Conquering Fear with Breathing and Rock Climbing

I afraid of heights.  I’ll go into one of those buildings like the Willis Tower in Chicago, where you can step out onto a glass floor and look down at the city below, and I’ll have to sit down and inch my butt onto the glass without looking down for a quick photo-op.   I’ll try not to think about it as I’m waiting in line and then when it’s my turn and I go to step on the glass, I physically can’t move my body.  I’m actually crippled by fear.  This has happened to me at the beach too with waves that wouldn’t phase a child

I’m a scaredy cat.  I try to convince myself that it my fear is totally normal.  My brain is actually smarter than people willing to walk onto suspended glass platforms or jump from cliffs into pools of water.  My brain recognizes how badly that could all end.  But the truth is I want to do some things I’m afraid of.  And I don’t want to be afraid.

Sometimes my fear of heights holds me back.  I get scared on certain hikes.  I am terrified  to the point of tears of zip lines.  And it’s gotten worse because as I’ve gotten older in addition to being afraid of heights, I now develop a mild case of vertigo when I’m up high or near the edge of something, making my fear kind of legitimate.  When you feel dizzy and off balance in a high place you actually have reason for concern.

When fear actually keeps me from  moving that’s unacceptable, especially for someone with the motto, “keep moving.”  But worst of all, fear is exhausting.  It is utterly draining.

Earlier this year I found a way to begin tackling my fear of heights.  Some of the Personal Euphoria staff tried indoor rock climbing.  Most of us were at least moderately afraid and inexperienced, but we were really supportive of each other.  And I could go up in increments, stopping at any point.  I was in complete control of how high I went.  And I didn’t have to look down, so no vertigo sensation.  I could come away from the wall at different levels, slowly working up higher and higher.  I felt really safe.  Falling wouldn’t have felt good, but the ground was soft and padded if it came to that.   I realized indoor rock climbing might be a way to help me overcome my fear of heights—at least in certain circumstances.

So Matt and I planned a trip to hike the Subway in Zion, which involves 30-foot rappels.  I’ve rappelled and so has Matt, but never outside by ourselves.  So we thought we should take a class.  We hired an expert and met him in Farmington, Connecticut at a 50-foot cliff.  I spent the week before not thinking about it.  I spent the entire day not thinking about it.

Personal Euphoria Staff Goes Indoor Rock Climbing

Personal Euphoria Staff Goes Indoor Rock Climbing

Luckily our expert was really helpful.  He was extremely safety conscious, which made me feel better.  He told me my fear was okay and that he’d had people cry before, so if I didn’t cry I was doing pretty go.  Note to Ego: Do not cry.  When we got to the top and got everything tied up and strapped in Matt volunteered me to go first…wise since I’d have less time to think about it.  And then our guide, Kevin, just kept cueing me to breathe.

I love when people have to remind me to do what I spend most of the day reminding other people to do.  Breathing is hard and simple at the same time but is so helpful.  Breathing has really grown on me through my Pilates training and teaching.  Pilates is a lot about controlling breath.   So focused breathing when you are afraid provides something to control when you feel out of control.

I went down the cliff four times.  I’m not ready for a 100-foot cliff yet, but 60-feet I could handle.  Maybe even 75.   I think I can build up.   I’m not ready to jump off a cliff.  But as long as my two feet are still touching something solid, I feel better.

I owe it to a few things: breathing, rock climbing (indoor and outdoor) for providing a way to build up incrementally, and the Personal Euphoria staff who provided a safe environment for me to reach outside my comfort zone.    I’m not sure I could have done so well with a group of fearless climbers.  I think the fact that we were all challenging ourselves and respectful and understanding of each other’s fear helped.  I know that when I’ve tried things with people who just don’t seem to understand why I’m afraid I actually get more scared.  Feeling encouraged instead of pressured enables you to relax and when you’re already a little tense with fear, the less pressure, the better.

2017-09-12T19:34:23+00:00

About the Author:

Maggie Downie
Thank you for giving your time to stop and read my blog. I hope it encourages you to keep moving. Move and the body will be happier. And when you're moving you can hike, run, swim in Jell-O, race over non-Newtonian fluids, travel the world or build igloos--if that's your thing. If not, you can watch me do it. This is just a spot to try and feel good about life.

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