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Mountaineering Training | Mindful Movement

As a skiing and climbing guide, athlete, and yoga instructor, I am continually impressed by the correlation between success in the mountains and a regular yoga or meditation practice. In my personal experience, by taking time each day to completely focus my attention on simple movements in conjunction with controlled breathing, even for a just a short period of time, I have found that I can dramatically increase my ability to handle a higher mental stress load and consciously reign in a respiratory-system-gone-rogue.

The primary intention behind a yoga practice is the alignment of a series of movements with the coordination of the breath. Beyond the poses, aside from the stretching, before the flow, and without regard to the brand of clothing you choose to wear or the space in which you practice, is the synchronization of intentional movements with focused and controlled breathing. That is the essence of yoga.

One of my favorite quotes is by Sharon Gannon: “You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you areas where you are resistant in your natural state”. Instead of hand-eye coordination, think body-breath coordination.

This training allows the individual the ability to more easily and calmly focus on a specific task and execute difficult movements with precision—especially, and perhaps most importantly—when pushing towards exhaustion.

The goal of starting a mindful movement practice is in taking this basic principle and applying it to any activity of your choosing.

I understand yoga is not for everyone. Personally, I love the quiet space, the dance of a well-sequenced vinyasa flow, and in the winter months I crave the warmth and full body lymphatic cleanse of a heated studio; they are always significantly cozier than the mid-January temperature of my 1920’s craftsman and warm my core after a day of skiing far better than even the highest, most overworked setting of my Subaru's seat-heating capabilities. That being said, I know plenty of guides and world-class athletes who firmly believe that yoga—of any sort—is not, and never will be, for them.

The secret is that these individuals find other activities with which to strengthen their mental game and incorporate mindful movement. Biking, running, swimming, pilates, even those post-work hikes with a heavy pack, all provide the opportunity to spend a few moments really thinking about and tuning in to your body positioning, your motor patterns, the rate and quality of your breath, all while tuning out the external static of life.

So my challenge for you in writing this blog post, if not to inspire you to rush off and attend the nearest yoga class, is to move through a few minutes of your next workout focused on not just exercising, but moving with intention, breathing in coordination with the efforts of your activity, and turning off the music in an effort to quiet your mind and direct your attention entirely to the task at hand. By practicing mindful movement in your daily tasks and familiar workouts, you will increase and strengthen your ability to use those same techniques to lower your respiratory rate and remain calm, thus allowing you to be more relaxed and move more efficiently when confronted with new and/or difficult tasks in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable environment for a longer period of time: situations much like those found on Mt. Rainier and other alpine objectives around the world.


Solveig Waterfall is an AMGA Certified Ski Mountaineering Guide and has been working professionally in the mountains for 12 years. She guides in Alaska as well as the continental U.S., Ecuador, Mexico, and Argentina.  She also teaches backcountry skiing programs and ski mountaineering courses for RMI. Outside of guiding, she instructs yoga and fitness classes designed to complement an active life outdoors.

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here on the RMI Blog!

Comments (3)

I have been taking yoga classes for the past 10 or 11 years now I don’t know perhaps longer and I can seriously identify with all the techniques Strank’s and benefits that you ascribe to taking yoga classes with regard to clarity of thought power of intention and overall mental strength conditioning as you delineate the Power of Yoga elementals.

Possibly the greatest payoff to the sports enthusiast is the concept of correlation of each of the aspects you point out into an efficient unified focused and energized state of mind!

These Very qualities derived from my own Baptiste Power Yoga practice have been an important element of whatever success I’ve had in Mountaineering, and many other strenuous, challenging and sometimes dangerous pursuits

I’d like to share a specific example from a recent Guided Assent of Mt Baker, North Face with RMI August 25-27 2019

This Climb was considerably more challenging than my previous RMI Guided Assents of Rainiers DC Route or Kautz route, which I did with you Solvieg in 2017

I was not aware of just how much more challenging it was going to be

As our 6 person team got higher and higher on the mountain, the route became steeper and steeper until we were Climbing vertical ice cliffs!

The Glaciers were pretty bare and we had to retrace our steps several times as what was an uninterrupted route up the Mountain had become a very broken route up the mountain…

What all this absolutely reinforced was the essential Need to Completely Trust the Skill of the Guides and execution of ALL instructions from the guides immediately and without question!

Absolute Resolution of Focus and consistent galvanization of thought to decision to action!!

Every Single step, Every single ice pick thrust… spacing of turns, rope slack, managing challenges, breaks, managing each emerging concern as they arise…

One of the strongest contributors to success on that kind of Expedition, on that Kind of Mountain for me was the years of Learning and practicing the Yoga strengths and tools you so eloquently pointed out

Looking forward to another Rainier Assent in 2021 and hopefully a Denali Assent 2022

Posted by: Ken Tessier on

Beautiful article!  You inspire me.

Posted by: Patti sandow on

This just makes my heart smile.  Atta girl Solveig.

Posted by: anne keller on

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