Yoga And Meditation As Tools For Fear Management
While climbing in Turkey in April 2012, I took a 50-foot ground fall — you can read about it here (http://rannveigaamodt.com/accident/). The result was catastrophic: three broken vertebrae, a broken pelvis, a compound elbow fracture, and worst of all, two dislocated and fractured talus bones, which are the main weight bearing bones of the body. In an instant, my life changed forever.
When I started climbing again I had a lot of anxiety — it isn’t surprising that the accident left me scared to death of falling. I’d have nightmares about flying through the air, and as I hit the ground I’d wake up dripping in sweat. As a result, the last two and a half years has been a challenging journey of self exploration, and I’ve had to dedicate a lot of time to mind expanding exercises to get back into climbing on a high level. I do this through meditation and specific yoga poses.
The Persistence of Fear
I still get flash backs and I can lay awake at night dreading the next day, because I know I’ll have to take falls. It’s really frustrating because I feel fine for long periods of time, and then this deep fear rears its ugly head, proving to me that it’s not out of my system yet.
Last autumn I was in the Red River Gorge, home of steep caves and huge whippers. One day after climbing a route in the Madness Cave, I had a total break down. My fear totally overpowered me, and I lowered off the route crying and shaking like an aspen leaf. I realized that much of my remaining battle in climbing wasn’t in my body, but rather in my mind. I had to continue working on building up my confidence, and I had to discover new ways I could work on it in my everyday life outside of climbing.
Meditation to Overcome Fear
Throughout the entire process of recovering from my accident, I’ve also been using visualization as a part of my strategy to reach small and big goals. Now I’ve started focusing it toward my confidence as well. I create the picture of myself taking big whippers and I recall the feeling of being confident and happy. In difficult times, I do this as part of my morning routine. After building these habits into my yoga practice, I discovered that it take less and less time to recall good energy. Now I can do it while resting on a jug in the middle of a route or I can close my eyes for a split second before entering crux moves.
It’s definitely easier said than done, but I get better the more I practice.
When I’m unable to remain calm, I starting to get wired up and I climb scared. If that happens I find it better to just lower down, take some deep breaths and start over. I don’t want to teach my body to climb like this.
Meditation is a powerful tool, and not just for relaxation. I use it to tap into the “warrior power” in me, in periods where I don’t feel on top of things. The meditation I do takes just 10 minutes, so I don’t need to struggle or hesitate to find the time to sit down. If I find it hard to find the concentration to sit down by myself, I like to use guided meditation to keep me on track.
Yoga Poses to Overcome Fear
For 10 years yoga has been part of my everyday routine, and in 2011 I went through a yoga teacher training course. Much of what I learned during that course helped me regain my physical balance and strength after the accident. But the physical aspects are just a tiny part of the potential in a good yoga practice, and thankfully I learned a lot more.
Last year in Kentucky, I started to focus my practice toward my fears, and I found that the chest opening poses and the headstands had an almost magical effect on my climbing. The body and mind are so intertwined, and yoga lets me unbind some of the tension my body holds from being anxious about falling. And it’s totally logical that opening my chest gives room for a deeper breath, thereby helping me to indirectly control my fears by calming the sympathetic nervous system and my “fight-flight” response.
Here are some of the yoga poses I’ve found helpful.
Extended Triangle – Utthita Trikonasana
The reason why I like this pose is that it helps open up the shoulders, chest and spine and at the same time stretches and strengthens the legs. It helps me to relieve stress and it is really therapeutic on days where I’ve been anxious about falling. It’s also feels therapeutic for neck pain after hours of belaying.
Camel Pose – Ustrasana
I like this pose because it stretches the entire front of the body. It opens up the chest, which allows me to breathe deeper, and it increases my ability to bear stress. It also strengthens the back muscles, and after a lot of climbing, this pose helps me to improve my posture.
Supported Headstand – Salamba Sirsasana
This pose really helps me calm my brain, relieve stress and strengthens my arms, legs and spine at the same time.
Plow Pose – Halasana
This pose calms my brain, reduces fatigue and stress, and it is also a really good shoulder stretch.
Fish Pose – Matsyasana
I love this pose and it’s my favorite way to end my practice before I go into Shavasana. It really stretches the pectoralis muscles, and the accessory muscles for breathing. It makes me feel like I open up my chest and allow my breath to flow.
Corpse Pose – Shavasana
This is always the very last pose of all my sessions, yoga or other types of workouts. It gives my body and mind time to feel the changes in my body after the workout. I systematically go through body part by body part and relieve all tension. If there are areas that feel tight or need attention I try to visualize a free flow of energy through that area.
I also like to use a foam roller. I lay on top of it, with my shoulders hanging. That way I can relax completely while the tension in my shoulders releases and my chest opens. I lay like this for a couple of minutes, and allow my body to just sink into the ground.
WHERE INTENTION GOES, ENERGY FLOWS…
~Rannveig Aamodt, prAna Ambassador
Photos by ARTIST