One of the categories of risky play that all children are attracted to is exploring moving at different heights.
This is manifestly dangerous, the further we are off the ground, the harder we fall, yet still all kids do this.
This is part of our primate heritage, our ancestors spent millions of years in trees at heights were a fall could be fatal and even after we became bipedal we have continued to use our ability to climb to gather fruits and honey, scout, and escape.
My dad was local legend in the skagit valley for climbing trees and buildings to escape school and too meet up with girls– uses that many young people can still appreciate.
Beyond it’s direct utility this drive to climb high and move at height is a powerful means of confronting fear, and children likely pursue this because they known internally mastering fear is powerful in being able to confront all the challenge life offers.
Training at Heights
While I always encourage beginners to practice solely at the ground level and for all levels of practitioners to do most of their training there, there is value to training at height.
When you consider training at height make sure you know the sturdiness and traction offered by the surfaces your moving on, surface failure at height can be lethal.
Next make sure you stay well within your max capacity. The risk reward calculation changes when the potential danger is so much higher this becomes obvious as your training continues but when your relatively new to training it is possible to be over confident, err on the side of caution when you don’t everything that could go wrong.
Training at height over water or other soft surfaces is good practice to start with as well as starting with slow static climbing and balancing before advancing to more dynamic movements.
Breathing for Control
Once you are moving at height the key is to control your our neural arousal level. When I first started doing rail precision at height I was having trouble making progress because I couldn’t only do a few jumps before I felt exhausted, when I examined why I realized I was holding my breath for long periods during and before jumps and doing ragged chest breathing in between.
This was starving my body of oxygen and telling my nervous system I was in a panic situation. I started practicing diaphragmatic nasal breathing while doing my precisions and soon was able to go from feeling tired after 1o or so jumps to being able to do 25 or more, my precision also improved immediately when I was able to calm myself down a little.
There is flip side to this– too much exposure to heights can result in level of inurement to the fear of heights that is actual dangerous you should have a slight edge of nervousness when moving at heights when you become completely comfortable at height you can become careless, but most people are limited when moving at a height by excessive fear not a lack of it.
Find a height you can balance on top of something that won’t cause serious injury if you fall but that causes your heart rate to rise and your breathing to become more shallow. Then practice staying there, breathing and bringing your mind into a state of calm focus. Please don’t start by doing drops. Climb up and down slowly and safely.
Here is one of my favorite parkour videos that features allot of great work at height. Professor long hair big chief featuring Kie Willis and Phil Doyle.