our heart rates during exercise, but have you ever monitored it when facing a fear?

Flying has always been a challenge for me.  It combines heights, speed and someone else being in control…..probably my three least favorite things on earth.  However, when you decide to play a college sport, you don’t have a choice.  Flying is part of the deal, so during my four years at Eastern Washington I white knuckled it every week just counting the seconds until we were back on the ground.

As much as I loved playing golf in college, there was a huge part of me that was relieved when it was over.  No more flying!!  And that held true for about 5 years after until I met my husband.  He loves adventure and travels close to 90,000 miles a year.  And somehow in the 8 years since we met him, I have been on over 50 flights.  He helped me realize that I couldn’t spend my life missing out because of my crazy and irrational fear.  And beyond that, facing a fear like this is an opportunity to learn and get better.

Yesterday I used my flight from Kona to Honolulu as just that.  My resting heart rate is close to 45, and if I am just sitting doing some work, it stays somewhere in the 50’s.

This was my heart rate on take off from Kona:

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Yikes!  Nothing like a 40 BPM heart rate jump while just sitting!  My challenge for the duration of my flight now became to decrease this number and get it back to normal.  This seems like something that might come in handy on the golf course too 🙂

Here are the steps I use to accomplish this:

  • Accept every possible outcome.  I tell myself that flying is the safest way to travel and letting my mind go to those bad places is irrational.
  • Breathing, deeply, focusing on the diaphragm.
  • Counting my breaths up to 10, breathing in on the odd numbers and out on the evens.
  • While doing this, if my mind wanders off from the numbers, I just slowly bring my awareness back to my breath.

Today was probably the most successful I have been at getting my heart rate down without major jumps back up when turbulence hits or the plane turns.  Here’s a few of the readings from the flight:

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And then we started to land……

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When the wheels touched down it was closer to 70, but definitely an improvement over the 95 BPM on take off!

Imagine being on the golf course now, 18th hole, and you have a 5 foot putt to win.  Your heart rate is jumping out of your chest, hands are shaking and sweating.  The power to slow the breath and heart rate down are huge in these circumstances.  But how often do you get to actually practice this?  For me, that’s why flying has now become something I look forward to.  It’s one of the only times I get a chance to really work on this.

Next time you are facing something that gets the heart rate pumping, see if you can regain control.  The great part was it distracted me from the thoughts of actually flying, in fact a few times I didn’t even realize the plane was in a turn!

And if you are looking for a great app that helps with meditation and breathing, try Headspace.  It’s a great tool to have, set up as 10 minute daily meditations that progress you as it goes.  Many of the breathing techniques I use come from it!

Hope you all had a great weekend, I’m off to hike Diamond Head!

-S

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