Why Yoga is Beneficial Cross-Training For Rock Climbers and Vice Versa
Rock climbing is an intense full-body activity. It recruits mental focus, body awareness, trust, strength, flexibility, and steadiness. Huh, sounds kind of like yoga, right?
THE MENTAL GAME
The routes on the wall are called “problems” for good reason. There is a strong mental focus required to continue progressing upwards. Your brain and body are working together to not fall or get injured, to maintain secure placement on the holds, and incorporating any beta (tips) that might be coming from peers watching below.
As you take on problems that are beyond your current comfort level, a lot of climbing becomes mind over matter. As I’ve said before, “in order to move forward, you have to let go of where you are.” Climbing is a constant letting go of what feels secure in order to approach an unknown but exciting new territory. In a similar way, we have to continually come out of yoga poses in order to move into different ones within the flow of our practice.
It makes sense that your mind, in realizing you’re taking some risk, is going to get involved in order to protect you. The brain likes things that are familiar, safe, and comfortable- not exactly the words someone would use to describe rock climbing. Here’s where a yoga practice can serve you; seeing your thoughts and allowing them to pass simply as thoughts can help you refocus and continue. Now, I’m not saying go and climb something way out of your range and disregard your rationality, but allow the grip of your mind to release a bit so that you can keep moving towards fresh experience and new possibilities with an open mind.
This can also apply for yoga in the practice of staying. When the temperature is getting uncomfortable in the yoga studio, when your arms are really starting to feel sensation in that two-minute warrior II…when your mind starts to tell you to turn on the fan or move out of the shape, what would happen if you just stayed? What progress might you be bypassing by acting on your first reaction to the situation?
Climbing can also build upon your perception of what you think is possible for your body. As you become stronger, you complete problems that you previously were unable to or even just progress towards getting one more challenging hold. I remember during a particularly challenging yoga class the instructor led us through various advanced poses that I didn’t consider within “my level.” I found myself trying them with no expectations and then gradually, and to my surprise, being able to actually do them (albeit very briefly). Where would we be if we just stayed put within what we thought we had access to?
I also practice setting intentions within both practices. Whether I’m approaching a challenging problem or about to hop up into pincha mayurasana (forearm stand) I use the mantra “lightness and ease.” I set my mental tone to be open to cultivating the way I want to feel. Your mentality affects your body. If you are thinking “I’m so weak, I’ll never be able to do that” you’re not as likely to move forward and you probably won’t enjoy the practice as much. Keep showing up, actually believe it’s possible, and stay open to what you want to achieve.
BEING AWARE OF YOUR BODY
In either practice of moving forward with greater mental ease or staying without reacting, developing awareness of your body will be supportive. By practicing yoga, you’re turning most of your attention towards how your body feels, how your breath feels, and staying connected to this as you move through different poses. This focus translates onto the wall when you’re climbing, carefully placing your toes and hands onto the holds, keeping your core engaged, even getting creative with the technique you’re using to ascend, all become enhanced when you are tuned in to your body.
BREATH IS BOSS
I don’t remember who I first heard it from but I was given the very useful tip of exhaling when reaching for a challenging hold. Breath awareness is something that can translate and be an invaluable tool from your yoga practice onto the wall. Have you ever been holding navasana (boat pose) and realized you weren’t breathing anymore? Or that your shoulders were tensed up by your ears in utkatasana (chair pose)? Our bodies tend to tighten up when we’re doing something difficult, we brace for the challenge but the breath helps us to continue showing up in a sustainable way and with a more expansive sense of ease.
STRETCH IT OUT
Maintaining flexibility is useful no matter what. It gives you greater range of motion, helps to lengthen out and stretch your muscles, and simply feels good. It’s especially helpful when you’re moving in dynamic ways on the climbing wall or taking a huge step to the next hold. Climbing can also be an interesting way to become informed about where you may be tight or have limited range of motion; that way you have something specific to focus on within your yoga practice.
Natalie Mazur is a bilingual (English/Spanish) yoga instructor based in San Diego, California. She teaches private clients in their homes and offers weekly group classes. Natalie has nine years of study and teaching experience combined, and has taught in the U.S. and internationally.
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