Have you ever been doing something and felt the world melt away? Have you ever watched an athlete be unstoppable while making it look effortless?
This is the Zone. And believe it or not, it's an actual biological state that with practice, you can call upon whenever you want to. In this article, I'll talk more about what the zone is, how all this relates to capoeira, and tips on how to achieve and maintain the zone when you want it.
So what is the zone? The zone is a biological state that is similar to rest in some ways, and similar to the fight or flight response in others. Basically, what happens when you are in the zone is that critical thinking skills give way to more basic instincts.
Common ways of getting in the zone without triggering it yourself include meditation, an emergency where you respond with a cool head, a fight (physical, verbal, or anything that spikes your adrenaline), extended sessions of exercise, driving long distances, and maybe not so surprisingly music.
There is a lot we could cover just on the normal ways of getting in the zone, but as capoeiristas, we want to know how to call this state up on command to play our best games more consistently.
The great thing about capoeira is that it already comes with a lot of what we need to reach the zone. The repetition and the chanting qualities of the songs help us get there right off the bat. A lot of teachers talk about this in class. It's the reason we have the music. Getting in to the groove with a group of people helps us to lose ourselves, which lets our "animal brain" start to take over. Add the adrenaline of kicking and dodging, and if you aren't in the zone already, you are pretty close.
So what can you do when you just "aren't feeling it?" You might be having a bad day. You may have some heavy things on your mind. You may be emotionally drained. You may not be feeling well. There are many things that could be blocking this zone state. Even if you are in the zone, the same techniques for reaching it can help you reach even deeper levels of the zone.
This brings us to triggers. Triggers in this sense are physical actions that we intentionally use to bring up an intended state. When I first learned about triggers, it changed not only my capoeira training but also my life outside of capoeira. To better understand, let's look at a negative trigger. Have you ever become sad for no reason? Just sitting there and all of a sudden you are sad? What probably happened was that something triggered this but you don't know what. Let's take a funeral. Someone has passed away and for a few hours, everyone comes by, pats you on the shoulder and gives their condolences. What happens is that your brain pairs the touch on the shoulder with the emotional state you are in at the time -sad. Fast forward to a few months later and you are sitting at your desk at work and someone taps you on the shoulder to get your attention. Your brain is trained to pair this touch with the state you were in at the funeral and you become sad.
So how do we use this in sports? We need a few things. First we need a unique motion or action. Tennis players use this often with how they bounce the ball before a serve. They bounce the ball in a way that is specific to them for example, the number of bounces or the height of the bounce, etc. This can be whatever you like, but it needs to be specific and unique. The next thing we need is the state we are working towards. Whenever you find yourself in that state, you need to immediately pair it with your unique action. This could be right at the beginning of a really energetic roda where you find yourself really amped up. The last thing we need is repetition. You have to pair your trigger often and continue to pair moving forward. The effectiveness of your trigger is completely dependent on this. The more you pair, the better it works. If you go a long time without pairing your trigger, the effectiveness will wane and you will have to start again in order to get your trigger back.
The great thing about triggers is that you can use them anywhere and pair them with anything you want. Want to stop a bad habit? Pair feelings of strong aversion with a trigger. Use the trigger when your habit starts to take hold. You can use your capoeira trigger at work too if you want to get in the zone to knock out a project. Being aware of triggers can also help you figure out your own emotional state to help keep you more balanced.
There is so much more to talk about with triggers and states. If you are interested, there is a lot of information online. Feel free to email me if you'd like to talk more in depth or would like more resources.
I hope this helps you get in the zone at your next class, roda, or wherever!