Letters to my students who were prepared for climbing Kilimanjaro Mountain
Updated: Aug 24
Letters to my students who were prepared
for climbing Kilimanjaro Mountain
Tips to Mountain Climbers
It has been a pleasure interacting with most of you during your preparation for one of the life-changing experiences in your life: climbing Mount Kili.
A few weeks before you depart, I would like to summarize some of the things we shared and discussed, touching on various topics of interest like preparation of physical body, strengthening of the mental/emotional body, nutrition etc.
I have broken down these points in 5 emails, which I will be sending you one by one, in the following days.
I wish you success in this adventure and may this be a first step to a new discovery of yourself and a new path of adventures in your lives!
Reaching the top of a mountain is like reaching any other goal in our lives, whether it’s personal or professional, physical or spiritual. As per the old Chinese martial arts, the secret of achieving any goal is to achieve internal harmony, Heart Minded focus or “Xin Yi” or inner intelligence.
When our heart minded focus has the will “Yi”, then this will generate enough energy “Qi”; and, as per the laws in physics, we need to convert this energy to power “Li”.
The journey has started from the moment we have decided to go out of our comfort zone and go for such a challenge.
As we have also discussed in our sessions with most of you, in order to achieve any goal, as per the yoga Sutra, “tapah-svadhyaya-isvara-pranidhanani kriya-yogah”, we need to ACT towards the goal, STUDY ourselves, our mistakes, the path, the obstacles, the opportunities, the surroundings, LET GO from clinging on the end result, and FOCUS on every step/action we do at the moment. You will reach your goal as per the “Xin Yi” you have within you.
Preperation is the second most essential step to win any race, competition, or achieve certain goal or position.
This preparation needs to be comprehensive and holistic to achieve any goal, and I am sure you have followed this strategy in every step of your career, personal development or life.
What kind of preparation do we need to reach the Kili Summit:
Besides the logistics things that need to be taken care or, (tickets, gear, visas, vaccination etc), we need to prepare our bodies (physical, physiological, emotional and mental bodies).
This first email will focus mainly on the physical body, which usually is considered by most the “most important part of the preparation”. However, we can’t really separate any of these bodies from each other, as all parameters influence our performance. For example, as some of you with whom I worked over the past weeks might recall, some days you managed to reach 20sec. in each of the breath component and other days the max. you have reached was 12sec. Have you noticed your mind and emotion during the time of both practices?
Anyway, let’s talk a bit on the physical aspect:
It’s 7-days hiking and mounting, walking uphill for 9 to 10 hours a day, so your STAMINA needs to be strong at a consistent pace; Very often, most of us, at the starting point for any project, we normally have huge amount of energy and we work very fast/hard, till the breaking point, when we have literally burnt ourselves. Same here: I would recommend to start with moderate to slow pace of walking, doing your best to keep the pace/speed consistent instead of over exhausting yourself in the beginning, only to be overcome by fatigue later on.
· Strengthening of the legs’ muscles by strengthening the thighs, legs and ankles
· Our legs need to be strong enough to carry us for 10 hours a day; As such:
· Till the date of your departure, you should be walking (at rapid pace) every day for at least 1 hour;
· You should be doing on a daily basis some exercises to strengthen your thigh muscles. Such practices include Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I& II) during the Sun Salutation, Utthita Parsvakonasana I & II, Vrksasana (Tree Pose); Utkatasana (Chair Pose). With most, we have repeatedly explored these postures and you have mastered them exceptionally. Now, you need to keep repeating them till you depart for Tanzania;
· You should not forget to increase your knees’ flexibility, making sure they aligned properly; Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose); Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) are good examples of practices you can repeat on daily basis for your consistent preparation.
· Strengthening your back muscles and core to increase the endurance capacity
· Our spine needs to be flexible and strong enough to support the physical and mental pressure;
· Activities such as, swimming, practicing in the gym and yoga asanas such as Trikonasana (Triangle) to Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), Paripurna Navasana (Full Boat Pose), Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose), Blank pose are good and important till the end of your preparation.
· Strengthening the capacity of the Cardiovascular system
· While hiking uphill against the gravity, walking for almost 10 hours a day, the effort we put on our heart to pump the required amount of blood to support our muscles is significantly higher.
· Running, using cardio machine in the gym with gradual increase to the elevation could be good preparation
· Climbing stairs gradually also is a good training
· Practicing yoga sequence such as (Surya Namaskara kha I & II,…) with an intelligent increase of intensity and speed under specific breathing technique can help strengthening the resilience of your cardio system
I will continue again tomorrow, with some additional ideas and suggestions. In the next mail, I will focus on the importance of breathing especially as far as regulating our breathing system and our whole body is concerned, to be more resilient under tough and different air composition.
I wish you a great day ahead and strong practicing!
For the climb, a main factor is to ensure your bodies have adequate dietary requirements, enough energy for the long hike, in addition to replacing the glycogen stores and repairing the lean muscle mass. The focus should be on eating often, making sure the diet is varied and adequate in total energy, vitamins, and minerals, timing the nutrition plan properly around activity (pre-, during, and post-hike), and hydrating properly.
For non-athletic bodies, the focus is to start building muscle as well as endurance over a period to prepare for the climbing challenge.
Yoga and Auyrveda incorporate a simple process “Eat well and exercise well” Dr. Chandrasekanam, Founder of Yoga Therapy Division @ Sri Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandarin
To facilitate this knowledge identifying your body type is integral to nourishment, they include: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These types identify what type of food nourishes specific body types and which pushes us to an unbalanced energy. Please consult me for further guidance.
We need to take care of what promotes our balance, and we should avoid those that cause significant disturbances. An example, to build our muscles we might need to eat high protein food, animal protein is not however best for Pitta people, it promotes an unbalanced energy which usually raises anger and judgmental emotions; in this instance, we recommend moderate amounts of white meat and vegetarian protein.
For the Kapha dominated individuals, moderate quantities for carbohydrate intake, include buckwheat, quinoa, oats and basmati rice, instead of white flower, pasta and rice.
For more information on nutrition and how to prepare see Determining Nutritional Needs for Endurance Athletes from the National Sport Science Institute.
I hope the above are of help to you for further preparation.
In the next email, I will be focusing on the concept of Never GIVE-UP vs. Always LET-GO
Nermeen M. Hassan ********************************************
Philosophical thoughts; in this email we turn our focus to a philosophical based outcome. Climbing Kilimanjaro is not only a physical challenge, but a journey towards re-discovering ourselves, our inner workings.
Inspired by the philosophy of the sutras we’ll uncover the differences between i) our determination and persistence and ii) reaching our goal harmoniously
Never GIVE-UP vs. Always LET-GO
To start or initiate a grand project, we need the Hearted mind, or will, called the Xin Li energy. When the heart and mind are in harmony, in reaching this point you will identify that there is no conflict internally, no contradiction of thoughts versus feeling. The outcome will be that you have the energy to reach that objective both physically and mentally.
How can we achieve the end goal? How can we keep going and not lose hope, or burn out?
According to yoga sutra teaching, our strategy to achieve this, our end goal is to find the balance between being persistent and non-attachment. In this context the goal can be achieved without struggling, with unison among the internal and external bodies. To do so requires us to focus on the moment.
“Abhyasa-vairagyabhyam tad-nirodhah”, NEVER GIVE UP - Always LET GO, these will be our strategies to achieving the goal. Our state of mind will be connected through our actions with our “can do” attitude along with our inner peace.
Abhyasa/Persistent Practice: Abhyasa means having an attitude of persistent effort to master and maintain the quality of our goal, reaching a state of consistent tranquility. It involves cultivating a strong conviction, a persistent effort to consistently choose actions, speech, and thoughts that lead us in the direction of serenity. Serenity is an asset gained that allows us to overcome any obstacle in order to successfully reach our end goal. In order to become well established in this status, the process needs to become routine, without disruption. From this the deeper self continues to unfold, continually going ever deeper towards the core of our being.
Vairagya/Non-attachment: Vairagya is an essential companion. Learning to actively and systematically encounter, explore and let go of the many attachments, the aversions, the fears, mental colourings and false identities that cloud our true self. Attempt to have one eye set on the goal and the other on mind actions, the in the moment, now action or thought; enjoying the journey, the different scenery on the way up, the different smells of the nature, your feelings, the learning of the day. This is non-attachment.
The above concepts work together: Keep moving consistently, never giving up in the persistence of the attitude to succeed. This effort leads you in the right direction in your external journey; non-attachment and letting go while having full faith in your success allows you to continue the inner journey without being side-tracked by the pains and pleasures along the way.
You are preparing for a journey that is challenging but not impossible. Always hold the hearted mind energy, keep climbing, and enjoy the adventure!
In the next and final email, we’ll discuss the importance of being balanced in exerting the right effort without burning out… Sthira Sukham Asanam
Nermeen M Hassan **********************************************************
Following my previous email, I am coming back to you today to focus on the breathing preparation.
Air composition at sea level, 6000mtr above sea level, or the Kilimanjaro summit remains the same, 20% oxygen and nearly 80% nitrogen; the difference is in the air pressure, lowering the absorption rate, hence the lack of oxygen.
Atmospheric pressure drops roughly one tenth for every 1000m of altitude. Thus the air pressure at the top of Kilimanjaro is approximately 40% lower than that found at sea level, making it harder to breath.
As such, although each breath inhaled at the summit still contains 20% oxygen, it becomes much harder to fill your lungs since due to the lower pressure, not so much air is pushed into them. As a result, every time you breathe at the top of Kilimanjaro, you take in only about half as much air (and, consequently, oxygen), compared to what you would at the bottom of the mountain
Learning about the difference in air pressure and the resulting changes in our bodies constitution allows us to understand how it functions and how best we can prepare our bodies to absorb the oxygen it needs even under such different air pressure.
Allow me, first to share with you some important information about your breath:
Our breath is and will always be our ultimate sanctuary, the first and the last thing we do in this life, the “place” where you will be coming back again and again to recharge, to energize, to heal, to discover.
Every cell in the body is utterly dependent upon oxygen. Without oxygen, no cell can continue to live for more than a very limited number of minutes. Furthermore, if a cell is receiving just enough oxygen to stay alive, but not enough to thrive, its function declines significantly. When it happens to muscle tissue cells, they ache. When it happens to brain cells, it causes a feeling of emotional distress.
The importance of oxygen in the bloodstream is well-known, however most people are not aware of the importance of adequate carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. Carbon dioxide (CO2) plays an important role in the human body as well. It is a waste product of the cellular metabolism, exhaled by the lungs at the same time that oxygen is inhaled. This waste product is involved in the transportation of oxygen from the blood, to the cells of the body. CO2 helps dilate the smooth muscle tissues and regulate the cardiovascular system.
We have been working together to increase our bodies’ capacity to perform under different air pressure, increasing the lungs’ capacity to absorb the required oxygen even if the pressure is less by almost 40% than the air pressure at sea level.
First we need to know how to breath correctly, and how long each component (Inhale, Exhale, holding) normally takes, then we define what is the maximum. After that, we need to use an intelligent vinyasa to increase each component.
An adequate time length for each component of our breath is very essential and is needed to allow the required modification to our lungs’ and body cells’ capacity to take place.
· Some of the participants managed to increase their breathing capacity from Inhale=Exhale=4sec and the hold Exhale=Hold Inhale=3sec to Inhale=Hold Inhale=Exhale=Hold Exhale=16seconds.
· Others have reached 25 to 30 seconds each component. Wawwww!
Reducing our breathing rhythm should allow our lungs and cells to be much fitter and, thus, be able to work under different air pressure.
I encourage you all to continue practicing with your breath, to minimize the challenges at the peak of Kilimanjaro.
In my next email, I will be sharing information on the optimum diet that suits our individual bodies for the upcoming adventure.
Nermeen M. Hassan**************************************
Letter – 5
This is my last email in the series of communication regarding your preparation for climbing Kilimanjaro.
Sthira sukham asanam
It is attention without tension, loosening up without slackness.
Perfection comes from balancing the effort with ease.
For example balance is the perfect state of still water. Let that be our model. It remains quiet from within without being disturbed on the surface.
To explain further:
You have been practicing and preparing your physical, physiological and psychological bodies; for weeks you have been exercising hard, climbing stairs, walking, carrying weights, increasing the effort on daily basis to reinforce your resilience and stamina. Now comes rest, one week before the adventure, it is always recommended to have enough rest, in order to relax your muscles and joints.
Athletes, football players, olympians train hard for years, but rest a few days before the race or competition; latest studies also suggest that using some yoga practices not only assist champions in relaxing their muscles but also help calm their mind, which allows them to perform better.
Breathing to your full capacity is another delicate balance. Aim for long and steady breaths (sthira) requires attention and adjustments in the breaths and asanas (sukham). Over-exertion of the breath (excess sthira) quickly breaks this attention and the flow of practice. Underperformance of the breath reduces the effect and intensity of the asana (excess sukham).
Finally, I propose the below exercises, for 10 minutes after the daily climb, to balance your bodies and prepare yourself for the next day
I am always available for any additional questions or clarification you may have, to further assist you during these last weeks of training.
Best of Luck
Nermeen M. Hassan ******************************