Growing up I split most of my time between high altitude and sea level and never noticed the difference in my body. After a few years of less frequent visits to high altitude, a detoxification of alcohol and a strong connection with my body through yoga, I for the first time felt what it was like to acclimate to high altitude. Here is what happened and what helped!
Extreme altitude is generally considered to be above 12,000 ft where atmospheric oxygen level falls to as low as 60% compared to sea level.
Currently, I am at what is known as high altitude where the atmospheric oxygen level falls to 80% compared to sea level. I am only about 7,000 ft above sea level, and for the first time in my life, I feel a remarkable difference in my body.
- High altitude = 1,500–3,500 metres (4,900–11,500 ft)
- Very high altitude = 3,500–5,500 metres (11,500–18,000 ft)
- Extreme altitude = above 5,500 metres (18,000 ft)
After being home for 3 days, my body has gone through immediate acclimation and is beginning to acclimate to the long term effects of high altitude, which is awesome. Being born in the mountains and having spent a significant amount of time at this level of altitude throughout my life I have never really even thought about my need to acclimate to the altitude. Through my consistent yoga practice, I am able to see deeply into my bodies current functionalities. So as I began my first yoga class on the 26th hour of being “up here” I realized something was off. I was sucking wind and my breath felt short and unproductive. My carotid bodies or the forks in my blood vessel systems near my carotid arteries were sensing a lack of oxygen. In return, my non-essential body functions like my digestion were being put on hold to figure out what the heck is going on.
My yogic practice of following my breath and diving into pranayama felt completely unnatural as if it was not just my body, mind, and spirit but also my lounges which had a complete agenda of their own, altering my bodies ability to function.
Sitting on my mat, breathing, I acknowledged the struggle. I increased the amount of prana entering my body and shortening how much downward energy I was exulting by keeping my outward breath shorter. This worked to create a wonderful connection, and once again I felt at home in my body as it became one with my mind.
Class, was more difficult and I was much more shaky than I had been living in San Francisco. Knowing what was going on inside of me, I gently reminded myself how great this is for my body. Each of myy organs, which will receive much more red blood to them once I fully acclimate!
On the second evening, my body was exhausted, I took a nap and went to bed very early. My bodies regular cycles were off, I felt bloated. As I lay bloated I did a few Thai Belly messages which were taught to me at yoga school the week before, I fell asleep while doing this.
72 hours into my high altitude acclimation, I awoke with a sense energy (but when don’t I? :))and ready to go for the day. Off to a new studio for “Yoga Shop” class, a class for yoga teachers to connect with one another and go through flows they would like to refresh upon. It was just me and my new friend Ky, who is a beautiful heart. We decided to do a yin/restorative while meditating on loving kindness. As my fascia began to release once again I began to feel the disconnect. Sitting still in my yin pose, I was breathing extremely shallow. As I moved into child’s pose, I was given an energetic modification when Ky placed her hand alongside my back in three specific energy healing spots.
Ky placed her hand on the Prana Vayu, on the back of my heart. I felt as if I could breathe again. Forward moving air being sensed by my body.
Ky placed her hand on the Samana Vayu, between the heart and the solar plexus. I felt a deepening connection between my right and left-side, of my back. I was becoming balanced, as I deeply inhaled the connection built in my prana breath gave deeper synchronicity into the Samana breath.
Ky placed her hand on the Apana Vayu, between my navel and my solar plexus. I felt a downward pull as if the energy gathered from the breathe before was filling up this area inside of me.
As I came out of this pose, I felt like a whole new person. Balanced, aligned and ready to achieve high altitude acclimation where the benefits are endless. Some are less sore muscles from lower, production of lactic acid, more capillaries to carry heavier red blood cells (increasing my body’s bang for its buck of every breathe) and more mitochondria for muscular endurance.
So, the next time you go to the mountains, whether it is to live or just to visit, remember to practice pranayama for the most enjoyable experience.
Three quick and easy exercises you can do upon your arrive are listed below!
Ujjayi breath is the most basic breath of yoga. It is a slow deep breathing pattern where you breathe in and out through your nose, taking slow deep breaths and directing the air through the back of your throat, making a HA sound as if you are creating the ocean inside of your mouth & nose. Slow long breaths are important – 4 to 6 counts on the inhale, 6 – 8 counts on the exhale. For beginners, start with 4 counts of inhale and 4 counts of exhale.
Kapalabhati – this is forced exhalation by pumping contractions of your belly, inhalations happening naturally. This helps detoxify the body by removing more Carbon Dioxide from your blood stream allowing for increased capacity for oxygen uptake once you return to normal breathing. Inhale for a deep whole breathe (4 counts), then kick all the are out by snapping your belly, exulting a small but quick 1 second breathe. The mouth can be opened or closed.