Today's Daily Tip
Playing the Edge
"Be sure to breathe, Kasey," Heather instructed as I fought for balance in Tree Pose. I inhaled deeply, and my quaking left foot steadied. Incredulous that such a simple act had actually worked, I looked down, forgot about my breathing, and promptly fell over. I chuckled to myself as I regained the pose, noting the lesson: Misdirected focus leads to falling.
As we proceeded through the session, I paid closer attention to my breathing—or, rather, my lack thereof. When I was taxed, I often abandoned my lungs' steady rhythm, opting instead to hold my breath until the hard part was over. More often than not, I couldn't hold my breath long enough, and I fell out of the pose. Light dawned: No doubt the same thing happened when I was climbing, only I was generally too scared to notice my irregular gasping.
We moved into Savasana, and Heather instructed us to "be present in the moment." To feel the (barely there) sunlight on our faces, to feel each contour of the rock beneath our backs. John Gill, the father of American bouldering, often called climbing "moving meditation," and as I lay atop the sandstone sculpture, feeling its fine grit beneath my splayed fingers, I began to understand the comparison.
Moments later, we traded our yoga mats for climbing gear and got set to scamper up the stone in front of us. The hourlong yoga session had warmed up my muscles and gave me time to sink into a comfortable head space, something I had rarely done while climbing outside. I passed the afternoon moving calmly and smoothly up the rock; in difficult sections, when I felt my hands begin to overgrip, I remembered Heather's advice: "Breathe." Amazingly, each time I acknowledged my breath, my body relaxed and the route opened right up. On top of an easy but exposed route, I thought about how such a simple thing as breathing could improve my climbing experience so immensely. Back at the hanging belay on the Great Red Book, that cheerful moment has been overshadowed by chattering teeth and cold hands. I open my mouth to shout again to Roxanna when I feel a tug on the rope. And another. And another. Yes! Roxanna is safe, and I'll soon be halfway up the climb and closer to the warmth of a waiting campfire. I am already roasting marshmallows in my mind when I realize I've scampered up several yards of stone and am facing the crux.
To my right runs a comfortable, if somewhat overhanging, crack—all I have to do is wedge my hands and arms in and walk my feet up the face to the left. But as I lift my left foot to place it on a narrow ledge, I catch a glimpse of the valley floor hundreds of feet below, and suddenly the all-too-familiar fear is back. All I can focus on is the airy nothingness of exposure. Never mind the fact that I am on a top rope and totally safe: My primal instincts blot out rational thought and send me scurrying upward with a single thought: "Hurry up! Hurry up!" my brain screams. "If you wait, you'll fall!" I claw and scrape at the rock face with all the elegance of a hippopotamus in high heels, grabbing at anything that resembles a hold, wishing I were already at the top.