Mountaineering requires a high level of fitness and strong mental preparedness, and yoga practice is increasingly known to help climbers cope with the challenges of adapting to high altitude.
Research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology in 2007 compares the physiological responses to high altitude hypoxic conditions in four groups of human subjects: a group of Caucasian subjects, Caucasian yoga practitioners, Nepalese native Sherpas with an active lifestyle, and Nepalese Buddhist monks who are yoga practitioners.
The results showed that at a high altitude, the Caucasian yoga trainees maintained satisfactory oxygen transport, with a minimal increase in ventilation and with reduced hematological changes. This kind of efficiency is comparable to that of the native Sherpas and the Buddhist monks.
The study concludes that respiratory adaptations induced by the practice of yoga may represent an efficient strategy to cope with altitude-induced hypoxia.
According to the High Altitude Medical Research Centre (HAMRC), the highest multi-specialty hospital in the world focusing on high-altitude medicine, yoga reduces wear and tear of the heart and produces mental tranquility, greater alertness, flexibility and enhanced tolerance of the cold.
By practicing a few minutes of pranayama (breathing technique), gentle asanas (postures) and meditation, many of the have testified to the physical and mental benefits.
Here’s a pranayama practice that might come in handy when preparing yourself for the challenge of high-altitude breathing, as well as to help you cope with it when you’re there.
Frequently-asked questions about Yoga
Complete breathing :
This is a simple deep breathing exercise that uses all respiratory muscles to their fullest. To do this, you can lie down on your mat or bed in a comfortable savasana position but without a pillow, or sit on a chair, or cross-legged on a cushion.
If you’re sitting, find a comfortable position to sit upright without being rigid, allow your shoulders to drop and your hands to rest anywhere comfortable, then close your eyes gently.
First empty your lungs by extending your exhale. Now slowly breathe in allowing the belly to relax and enlarge, the diaphragm to lower, allowing the air to enter the lungs.
Continue breathing the second stage of your inhale by expanding the ribcage without straining.
The third stage of your inhale must allow the lungs to fill completely by raising the collar bone.
When the lungs are completely full, breathe out in the same sequence as when inhaling.
At the beginning, inhale and exhale for the same amount of counts, for example, if you breathe in five counts, breathe out also in five counts.
Later, as you gain more strength and your lungs increase in capacity, try to exhale twice as long as you inhale. So if you inhale for five counts, exhale for 10 counts.
Make sure you breathe easily without straining, and your body continues to be relaxed. Ideally, keep your respiration deep, slow, silent and easy.
You can practice this breathing technique every day as part of your daily training before you practice yoga asana or other physical exercises, or as a standalone practice in the morning or evening.
This is not meditation, but after a while, you can let go of the controlled part of your breathing and just watch yourself breathe naturally for a few minutes or more. Then you will enter a more meditative practice.
You can begin your practice with a few rounds of sun salutations, then proceed to do some standing poses, followed by some backbends, some core strengthening, and then wind down with some twists, forward bends, deeper hip openers, inversion and then savasana.