I went rappelling for the first time last year. No problem, really, because I have no problem with heights.
Until I get up there. I honestly forget every single time that heights make me uncomfortable, because I enjoy standing on tall buildings (against a railing) and looking out the window of an airplane. So I walk up to the tops of cliffs thinking I’ll have no trouble walking backward down a sheer rock wall.
False. I do have trouble.
The first indication was that I couldn’t let go of the tree. My harness was on, my feet were on the edge, a very nice young man was encouraging me to get started, and I wanted to. I really did. I was telling myself to let go, to step off the edge, but I was frozen. I started laughing, because it was like one of those dreams where you’re trying so hard to move but you can’t. (And I wanted to calm everyone down, because I was starting to feel like they were nervous for me).
I did what any good yogi would do: I started ujjayi breathing.
The steadiness, the calm, allowed me to let go of the tree and lean back. I felt my breath rising toward my collar bone again, and I pressed it out on the ocean sound, like a quieter version of the waterfall that was just over my shoulder to the left.
I noticed how desperately I wanted to get down, to be finished. I tried to hurry, but then I remembered something important:
There was a good chance I was never going to do this again; not for lack of opportunity, but more because of the picture I just painted for you. So to rush it seemed foolish. I was rappelling down a waterfall in the Colombian jungle. I wanted to be present and enjoy it as much as possible, though I knew it wouldn’t be the same type of enjoyment my travel partners, who had rappelled plenty of times, were having.
I did three things:
- I reminded myself that the chances of anything bad actually happening – like injury or death – were incredibly unlikely. I knew I was going to be fine.
- I focused on one step at a time. I didn’t look down to see how far I had to go. I just took the steps.
- I breathed. I focused on each breath in and each breath out. I stayed with it, and it stayed with me.
Yoga has given me a lot of gifts, but that breath awareness is a big one. It got me off the edge that day, and I know it will get me lots of other places, too.