Magnetic North - equipping alpine seekers
equipping alpine seekers



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Vigilance is your foe: learn to control your ANS

hour sixteen of thirty +, Stuart Range, cr. J. Richter

I was there, I was ultimately aware of the effect of each breath of dying wind on the minuscule hairs on my face, loved my partner through the electricity in the rope. My life was connected to the slope by four steel tools too secure to let me tumble into the swirling clouds below. As I breathed in the fear one last time before moving, my eyes focused on the white and the light breaking over the col above my partner, my soul extended ahead. Then I moved with freedom, deleting my way up the hill and serving the snow with my swings.
— training journal entry, winter 2008

When being chased by a massive and quick porcupine I've instinctually broken into a run much quicker than could be expected on the fiftieth mile of a punishing overnight solo mountain run. Running through the pre-dawn of a forest of rotten birches crashing to the ground I've frozen in place listening in petrified fear to their cacophonic destruction. I've involuntary twitched toward every small sound in the nighttime forest with my fists drawn near my chin ready to jab. 

These primal, unconscious responses to fear are exemplars of how the autonomic nervous system treats perceived threats in the wild. Read on to learn more about consciously managing your fear, your body's automatic functions, and what benefits await the athlete who takes the time to befriend this ancient part of self.

What is the ANS? The ANS is the latticework of nerves that faithfully and, for most people unconsciously, regulates your vital functions like breathing, pupillary dilation, sphincter control, digestion, and heartrate. In response to fear, stress, and anxiety the ANS regulates core body functions to appropriately conserve and divert its resources preparing the body for fighting, running away, or freezing in the face of a primal threat. The status of the nervous system is triggered by and can control one's emotional and intellectual well-being. 

Why do I need to control it? To achieve full self-actualization on your long alpine pushes, or even on a harrowing-but-short daily jaunt, one must master her autonomic functions. Learning to befriend and transform fear is a deep meditational practice.

What happens if I don't manage it? An unmanaged and inappropriately activated ANS wastes precious calories, causes reactionary decision-making, and can ultimately lead to combat stress reaction and ultimately post-traumatic stress disorder. A chronically activated ANS is also uncomfortable causing severe indigestion, loss of bowel control, headaches, nausea, weakness in the extremity, profuse sweating, and sourceless anxiety. Living in a state of a constantly reactive nervous system does not allow a person to access the most refined and compassionate parts of her brain.

New service: Engage deeply in your most primal core using breath and visualization exercises. I've compiled a course of study appropriate for becoming intimate with the body's most subtle physical systems and will teach you its anatomy, its stimulators, and its fail-safe gateway. Using specialized manual and mental techniques, I'll teach you systematically what the ANS is, why understanding it is key to calm and safe mountain travel, and how to control yours to experience mastery of fear, deeper rest, and a happier adrenal system.


Sign up for a consult here and start controlling your nervous system on your next alpine climb.