THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION BETWEEN YOGA AND CLIMBING
Whether you are a climber or a yogi, you are probably looking for a balance of muscular strength and flexibility. As a climber and yoga teacher myself, I find that both practices lend themselves to form a wonderful symbiotic relationship within the body.
Physically they require a similar set of skills and connections; you are carrying out a set of multiple complex movements. In yoga, you are focusing on every bit of your body to achieve a pose or transition, whether that's through alignment correction or internal activation. In climbing, you are moving your body to a certain synchronicity to achieve completing a route, or topping out.
Mentally, both practice asks you to stay present in your body and in the moment. In climbing, you have to focus on your body, your movement, where you are placing your foot or hips or hands. Every movement can be so precise and intricate that if you are not present, you may fall off the wall. Similarly, yoga asks that you stay present in the moment, feeling out your body and bringing focus within. Again, if your mind is wandering, your yoga practice suffers.
SO WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF COMBINING THE TWO PRACTICES?
1. Creates balance between opposing muscle groups
Our muscles work in pairs. We push and pull, and when we do, we use different muscle groups to achieve these actions. Push-ups primarily work the pectoralis major (pecs), deltoids and triceps, while pull-ups work the latissimus dorsi, biceps and elbow flexors. Muscles pull on bones to create movement, and when both opposing groups of muscle are in balance, your joints receive equal amounts of tension. However, when you are only pulling, or only pushing, one group of muscles are stronger than the other and the tension becomes unequal. At rest, the stronger muscles are usually shorter, which means that the weaker muscle becomes overstretched. This is one of the main causes of what climbers call "Font Elbows" - the pain that occurs in the elbow flexors because the pulling muscles becomes overactive.
Sadly, there is not as much pushing in climbing to counteract the pulling, even less if you're whaling on a top-out instead of mantelling! And there is even less pulling in yoga! So the two work perfectly together to create all-round strength and balance in the body. Think of yoga as the yin to the climbing yang! Your elbows and shoulders will thank you!
2. True strength lies in flexibility AND strength
Flexibility is often overlooked for endurance and strength based athletes. I see so many climbers focus on strength training and building muscle mass, and in doing so, have significantly reduced their ability to move freely through a full range of motion. We need both strength and flexibility for our body to perform best, and a limited range of motion is going to hold you back from potential development. For instance, I have met many climbers whose aim is to pistol squat, and many think that they lack the leg strength, however, I have witnessed the lack of mobility in the ankles and hips to tumble even the strongest climbers before even getting into the right position to attempt a pistol squat. In addition, think about the times you just didn't bend that way on the wall, or just couldn't reach that high foot? Being flexible adds a whole new level to how you climb!
For yogis, did you know that climbing is a HUGE benefit for us too? Much of yoga focuses on stretching and lengthening which gives the impression that yoga is all about flexibility but it isn't! Too much flexibility without strength can create an excessively wide range of motion in our muscles and joints and they can become instable. It's great to be flexible and it's great to be able to backbend and handstand until the cows come home, but without properly strengthening the muscles and joints, it can be harder to achieve these poses in the right way and we become susceptible to injury. It takes a lot of muscular strength in the back as well as flexibility to achieve backbends. Without strength, you can backbend without control and may injure your back which no-one wants! It also takes a lot of shoulder strength as well as mobility to achieve a handstand. As previously stated, climbing trains a different muscle group to yoga, which is beneficial for any of you working your way to strong advanced arm and shoulder weight bearing poses.
3. Prevents injury
Lengthening the muscles is also something that's overlooked. Generally, it comes under flexibility but lengthening the muscles isn't just about being able to touch your toes. Yoga can help support the skeletal system but opening the body up. How many of you notice the over-round back and rounded posture of your fellow climbers? By lengthening the muscles, you can counteract the pull and push of these muscles on your skeleton and create better posture and alleviate aches and pains. Lengthening the muscles also helps increase their general elasticity. This counteracts tight muscles and can decrease the likelihood of injury through torn muscle fibres.
4. Work on your mental game
We all know, climbing is just as much as a mental game as it is about strength and technique. We all get the fear! Through yoga, you practice entering a meditative state of mind while also pushing the body through movement. The focus of body awareness in yoga can enhance the mental focus needed to stay on the wall, to relax into the climb instead of thinking about the fear of falling or failing. Many athletes have turned to yogic breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation to clear their head, calm their nerves and "psyche" themselves up before a big climb. Just attending a few yoga classes, you can learn so much about utilising the breath in a meditative way, that you can take away with you to the wall. Sometimes it takes just one big exhale to reset the body and mind before attempting a climb. A trick often used by my very strong climber friend Charlene, who is absolutely fearless on the wall!
So my dear yogis and climbers, as you can see, there are four very good reasons to start playing with this great body balancing combo! So many people feel intimidated to start because they can't touch their toes or they have weak arms. But, it's all about just playing with the body guys! See what it can do! We're all looking for the same feeling of balance so it doesn't matter what you are good at or capable of now. It's what the body is feeling that matters, and progress will come naturally with time.
With no expectations and judgement, I hope to maybe find some of you on the mat or at the wall. You can find my classes here, or you can book me for private lessons here. And for all you climbers out there, look out for my Climb RX series, an antidote to balance out the effects of climbing on the body!
Thanks for reading guys! Please leave a comment and let me know what you think of this magic combo?