Allow me to take a stroll down memory lane...
I have always been afraid of heights, so to get over my fear I started to teach yoga at a climbing gym called Mesa Rim in San Diego, CA. I figured if I went to a climbing gym to teach, I fearfully would be tempted to rope up. I found myself hanging out there more and more, getting to know a whole new community outside of the yoga world which was where I spent most of my time. I started to climb with a new friend that worked at the front desk. He was handsome, outgoing, playful and knowledgeable. Every time he belayed me, I would bat my eyes and blatantly stare at his muscles, making playful comments about how sexy he was. We connected on many levels aside from climbing, like yoga, lifestyle, traveling and even geeked out on nutrition and anatomy. After months of climbing together, we took things to the next level. We took our time getting to know each other and after six months of dating, he moved to Boulder, CO to pursue his dreams of becoming a physical therapist. The last two years, he has been there and I have been here, and magically we made it work. The long distance was challenging but now he is finishing up his last clinical rotation here in San Diego (yay, we are together at last :).
In the last few years, we have taken lots of yoga classes, done lots of climbing, have led a few adventure retreats and now we are collaborating on a new series for climbers and yogis, called Essential Mobility for Optimal Climbing (can be found here). We both are passionate about these two activities and encourage others to participate because after all, aside from having so much in common they also complement one another like the yin needs yang. Surprisingly, I didn’t actually know how badly my body needed climbing either. Climbing has been the yang to yin when it comes to my yoga practice. I had some minor imbalances in my body that climbing and resistance training helped get rid of. I have written this article to show you why yoga may not be enough to maintain balance in the body and why climbing sprinkled with resistance training may be a great way to bring more balance in your life like it did mine. Yoga and climbing are synergistic and complementary; whether you be a yogi, a climber or both. My hope is that this article inspires folks to integrate both of these activities into a weekly schedule.
Why Yogi’s Need Climbing Sprinkled With Resistance Training
When I started climbing, I also started to do some resistance training. I noticed that in my hyper-flexible body, my hamstrings were open but my quads and glutes lacked the strength I needed in order to relieve my occasional knee pain. My knees have benefited significantly from doing squats and other leg workouts. I also came to realize that from all the handstands, down-dogs and chaturangas I have been doing over the years, my biceps hadn’t been getting any attention. I was straight up neglecting them! Climbing has helped with this and it’s also helped strengthen the muscles around my shoulder (the sporadic shoulder pain I used to get is now gone). In case you were wondering, I think it’s important to switch up your workout and like other sports, it’s important to consider the training factor that is oftentimes required in order to excel. By focusing our training, we can build a stronger, more balanced body that will excel in all aspects of our life.
Some of us may need resistance training or another activity that will help strengthen those parts of the body, I recommend specific exercise to target that area and what I have found is for many hyper-flexible folks like myself, climbing has been an excellent counter-piece. The folks that are A.) recovering from an injury or B.) hyper flexible benefit the most from integrating more strengthening activities.
Why Climber’s Need Yoga
For all the climbers out there, or have a strong and potentially tight (lack of range of motion) body type, yoga is for you! I couldn’t count a number of people that tell me “I don’t do yoga because I am not flexible enough”. I have people in my yoga classes just like you, that have limited yoga experience and they realize how much it benefits them in their bodies but also their climbing. A few things to note: our flexibility is partially predetermined in our DNA. So here is some news, you may never be able to do the splits. Maybe that’s too blunt and it hurts your ego, I am sorry! But I am here to tell you that it’s ok! You may not have that range of motion in your body. Perhaps one day you will, but in order to find out, you must practice. Integrating yoga on a bi-weekly schedule is recommended to get better and more flexible. Even stretching a little every day, totally counts! It may take months or even years but it does get easier and you will become more flexible and stronger over time. The first step is showing up to your yoga mat. This might be scary, challenging, intimidating and I promise, you won’t regret it. Keep in mind it’s not about doing or not being able to do the pose, it’s about practice, little steps count and have the power to create big, lasting changes.
I hate to break this news but it’s very real; the older we get, the tighter we get in our bodies. If you don’t already feel it in your body, there is research on the topic that discusses the changes that our bodies go through as we age (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14588289). The great news is, this is preventable and you can change this via yoga. Choose to do yoga, not because you want to achieve a certain pose but because it has many other benefits. Another perk to the practice is it helps prevent injury which is a huge if you are looking to climb forever and train hard. It is possible to climb until the age of 70 or beyond, but to do so you have to take care of your body and mind. If I don’t have you drinking the yoga juice yet, here are a few more components of yoga that help us to be better climbers:
body awareness- where your body is in relationship to the rock and this component also helps prevent injury.
stability- yoga strengthens the whole body and the constant awareness around the breath, builds core muscles.
flexibility- flexibility in our muscles, spine, and joints contributes to creating more movement options on the wall.
breathing and relaxation techniques- helps our mental game, calming the nervous system and cardiovascular system which helps with endurance on the wall.
confidence- the mental game in climbing is real and it takes work to achieve some of those more difficult routes. We get to know our bodies and what they are capable of in yoga.
Most people are stronger on one side or more flexible on the other, you hear this all the time in yoga classes. It’s true, and in order to bring more balance into your body you may need more than just yoga. If you have a body type that tends to be more flexible, especially in your joints, then climbing or resistance training could be a great game-changer for you like it has been for me. Through mindfulness, we can find the imbalances in our bodies and work on them. Don’t neglect what your body is trying to communicate with you, instead pay attention. The body doesn’t lie. On the flip side, yoga may be exactly what you need especially if you are a climber or typically participate in activities that focus on strength training. Strive for balance, switch up your activities and remember yoga and climbing go hand in hand. Go yoga, go climb!