Even though we all know how to breathe, we don’t all know how to breathe intentionally. This is especially true when you put yourself in a challenging situation such as rock climbing.
Part of being a great climber is learning how to breathe through the tough obstacles and problems you are facing. By actively working to relax your breath and your movement, you can find mindfulness on the wall and move with greater intention and less stress.
In our 6 steps for intentional breathing, you can practice becoming more mindful of your breath both on and off the wall. Remember, a breathing practice takes time, patience, and self-awareness. Slowly building that awareness into your practice will make you a stronger climber.
Step 1: Practice your breathing off the wall
It is far easier to master an intentional breath on the wall after some practice off the wall first. Once you’ve got the basic idea down, you can start to translate this practice to your climbing.
To get started, follow the steps below:
- Find a quiet place to sit in a comfortable position sitting up straight
- Focus on your breath going in and out of your lungs
- Relax your body while you breathe, shoulders down, soften the muscles in your face, unclench your jaw, and bring your palms to your knees
- Count your inhales and exhales and try and make them even (for example, 3 counts of inhaling and 3 counts of exhaling)
- Try and breathe audibly, meaning that if you can’t hear your breath you probably aren’t taking deep enough breaths
- Place a hand on your belly and as you breathe, feel your belly expand as the breath fills your lungs. If you don’t feel a lot of expansion, try breathing in for longer and focus on filling up your lungs with as much air as you can
- Try not to strain your breath or make it forced. As you are counting your breaths, try and make your breathing as natural as you can
- Sit here and count your breaths for 5 or so minutes, getting comfortable with your steady rhythm of breathing
Step 2: Practice your breathing on an easy route or boulder problem
After you’ve mastered the art of mindful breathing off the wall, the next step is to put your breathing practice into action by starting with an easy or familiar climb. Since you know the route well enough, your focus should be on your breath. Practice breathing into each movement and notice the moments when you find yourself holding your breath. Pause, relax, breathe, and then move on.
Step 3: Before you climb, focus on your breathing
After becoming familiar with a breath practice both off the wall and on easy routes or problems, start to add 30 or so seconds to the start of your climb routine where you are drawing attention to your breathing. By giving yourself that dedicated time to focus on your breath, you will be more likely to find the space for breathing during your ascent.
Step 4: Focus on the awareness of your breath
Awareness of breath is a crucial element of intentional breathing. As the next step in your breath training, start climbing more difficult routes or problems, and start to train your brain to be more aware of your breath during these climbs.
As you are climbing, you are going to catch yourself holding your breath or tensing up your body because that is a natural reaction to a challenging situation. Start to draw attention to these moments on the wall and ask yourself when this commonly happens. The more you draw awareness to these moments, the easier it will be for you to proactively tune into your breath during those difficult spots on the wall.
Step 5: On difficult routes, find moments to pause
There aren’t always places where you can “rest” on the wall on a difficult climb but take advantage of those moments when they introduce themselves. When you have the opportunity to rest, relax your arms, put your weight into your legs, and close your eyes (if comfortable) and focus on your breathing.
This helps reset your mind, clear away any frustration, reenergize your muscles, and get you ready to move forward. Notice the difference in your body when you take that small moment of pause instead of just pushing forward.
Step 6: Practice, practice, practice!
While breathing is something we do naturally and without thinking, being aware of your breathing is not always an easy skill to master. Even the best climbers find it challenging sometimes to breathe with intention during a difficult sequence. Be patient with yourself as you begin this practice, especially if you are new to climbing.
Health + Safety at BKB
As we work together to keep our BKB community safe, intentional breathing is even more crucial as we all wear masks to ensure the safety of our fellow climbers. Check out BKB’s Community Health Guidelines for more information.
How do you stay mindful on the wall? Let us know next time you stop by your nearest BKB!