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Breathe while Bouldering: Meditation on (and off) the Wall

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

Mindfulness is excellent for people who are starting out their meditation journey and for those to continue and upkeep if they’re already meditating like a pro. You can practice Mindfulness anytime of day, while undertaking any activity; you just have to be present in what you’re doing. This is, of course, easier said than done – because our minds like to wander off on adventures (just like us) so you have to keep it in check and gently bring your mind back to the activity at hand. The best activities to practice your presence are active ones, like walking, yoga and you guessed it: climbing.

Climbers will tell you one reason they love climbing is because when they’re on the wall, it’s the only thing they’re thinking about and their mind wanders less than when they’re at work, with friends or even alone but inactive. You may be practicing Mindfulness already and not even know it.

When you’re on the wall, you’re acutely aware of what you’re touching and seeing, but also (and you may not know this) very sensitive to everything you hear, smell and even taste – it’s a little bit chalky in the air right?! You’re being mindful of your environment. This is heightened when climbing and bouldering outdoors because you have the sun, the bugs, and usually a fair bit of moisture. Tapping into all of these senses can calm the mind. That calm and content feeling you have when climbing can be achieved in other areas of your life.


Breath & Benefits

Breath and rest – crucial when climbing and when living your everyday life. Your breath can be a useful tool for stopping that great adventure that your mind wants to go on. You can count it, slow it down and focus. You become aware of it and as it’s the key thing you’re doing in that moment: you stay in that moment!

Think now about how important your breathing is in climbing. Speaking to beginner climbers you hear often: ‘oh no! I forgot to breath!’ My own climbing improved after being reminded constantly by climbing and bouldering buddies to ‘breath!’ Breathing well helps blood flow, slows down your pump out and keeps you relaxed; which stops your muscles wearing out too quickly.

When you reach a good hold or rest stop, bring your mind back to your breath because this is much harder to do on the crux of a climb when your body tenses and you sometimes forget to breath. Use your rest moments to practice some Mindfulness and replenish your oxygen because you’ll need it in a move or two when you’re being stretched and physically strained.


Fear & Control

While we aren’t scaling giant walls in (most forms) of bouldering, heights - and the fear of falling - can still be a jarring element to the sport. Mindfulness on and off the wall can help with this through accepting how natural that fear is and actually staying present in the moment (even at a height) can help you fight the mental barriers to climbing, alongside the physical ones.

Start off with accepting the (very normal) fear and you can work up to calming those worrying thoughts, then one day build to completely controlling any panic setting in. If you can do that to stop yourself from falling off a relatively low wall: maybe you can do it if you’re worrying about a work assignment, or even feeling a panic coming on in a crowded train… Mindfulness, while keeping you in the present moment is a way to control that present moment (and yourself, your emotions and your reaction in it).

Let go of what you can’t control. Easier said than done, right?! But honestly, I try do try to remember this if I’m on the wall and feeling the next hold is a little too high up. If you pay too much attention to the things you can’t control (like gravity) you’re prone to react negatively. Try to focus your mind on elements you can control. Are you scared of falling or are you scared of injuring yourself? If it’s injury, then you can take your mind to the place where you know how to fall safely, land safely and be in a position to get on back up again. Don’t let the crux mentally crush you.


Performance: Made in the Mind

Outcome shmoutcome! Focus on your performance instead of worrying about an outcome and you’ll find bringing your mind back to the present and calming your racing thoughts much easier. The outcome will happen when you’re present on the wall: that’s all that’s needed!

Use your mind to do a quick scan of your body. Visualise your toes and feet, your legs, your fingertips and palms. Give some words to your body. You could say your core is strong (rather than tense). Your breath is controlled (rather than laboured). Your mind can send some pretty powerful cues to your body, so use it! Think about it this way: who critiques your climbing more than you? NO ONE! The people on the mat – they’re cheering you on, so why aren’t you?! Using your mind for good rather than evil can be such a boost on (and off) the wall. Mindfulness will help you fight that voice which is belittling or limiting your potential and reach.

Lower your stress, master you thoughts, combat your fears, calm your mind. You’ve got this.


Sara Best

Not a meditation expert, just trying to understand how my brain works.

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