the breath be your Guru."
Breathing is fundamental to climbing, yoga
and without question - life!
awareness helps us to be conscious of our thoughts, emotions
and feelings. If awareness is developed the breath can
become a powerful insight into how our body and mind interact.
We can harness this energy in a positive way, creating
more consciousness and a healthy physiology.
observing my breathing patterns, I discovered that while
reaching in stretched-out positions, it was helpful to
inhale in order to gain extra lift, and conversely, while
making powerful or dynamic moves, it was helpful to exhale
air in a quick burst or to make a karate-style grunt.'
Lynn Hill, Climbing Free (Free ascent of the nose in a
because its ripples influence so many human functions,
a thorough understanding of the breath provides a powerful
tool for expanding our awareness of the various dimensions
of the body and mind.’ Science of Breath
the free flow of your breath!
energizes and sustains every cell of our body. It nourishes
everything in its path. It is like the freshness of water.
It is with us every second of our lives, but most people
pay little attention to it. Our breath is mainly unconscious
and regulated by the autonomic nervous system. Autonomic
is derived from the word 'autonomy', it has the quality
of being 'independent' of the conscious mind. Even though
air and muscular movements happily tick over by themselves
we can influence the breath consciously through breath
awareness and Pranayama (breath-control). We can discover
unconscious, negative breathing patterns and replace them
with more beneficial ones. By changing the breath we have
a direct influence on the autonomic nervous system and
Science has proven that the response of the Vagus nerve
is strengthened when you prolong the exhalation of your
breath. The fibres of the Vagus nerve are connected to
your lungs. The parasympathetic nervous system is activated
and your mental state is calmed.
a shining light into your mind
Breath awareness shines a light into the workings of our
mind. By observing the mind (thoughts, emotions, desires,
intentions, perceptions and expectations) we can free
ourselves of the knots that bind! Observing the breath
allows us to take a deep look at the nature of mental
formations such as fear, anger and anxiety and helps to
bring about an understanding of how our mind works. To
improve your mind when leading routes, you need to be
aware of how it works. The breathing process is connected
directly to the brain and the central nervous system.
The breath can control the flickering nature of the mind.
If you can control the breath you can control the mind.
and understand emotions
Emotions and feelings have a strong connection with the
breath and are expressed in the way that we breathe. When
your breathing reacts to an emotion your body also reacts.
We constrict our breath when we feel sadness or fear creating
more tension and oxygen deprivation in the body, hold
our breath when we feel pain, force our breath with anger,
and breathe easy with happiness. By changing the breath
pattern we can change the emotions. By changing the rate
and depth of our breath we can directly influence our
physical condition - heart rate, blood pressure, and levels
of parasympathetic and sympathetic activation. It can
make us excited or calm, tense or relaxed. Shallow, rapid
breathing can trigger the sympathetic system (fight or
and energize your immune system
There are two main fluid systems
in the body, the blood and lymph. Blood flows through
the cardiovascular system, while lymph flows through the
lymphatic system. In addition to one way valves to help
push along the fluid, lymph circulation and cleansing
depends mainly upon deep breathing and skeletal muscle
can impede blood flow
In the cardiovascular system, the body responds to stress
by constricting the smaller blood vessels - these smaller
blood vessels are located the farthest from the heart.
They are the arterioles, capillaries, and venules. Constricted
blood flow due to stress is experienced as cold hands
and feet. Deep breathing can release accumulated stress
and muscle tension.
Listen to the breath, like
Siddhartha listened to the river!
respiratory system consists of the mouth, nose, trachea,
bronchi, lungs, bronchioles and the alveoli. We inhale
oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. The breath supplies
oxygen to the blood and the blood delivers oxygen to all
parts of the body. Every cell in the body needs to breathe
– taking up oxygen, burning fuel, generating energy
and giving off carbon dioxide. Oxygen (air) enters the
respiratory system through the mouth and the nose. It
then passes through the larynx, and the trachea (windpipe).
The trachea splits into two smaller tubes called the bronchi
which lead directly into each of the lungs. Both then
branch out into many smaller air passages (bronchioles),
like the roots of a tree, which then connect to tiny sacs
or bubbles called alveoli. Most people have about 300
million of these spongy, air filled sacs in each lung.
It is here where the gas exchange occurs. The inhaled
oxygen passes into the air sacs and then diffuses through
the capillaries into the blood stream. Meanwhile, the
waste-rich blood from the veins releases its carbon dioxide
into the alveoli. The carbon dioxide follows the same
path out of the lungs when you exhale. Your left lung
is slightly smaller than your right lung, to make space
for your heart.
main sets of muscles are active when you breathe normally;
the intercostals, the abdominal muscles, and the respiratory
thoracic diaphragm is often considered the primary breathing
muscle. It is a dome-shaped muscle
located in the rib cage. Its position divides the body
almost in half. The lungs rest above the diaphragm
with the heart nestled in between.
The inhale is created by the contraction of the diaphragm,
flattens out and pulls downwards which
expands the rib cage and creates more space for the lungs,
pushing the abdominal muscles doenward which causes the
abdomen to bulge forward. This larger space pulls air
into the lungs. When you breathe out, the diaphragm expands
upwards, likea parachute, reducing the amount of space
for the lungs and forcing air out. If you put your hands
on the sides of your rib cage you can feel the diaphragm
in action. Diaphragmatic breathing is physiologically
the most efficient way of breathing. This type of breathing
happens when you inhale and the diaphragm moves
downwards and the abdominals move passively outwards.
This is also known as belly breathing. It allows more
air into the lungs. This also gives a rhythmic massage
to the abdominal organs promoting circulation.
No muscles contract on exhalation. The lungs
recoil shrinking back to their original size expeling
Pranayama, the art of yogic
breathing, is the control of the movements of the breath.
It is the fourth limb in the eight limbs of the yoga tree.
It is a unique method for balancing the autonomic nervous
system, influencing psychological and stress-related disorders.
means breath, respiration, life, vitality, energy or strength.
‘Ayama’ means stretch, extension, expansion,
length, breadth, regulation, prolongation, restraint or
on Pranayama, BKS Iyengar
also helps control the flickering nature of the mind.
Prana in Sanskrit means the energy of life, while ayama
means stretch, extend, expand or lengthen. And that is
the purpose of it: to manipulate the breathing to increase
and manage the circulation of vital energy, prana, through
the nadis or subtle nerve channels through the body. This
assists in the health, vitality and longevity of the body.
It is also said to awaken the cerebrospinal nerve centers
to their full potential." Pattabhi
Awareness of the Breath
a way to connect to the present moment. Mindfulness Meditation
(Insight Meditation) begins with awareness of the breath
and it is through the cultivation of mindfulness that
insight develops. Breath awareness is not the same as
Pranayama (breath-control). We simply observe the breath
as it is moment to moment (it may be fast or slow, smooth
or rough, constricted or loose), and don't try to change
it. When a thought, feeling or emotion distracts us we
return our focus to the breath. The breath is used as
an anchor to the present. By observing your breath you
will immediately be in the moment. The practice is subtle
and attention has to be focused.
To practice mindfulness breathing, sit in a comfortable
cross legged position with the spine straight. Begin to
focus on the breath, be aware as it goes in and out of
the nostrils. Keep your attention on the tip of your nose
or your upper lip. Bring your awareness to connect to
the first moment of the beginning 'in breath'. Do not
try and change the breath, just be with it exactly as
it is and observe. It is difficult at the beginning to
keep one hundred percent of attention on the in and out
breath as you will find that your mind is full of distractions.
When a thought, emotion or feeling (physical sensation),
image or sound distracts you; recognize it but then let
it go and bring your focus back to the simple in and out
of the breath. Begin at first to keep full attention for
the duration of that one in breath. Connect again at the
very beginning of the out breath and follow it to the
end. Feel the one breath fully. Once you have sustained
the attention one breath then do one more and so on. Don't
set a time or a number of breaths. Just focus on the one
breath in and the one breath out. It is easier to concentrate
in this way. Bringing the mind back to the breath trains
the mind to be attentive and mindful. It takes effort,
but slowly the mind will grow stronger.
The complete yogic breath incorporates
all three methods in a full and rhythmic movement. Lie
down in Savasana (Corpse Posture) and close your eyes.
Breathe only through your nose.
Bring your attention to your breath. Empty the lungs entirely.
and feel the diaphragm lowering, allowing air to enter
the lungs. The upper abdomen
swells filling the bottom of the lungs with air. The ribs
will now expand outwards - don't strain. Lastly the clavicles
(collar bones) will raise filling the lungs completely.
Breathe out in the same way.
strong 'releasing breaths'
preparing for a crux move and you need to let go (of gear,
fear) to be in the moment, take a deep breath and release
it forcefully. Do this three times. I usually do this
just before relaxing into Savasana (Corpse Posture) at
the end of asana practice. I found that it naturally carried
over into leading trad routes when you had to let go and
be in the moment.
Ujjayi (Victorious/ Powerful/ Expansive)
The Ujjayi breath
[victorious/powerful/ expansive breath] is emphasized
in Ashtanga Yoga. The sound created in Ujjayi breathing
gives the mind something to focus on, like a Mantra.
is a similar noise that waves make as they are pulled
back into the ocean on a pebbly beach.
breathing stimulates vagal nerve afferents to the brain,
ultimately increasing attention and vigilance.
The increase in vagal tone reduces the effects of stress
on the heart by decreasing heart rate. This can be carried
over to climbing in times of stress, keeping the mind
and body in homeostasis. Ujjayi breathing is great when
focusing on hard moves. Surya Namaskar Ka (Sun Salutation
A) is a good way to practice the Ujjayi breathing.
Attention is of utmost importance in climbing.
If you can focus your attention on your breath, then you
will be climbing in the moment.
To practice the Ujjayi breathing sit in a comfortable
cross legged position, with the spine straight. Note that
the 'sound' of the Ujjayi breath is easier to create on
the out breath. Take a deep breath through the nose and
then let it out through the mouth whispering softly the
sound 'Hhhaaa'. Take a few breaths like this and then
halfway through an exhale close your mouth letting the
air through the nose. The noise will still be created
while exhaling. The back of the throat is slightly tightened
in order to do this. Once you have got used to the sound
exhaling then you can practice making the same soft sound
inhaling. This breath has also been described as the Darth
Vadar, wind through the trees and a distant ocean.
Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) Purification
of the nerves....
To practice Nadi
Shodhana, sit in a comfortable cross legged position with
the head, neck and trunk erect and in a straight line.
sit evenly on sitting bones. Rest the back
of your left hand on your knee, the thumb and index finger
should be joined to form a circle (Chin Mudra). This is
a symbol of wisdom. Close the first two fingers of the
right hand towards the palm - this can be tricky for some!
The ring finger and the pinky are used for closing the
left nostril and the thumb is used for closing the right
nostril. Take a deep breath in and then exhale. On your
next inhale close the right nostril with the thumb and
breathe only through the left nostril. Close the left
nostril with the ring and pinky and breathe out through
the right, then breathe in. Close the right nostril and
then breathe out through the left. This counts as one
Inhale through the left
Exhale through the right nostril
through the right nostril
Exhale through the left nostril
seven to ten cycles. Stay aware of the breath and try
to equalize the in and out breaths. Add more as you feel
ready. Nadi Shodhana helps control stress and anxiety.
the language of ancient times, both soul and spirit are
described with the metaphor of the breath of life. The
words for soul in Sanskrit (atman), Greek (psyche), and
Latin (anima) all mean breath. The same is true for the
words for 'spirit' in Latin (spiritus), Greek (pneuma),
and Hebrew (ruah). These too mean breath"
Fritjof Capra, The Hidden Connections
increases grip strength without lateralized effects."
through a particular nostril can alter metabolism and