I’m not the biggest fan uphill. Even if it’s in a spectacularly gorgeous place, like Sequoia National Park, the “uphill” part of hiking isn’t my favorite.
Sequoia National Park was everything I wanted it to be: bursting to the brim with gargantuan trees and switchback trails and boulder-strewn valleys and jagged horizons.
There’s just something about being on trails where the only sounds are bird calls and insect conversations and rushing mountain streams. Hiking boots crunch shale and the occasional breeze whistles through, but otherwise it’s just us and the trees standing proud, reverential and silent, surveying our descent into the valley below.
And, let me tell you, the descent was steep. I know this, because I struggled with the weight of my backpack and a healthy dose of altitude sickness on the uphill part. (Of which, as previously mentioned, I’m not the biggest fan.) Mostly because of the short-of-breath-ness, and the fact that it usually looks impossible to walk to the top of the mountain pass from my vantage point, and also, it’s just plain hard work.
But, it is worth it. Because the views are insane. And there’s a power in rising to the challenge. And there’s a power in moving just one step beyond my perceived limitations.
One Mindfulness technique I use when I’m struggling to keep moving forward on a big uphill climb is the Counting Backwards method, courtesy of yoga teacher Erich Schiffman.
It works on a simple premise: When I’m in a place of mental discomfort, it’s nearly impossible to draw my attention inward and stay in the present moment. So my mental limitations and “freak-out thoughts” just get louder and louder and louder (and a little outlandish) and I experience a moment of anxiety. (You’ve probably experienced this sensation when you were stressed and couldn’t fall asleep at night… I hear you.)
However, focusing on Counting Backwards anchors me in the present moment and allows me to practice pratyahara, the temporary withdrawing of the senses in Yoga Philosophy. In addition, letting the breath flow freely without the need to control it or change it helps me maintain mindful awareness. It’s a way of moving into the mindset of the “Observer” and regaining a moment of perspective and sanity.
To practice Counting Backwards Meditation:
- Start by taking 3 Cleansing Inhales and 3 Cleansing Exhales.
- Remember that you are not going to change or control your breath, you are simply going to count it as it moves in and out of your body.
- Starting at 50, count backwards with each inhale and exhale until reaching the count of 1.
- The inhale is 50, the exhale is 49. The inhale is 48, the exhale is 47 and so on and so forth. If you lose count or become distracted, just start over at 50.
- When you reach 1, pause for a few moments and notice any positive changes and shifts in your body, mind and Spirit.
I use this technique often: to slow down the turning vrttis of my mind, to get me up a steep hiking trail, to help me fall asleep and to drop me into meditation mode.
Try it for yourself: “Counting Backwards”
Pranayama Guided Teachings