Relax Your Mind

Relaxation Techniques

Get Instant Access

The mind rules the body. Will, awareness, and understanding all improve through consistent and appropriate psychological training. Although alpinism is more a psychological than a physical challenge, there is no actual separation: it is all psychological and all physical at the same time. Nonetheless, the mental aspects of alpinism are fundamental.

The mind develops in response to day-to-day life. It answers the demands of living in society, in the low-altitude world. Preparing it to exist and thrive in the radically different circumstances of the mountains profits a climber more than any amount of physical training. All your body training depends upon what happens in your mind at the same time. Your performance on the mountain is simply an expression of the ideas and ideals you harbor in your mind.


People tend to believe they need to concentrate intensely to attain a goal—that concentration is a benefit by focusing attention forcefully and precisely on the task at hand. Concentrating on one thing, however, excludes many other things. With voluntary blinders, a concentrated mind becomes less attentive and aware.

On the other hand, an aware mind embraces everything. Instead of concentrating on a single task or a single component of a situation, it encompasses every aspect, lb do this demands abandonment of oneself to become the action. Only in this mindful awareness, without choice, without anxiety, and without conscious direction of attention, is there true perception. Through this perception you can respond correctly to the constantly changing circumstances of the mountain environment and your own place within it.

I define awareness as attention unencumbered by thought or judgment, without memory or speculation, living in the present tense. Awareness strips away the filters of your past experience, allowing an un mediated experience. Awareness of one's condition and the state of one's surroundings permits top-level performance by allowing the mind to apprehend the actual situation and respond to it instantly. The understanding of dangers and opportunities, requirements and personal capacity, become clear in a blink.

The aware climber constantly monitors his own status, asking the questions: Do 1 need to go faster? Can 1? For how long? Are my decisions being degraded by dehydration, lack of food, or sleep deprivation? What is the weather doing? The climber is able to apprehend the world and to react.

Pages 30-31: Steve House leading the eleventh pitch of The Gift That Keep« on Giving on Mount Bradley's south lace, Alaska. Steve, Jonny B'ltz, ant! f made the first ascent of this route in March 1558. Photo: © Mark TWight


A fear-arousing situation should cue the climber to relax—to let both body and mind go, rather than driving them. But this kind of reaction to fear presupposes a high level of mental training, confidence, and experience. You can only let go, allowing instinctual reaction to prevail instead of conscious reaction, if you believe 100 percent in the ability of the unconscious to direct the action. Reaching such "enlightenment" requires discipline and training beyond most people's imagination. It necessitates an entirely different way of thinking than Western civilization teaches.

Climbing is full of sensory stimuli that, through self-programming, can become cues to relaxation. I prefer to use sound. I automatically relax when I hear and feel an ice tool sink deep into solid ice. I programmed myself to relax upon hearing the ringing sound of the circular adze on an old Stubai ice tool. Like a solid pin placement, it sounded good when the tool went in well—and each time it did, I relaxed my grip on the shaft and hung mostly from the leash. When I soloed Slipstream in the Canadian Rockies, I lost myself in this ringing.

Russ Clune told me he uses the sound of a carabiner gate snapping shut as his cue to relax. I began to notice how much comfort I derived from knowing I had clipped the rope to a solid piece, and the sound of the biner was the key. I then attempted to artificially create and hear the "sound" in my head when I'm stressed—and it worked. Today I can induce relaxation virtually at will—except when the world turns to shit, panic looms, and I need to relax the most.


Learning to meditate—and there are many forms of it—is a useful tool for climbers. For our purposes, meditation consists of the ability to intentionally realize a state of intense awareness. Quieting the internal dialogue in order to perform a given task without distraction is essential to both physical training and climbing. Without a quiet mind every physical action is hampered by the mind itself.

Many people separate meditation from other activities, scheduling it before training or climbing. The best meditate while they train or climb. This active meditation, while similar to passive meditation, connects thought and action, perception and reaction, instead of segregating components. The interrelation between psychological and physical is total.

Memory and experience are a form of prejudice. While they are appropriate references for conscious thought processes such as preparation or planning, they can block subconscious, intuitive action. Through meditation and development of awareness you may learn to act instantly and intuitively based on what you are perceiving, rather than reacting out of habit in a predetermined manner, Habit-based reactions can kill you.

Tb learn meditation, begin by reading all you can on the subject. Then move forward on your own. Study a martial art or visit a retreat or meditation training center. Whichever course you take, try to maintain the connection between meditation and mountain climbing. Cast aside what is not useful, nurture anything that proves an asset. Trust that the work you do on your mind will aid your climbing.



Visualization is the closed-eye, mental rehearsal of an intended action, such as climbing an intricate pitch. It requires imagination. Visualization presupposes a belief in your ability to achieve a goal. During visualization, mentally rehearse probable moves or routefiriding decisions that photographs and topos lead you to expect. Summon a particular state of mind or conjure the awareness necessary while climbing. Run through the entire climb beforehand, or mentally rehearse a particular pitch before making the first move.

In visualization, imagine every detail: how cold it is, whether you are breathing hard, if you had to remove your gloves to place the gear, whether you feel rested or well fed, if the weather is breaking or night is falling. Such details give each imagined piece of thought or action more life and relevance, lb increase your familiarity with situations the mountains may toss your way, read books about alpine climbs. Gripping tales, when carefully analyzed and combined with your own imagination, help visualization and rehearsal. They can augment problem-solving skills that otherwise take years of personal experience to acquire.

Beware of building self-defeating traps into your consciousness. Don't visualize failure or poor performance. Once embarked on a session, never stop the procedure until you finish a successful visualization. Each imaginary wrong turn in your mind—grabbing the wrong piece of gear off the rack or limiting your options by predetermining a specific bivouac site-programs those failures or self-imposed limitations into your subconscious. If you catch yourself doing this, stop. Start over from the beginning, and keep practicing until you see yourself making the correct decisions and actions from beginning to end. Rehearse for success.

Don't confuse visualization with planning. Visualization prepares the mind, allowing you to experience in your imagination the feelings, thoughts, and actions you may find on the mountain. Visualization is a creative, right-brain process. Planning is preparation for specific events or actions you will perform or you know will occur; it's a left-brain process. Both are essential.

In his boqk about soloing Nanga Parbat, Reinhold Messner wrote: "i only plan ahead what is absolutely necessary. 1 believe in being independent—and that means 1 do not want to be dependent on my future."

Planning implies that you know what will happen, that you have control over what will happen. Control? No, it is closer to chaos. Only vanity suggests we have control over events in the mountains. If you plan detailed actions based on the assumption of control, you risk becoming a victim of your plan, dependent on your plan. You must be independent of your future. Approach it on the balls of your feet—mentally prepared—knowing that you will take action when action is called for. Keep your mind open to all possibilities. Prepare your mind, your body, and your gear to address the many situations that may present themselves. But do not count on seeing any one thing.

Mark Twighl soloing high on the northwest face of Mont Blanc, Chamonix, France. Sotaing at this level of difficulty and risk requires a huge reserve of psychological strength and confidence. Pfioio: © Twight Collection

Brain Synchronization

Elite athletes in all disciplines, like Olympians Picabo Street and Gary Hall Jr., are learning the value of synchronizing the left and right hemispheres of the brain when performing and training. It shortens the time and number of repetitions needed to learn and build specific skills. Thought bccomes more coherent. You can more easily learn specific behaviors or direct relaxation, sleep, arousal, focus, and awareness when the brain enters into a synchronized state.

Highly adept practitioners influence which side of their brain controls a particular activity. For example, training is a conscious left-brain modification of specific behavior patterns. The right brain handles competition and performance, the free and creative expression of trained behavior. Unsynchronized brain activity, or the rapid switching back and forth of control from one side of the brain to the other, is suspected to be one of the causes of attention deficit disorder—not the best state for peak performance.

Modern biofeedback techniques permit training to synchronize the two hemispheres. Several companies manufacture synchronization tools that use sound or light frequencies to influence particular brain states, when I began using Hemi-Sync tapes and the Sportslink programs, I wanted to learn to relax, to recover, and to sleep better, {See additional information under "Brain Synchronization Tbols," at the end of Appendix 2, Suggested Reading.) Over the course of several months, I reduced insomnia from two nights a week to about two nights per month. Gaining a modicum of control over my brain states helped my training and my climbing.

When I steer myself to the right brain before starting up a pitch, 1 climb more smoothly and efficiently than I could have imagined possible—right up to the instant when conscious thought crashes the party. Then I'm back to conscious, calculating, less-aware Mark until I can regroup, resynchronize, and ease back "right." Using hemispheric synchronization in conjunction with visualization is one of the best ways to mentally prepare foT a difficult route.

Psychological Acclimatization

Coming to terms with the idea of attempting routes at the limit of your ability can be difficult. Making the step from climbing routes that gain 3,000 feet in a relatively civilized environment like the Alps to attempting routes of 7,000 to 9,000 feet in the isolated mountains of the Alaska Range or the Himalayas can overwhelm the brain, I spent three weeks getting used to the idea of cutting loose in a very lightweight style on Mount Hunter in Alaska; it took that long to become comfortable with the mountain.

First, understand the problem. It takes longer to figure out how to climb more difficult and involved routes. Allot more time for adapting to the greater risk and commitment of big, scary mountains compared to smaller, less dangerous ones. Here are some techniques. Visualize at home, or hang out a little longer at the base of the peak. Probe the route's defenses to learn how long it may take to climb to a particular point. Rehearse the descent route to learn how to do it and how long it may take.

Some routes demand several efforts, spread out over days or even years. In 1997 John Bouchard and Mark Richey made an alpine-style attempt on the north ridge of Latok in the m

Karakoram, John and Mark joined a list of many suitors for this route, which has refused all comers whether they use capsule, siege, or pure alpine style. Some might consider a failed attempt a wasted trip. But the smart and dedicated climber learns from every failure, assesses what went wrong, tries to change what can be changed, and eventually attempts the route again. After their first attempt, John and Mark became the most qualified climbers to take another shot at the route because they had the most current information. A subsequent attempt one year later was shut down by unseasonably bad weather. If there is a next time, they will possess an unequaled understanding of how to proceed. The use of meditation and visualization in conjunction with on-sight analysis or previous attempts not only increases your psychological security, but also speeds the process of becoming comfortable with the mountain.

Cutting away the psychological ties binding you to the ground can rocket you upward. Become free to explore and express yourself on the mountain, without reservation. Let nothing interfere with commitment. Leave society and the trivia of everyday life so your consciousness becomes lighter and more adaptable, freeing energy for the project.

Use the time that is needed for high-altitude acclimatization to break away from distractions. Actively meditate during the hours of mindless activity. Force yourself to live in the present tense, without the memories of normal life influencing actions in an alien environment. Practice this process at home so you may quickly adapt to the climbing consciousness, Once on the mountain, live in the present.


On the climb itself maintain an intense level of awareness. Open yourself up to the mountain. Be prepared to see or experience anything. Act and react in total freedom based on what you do see. Do not carry any expectations. (This does not conflict with visualization, which is part of preparation, not performance.)

Conscious thought is vital at times, but at other moments it is simply a waste of time and energy because you already know what to do. Sometimes you will observe or participate in circumstances completely beyond your control. You may think about these events afterward and analyze them, but while they are happening, respond to them spontaneously and naturally as you have trained yourself to do.

The great mistake in climbing (and all things) is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement, Do not consider whether you will succeed or fail. Allow nature to take its course. Your training, preparation, and awareness will allow you to act at the right time to apply the appropriate measures to resolve any problem (and "allow" is the precise word).

Many people habitually program failure into their performance. I used to get under the bench-press bar and tell my spotter to count on my getting three reps, and sure enough that's all I ever got. My mind was comfortable with the idea of failing at three, I said it out loud, and I lived it,

I experience a more insidious, subconscious level of predetermined failure in the mountains. When a route is 500 meters high, I'm tired after 500 meters—but when a route is 2,000 meters high, I'm not tired after 500 meters. I subconsciously decide beforehand where

I will become tired. It's difficult to break this habit- Acting and reacting according to what I actually experience is the only way I've found to free myself of this limitation.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Relaxation Audio Sounds Log Cabin Fire

Relaxation Audio Sounds Log Cabin Fire

This is an audio all about guiding you to relaxation. This is a Relaxation Audio Sounds with sounds from Log Cabin Fire.

Get My Free MP3 Audio

Post a comment