Teams that breathe together, win together.
Are you as addicted to the Olympics as I am?
While I haven’t been a full-on night owl, reversing my sleep schedule to catch as many events as possible live, I have definitely had my fair share of late nights falling asleep on the couch as I try to catch the last run of a snowboard final or the final end of a curling match.
But on Monday night, I was wide awake with focused attention to watch Canadian ice dance champions, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, battle it out for gold and the chance to become the most decorated Olympic figure skaters of all time.
If you’re not familiar with the global phenomenon that is Tessa & Scott, let me give you a brief intro.
Vaulted onto the world stage in 2010 by a gold medal win at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, this pair of ice dancers have captivated viewers over the years with not only their razor-sharp technique, but their positively steamy on-ice chemistry.
Their latest free program to “Roxanne” from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, which won them gold again on Monday night, set the internet on fire and fueled speculation that the pair are more than just on-ice partners. (Case and point, check out SNL star and Olympic super fan, Leslie Jones’ commentary on their free program here.)
Despite the hopes and dreams of fans, Tessa & Scott insist that they are just friends and teammates. In fact, they frequently mention how flattered they feel that their on-ice chemistry is so believable that people feel there must be more to it (seriously, there’s fan fiction dedicated to this!).
It’s a testament to how highly skilled they are as performers – that they make their programs seem so effortless, easy and real.
It comes from being deeply focused and connected as a team, something they actively practice and incorporate into their warm-up routines.
So on Monday, as the world waited for them to step onto the ice, I was watching for a moment beforehand. A quiet moment, with just the two of them, on the sidelines of the rink.
The moment where Tessa & Scott wrap their arms around each other for several minutes and breathe.
The commentators have dubbed this their “deep hug”. But the psychology community has a different term for it, and it’s an exercise that’s used in many different therapeutic settings and its effects have been scientifically studied.
It’s called co-regulation.
Scientifically, co-regulation is defined as, “a bidirectional linkage of oscillating emotional channels between partners, which contributes to emotional stability for both partners” (see more here).
What that means is that when two people have a strong emotional connection, time spent in close proximity with each other allows both people to experience a sense of calm and ease.
The added benefit is that it also strengthens the connection between both people – enhancing their awareness and sensitivity to each other, allowing them to feel this same sense of calm even when they are not in such close contact.
For these ice dancers, it gives them a leg up in their performance.
It’s this connection that makes them so technically flawless. It allows them to be deeply aware of each other on the ice – where they are, how they are moving – and allows them to match the other person easily and quickly if they are out of sync.
It’s this connection that also makes them so compelling. It allows them to be emotionally connected to each other – to feed off the other person’s emotions and allow their own to grow to match. It also allows them to go deep into character from a safe and grounded place, knowing that are going there together and are supporting each other as they do it.
In short, it creates a deep sense of trust between them. They feel calm, collected and grounded because they know they’ve got each other’s backs – no matter what happens out there on the ice.
Image if you felt that secure every time you stepped out to perform!
Co-regulation is simple to practice, but it does take just that – practice. Coming back to it again and again is what strengthens its effects. So if you want to use it to support you during a performance, make sure you build it in to your rehearsals or practices, so that you can receive the full benefits on “game day” (and throughout the entire process).
Here’s the exercise:
- Stand in close proximity to your partner, ideally facing each other. Allow your feet to be firmly planted on the ground and your spine aligned (you’re not being pulled off balance etc.)
- Make physical contact with your partner – embracing each other in a hug or holding hands and connecting your foreheads etc.
You can play around with what sort of physical contact feels right to you, keeping these two important factors in mind:
- Stay in close proximity, no more than a foot apart. You don’t want to be reaching for each other.
- The physical contact must allow you to remain grounded and aligned. It can’t be pulling you off balance or causing you to bend your body in a way that doesn’t allow you to stand upright, spine generally straight etc.
- Hold this physical contact and breathe. Keep doing this until the rhythm of your breath matches your partner’s. Allow for as much time as needed for this to happen.
*Important! Don’t try to actively change or modify your breath to match your partners. Let it happen naturally. The first few times, it may take a while for this to happen. Give it the time it needs. It will happen quicker the more you practice it.
While most of the research on co-regulation has been done with two people, I suspect it would also be effective for teams or groups. You may have to modify the exercise for a group, but the principle should work the same. (I have some ideas on how to do this, send me a message if you want to chat!)
So congrats to Tessa & Scott on their win – and for being fantastic models of healthy and effective performance practices.
Your work shines through in the performances you give.
You are such a pleasure to watch. 😊
P.S. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the video of their free program from Monday that got everyone talking. 😊
This blog is a part of my work with Five Winds. It’s a space where I share thoughts and insights on performing and wellness, and offer tips and ideas on how to stay balanced and healthy (body, mind, emotions and spirit) while living the life of a performer.