A Climber’s 21 Day Meditation Experiment

girl climbing gym senderella story

A Climber’s 21 Day Meditation Experiment

I always liked the part of yoga class where you laid down on the floor and did nothing for ten minutes. It was my motivation for showing up actually. I suffered through the vinyasas, holding planks for too long, and eating shit while trying to do crow pose, just to dissolve myself in the last ten minutes of nothing.

For some, the ability to find ease in the present moment is commonplace. For many, it is not.

Whether I’m at work or training or trying to enjoy dinner with my other half, parts of my mind are nibbling away joys of the present. It is sometimes difficult to avoid mulling over the worst parts of my day or skip to planning out the next. You might feel this way to.

These thought patterns are a detriment to our progress and well-being – in climbing or otherwise. The ability to focus is critical to enjoying our lives and our performance as climbers.

Focusing on technique and the execution of moving is always priority number one when training. If you are not there and conscious, no learning is happening.

Marius Morstad

Which is why in 2020, I set the goal of “developing a regular meditation practice”. Frankly, this is a crap goal because it lacks specificity and timeliness. However, I am writing this from month four of this project and I see that the end goal is to have meditation become a part of my day everyday – just like brushing my teeth.

Getting Some Help

To help with this, I received some help from Jenifer who runs Oasis Climbing Club, a guide service providing yoga, meditation and climbing retreats in locations throughout Spain. We connected on social media and I mentioned my goals to her. A certified yoga teacher with a specialization in meditation and visualization, she graciously offered to help. She is certainly the expert I needed. Since Jen is in Spain, we communicated via WhatsApp. Each day she uploaded a ten minute recording, allowing me to sample different types of meditation. For those who have not meditated before, this may seem absurd. “How could sitting on your ass with your eyes closed be categorized into different ‘types’?”

This confused me at first too, but after twenty one days with Jen – I began to understand the nuances.

My Favorite Meditations

In the 21 days with Jen, a few of the meditations really stood out. My absolute favorite was a visualization of a day at the crag. From getting out of the car to the crux of the project, Jen’s voice guided me through a visualization. The purpose of this is to breed familiarity, control and confidence when I face these situations in real life.

If you think visualization is too “woo woo” for you, then perhaps some research may be of interest.

Research: Physical Strength Gained by the Mind

In a 2004 study, researchers took to finding out what happens if individuals used only their minds to improve their strength in comparison with physical training. There were four groups. One group trained their pinky flexion performing only mental contractions. There was a group that trained physically, and another that did no training, but was measured as a control. After twelve weeks, the results were in. The group that trained physically saw an increase in pinky abduction strength of 53%; the mental-only group saw strength improvements as well: 35%. Not bad for not even lifting a finger.

We conclude that the mental training employed by this study enhances the cortical output signal, which drives the muscles to a higher activation level and increases strength.

From mental power to muscle power–gaining strength by using the mind

Visualizing is not just for strength, however. The best of the best climbers have used this technique for some of their greatest ascents.

Then I visualized a lot. In my head, I cut it down into different sections. Here climb fast, here slow down. In the end, I figured there would be two moves where I could fall.

Adam Ondra on his Flash of Super Crackinette, the world’s first 5.15a flash

So if you think that increasing your mental sharpness and visualizing your sport will not help you, you might want to think again.

Lauren Abernathy Flesh for lulu
Me getting ready for the first crux on Flesh for Lulu, 5.12a/b with some deep breathing and visualization of the crux moves.

Jen’s calming voice did not only help me with a day at the crag, I also learned techniques for eating – mindfully, that is.

Eating Meditation

Another one I really enjoyed was a meditation on mindful eating. I “mindfully consumed” a sunflower buttercup. It made me realize how much I rush through eating my food. Though I don’t always remember to, I do recall these ideas when I am eating on occasion. It helps to slow me down and squeeze a bit of extra joy out of my life.

What I Learned

Though there were certainly days where I didn’t feel like I had even ten minutes to myself, I was always glad when I did take the time. Showing up to meditate is a lot like showing up to train for climbing. Some days you are going to suck at it — not that you can really suck at meditation, but some days definitely feel harder than others. However, you build the practice and reap the benefits by being consistent, not by giving up when it seems difficult.

Why this is important to me and my climbing

Practicing the mental aspect of climbing is difficult, especially since it lacks the tangibility of physical practice. Meditation is a common practice for many elite athletes, especially in the climbing space. Though I can’t keep up with Adam Ondra’s campus session, keeping myself mentally sharp by meditating like Hazel Findlay seems like a good option.

The mind is a muscle just as much as the body. We should train it as such.

You would never train your fingers and then expect your fingers to be strong for years without continuing up your finger-boarding. Equally, you can train your mind, but if you don’t continue that practice it will get weak again.

Hazel Findlay – Power Company Climbing Episode 57

In addition to benefits in sports performance, the body of research relating meditation with improved health and wellness, is absolutely booming. There is an entire sector of Harvard research dedicated to mindfulness. This practice that has been around for thousands of years, seems to have significant positive effects on our wellbeing. I have found that taking this time for myself feels really good and the scientific community seems to resoundingly agree.

Several studies have shown that the constant practice of meditation induces neuroplasticity phenomena, including the reduction of age-related brain degeneration and the improvement of cognitive functions… The effects of meditation are correlated to improvements in attention, working memory, spatial abilities, and long-term memory.

Mindfulness Meditation Is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology during Resting State: A Magnetoencephalography Study

Where to Next

After the completion of my 21 day experiment, I had the kick start I needed. To keep the journey going I use a combination of my white board as well as the HeadSpace app.

I am far from perfection, but I am showing progress in being consistent. I had a fifteen day streak of meditating in March – a personal record. Though I missed a couple of days throughout April, I am still keeping up with the practice.

The HeadSpace app has meditations as short at 3 minutes. It’s hard to say you don’t have the time to be consistent when you can invest just three minutes a day into improving your wellbeing.

Have you meditated before? Has it helped your focus while climbing? Have questions about how I made it a consistent practice? Drop a comment below or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com.

More about Oasis

I would like to point out here that this is not a sponsored post for Oasis Climbing, Jen is simply very kind and offered to help with me with my self-experiment. It would be a total disservice to the climbing community to not share that this sort of kindness exists. So if you are in the market for a guided climbing trip, check out Oasis. A week of Jen teaching you yoga and meditation after a day at the crag sounds like paradise to me. Learn more here.

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Resources

From mental power to muscle power–gaining strength by using the mind

Power Company Climbing – Flow and Mental Mastery with Hazel Findlay

When Science meets Mindfulness

Mindfulness Meditation Is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology during Resting State: A Magnetoencephalography Study

Interview: Adam Ondra Completes World’s First 5.15a/9a+ Flash

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