Whittaker Wheeze

Silhouette of the team on the peak of mountain. Sport and active life.

Emily Harrington, the elite athlete who recently solo-climbed El Capitan was the subject of last week’s tip. But we’re an equal opportunity supporter. Jim Whittaker served as President and CEO of REI for 25 years.

But beginning in the 1960’s, Jim and his brother Lou were also rated among the world’s best climbers. The brothers, who in their youth suffered from asthma, found that mountains provided a welcome relief from their condition. And as they developed mastery, they discovered what every speaker must know—the breath is the key to achievement.

Jim became the first American to summit Everest in 1963. His team joked about the Whittaker Wheeze, thought to originate from Jim’s asthma. Not so. Whittaker realized that if you practice belly breathing, or expelling carbon dioxide from the lower portion of the lungs, you reduce muscle fatigue and fuel your muscles via better oxygen uptake.

With speakers, even a small amount of stage fright causes constriction and breathing becomes shallow. Carbon dioxide builds up, causing the pH of the blood to drop, muscles contract and brains get fuzzy. If this occurs, open your arms, lift your head, and forcefully expel air. Then slowly intake lots of oxygen and expel again slowly. Push your belly button back to your spine as you exhale more. (don’t pass out, please) This breathing centers you and relieves muscle tension, but as a practice, who knows? You might even summit a high-altitude peak.

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