Skills // Yoga for climbing
Written by Beth Thomas
Yoga – Just a fad?
Yoga has become a bit of a buzz word in recent years and you could even say it has become quite trendy. It is however an ancient Indian practice developed over 5,000 years ago! Bang on trend.
It came to the West around the turn of the 20th Century. It was around the 1980’s that the West focused on yoga as a physical exercise rather than the multifaceted and spiritual practice it originated as. Yoga is a way of life as well as physical poses. If you are a climber (as you probably are reading this!) you probably identify as a climber not because you like to get on some rock but also because of your community, lifestyle and maybe even morals and values. Same same but different.
So, how can welcoming yoga into your life benefit your climbing?
Below I will talk about the physical, mental and, dare I say, spiritual benefits of regular yoga practice.
Let’s get this old chestnut out of the way. Of course, yoga builds strength. Certain styles of yoga allow us to develop muscles useful to climbing without the need for hitting the gym. Shoulder and back muscles particularly become very well developed with regular practice. We also often rely on the strength in our arms, back, shoulder and core to move the weight of our bodies around. Depending on what style you have chosen to practice you may be doing several chaturangas (lower down from plank) and arm balances in just one session. However simply holding your arms up by your sides like in a warrior 2 position is surprisingly difficult if you are not used to this. Movements like this can really help fight the pump and increase muscle mass to help with endurance, which is my next point.
It’s not good having excellent forearm endurance if the rest of your muscles can’t cope. Yoga is a full body experience and some styles ask for constant flow for 90 minutes! Prepare to develop great endurance in your surrounding muscles which will ultimately compliment climbing-specific endurance gains.
Engaging your core is imperative in yoga and many teachers focus on getting their students to do strange things like “pull in the belly button” or “hug in the lower rib cage”. In some styles we pay attention to energy locks, bandhas and there is one very important lock – the abdominal lock. In some styles such as Ashtanga you are encouraged to keep this lock engaged throughout the practice. Many poses specifically focus on core but as you will find the core develops not just in focused pose but in balances, inversions and all the rest! Climbers benefit from having a strong core for obvious reasons, for example having great body tension is useful for static and reachy moves. As a climber, keeping yourself close to the wall rather than sagging back is a far more efficient; it will give the added benefit of helping prevent back, shoulder and neck injuries.
Balance and co-ordination
As touched on previously, yoga improves balance. Many standing poses use balance, think about standing on one leg, for example. Learning where your limits are and improving balance on the mat helps when you are in action on the wall. Learning about our limitations also makes us body aware. With yoga, you get to explore yourself in terms of the space you occupy and this helps co-ordination.
Moving the body with the breath is an integral part of vinyasa style yoga. Other styles also incorporate “pranayama” (breath control). The ability to recognise how the breath can be used to facilitate movement can be translated onto the wall. Think of when you are in that scary or crux position and you realise you have been holding your breath, breathing shallow or becoming panicked and hyperventilating. Slowing down and evening out the inhalation and exhalation calms and relaxes the body and mind. It can prolong endurance by increasing oxygen to muscles and improve concentration, nice segue into next point….
Yoga improves focus. In yoga visual focus is called the drishti. This means a focused gaze and is used as a way to use a fixed gaze to improve concentration. It is believed in yogic philosophy that using a focal gaze point not only improves mental concentration but draws our energy with it. Whether you buy into that or not there is no doubt that using a focal point helps with climbing, particularly in hard sequences.
Yes, there are many times you will wobble, topple, and full on face plant. Becoming comfortable with this sensation can help on the wall when it comes to fear of falling. I still have a fear of falling during climbing and I’m still working on it but I know for sure that falling out of an inversion time and time again has helped me.
So, there you have it, regular yoga practice will benefit your climbing in some way, there’s really no doubt about it.
Beth is the founder of Sukha Yoga. For more details visit her website
Beth teaches yoga for climbers on a Tuesday and Thursday evening at Substation in Macclesfield. Book here or just drop in.