Rock Climbing & Ashtanga Yoga

~ Two paths - one goal ~

Badami, India

Experience has shown me the benefits of combining yoga and climbing so it is natural to have a desire to share these findings with all of you. After all we have similar goals  – expanding our awareness, finding harmony within our bodies, climbing better and staying healthy.

Similarities between climbing and Ashtanga Yoga:

~ Improvement of the physical and mental condition ~

With regular yoga practice and training one helps her body’s internal organs and neuromuscular system to function correctly. Other benefits are staying free of illness, unwanted stress and injuries. Yoga and climbing serve as physical meditation which has the power to calm and balance the mind.

~ The process of improvement ~

Both climbing and Ashtanga yoga are a sequence of difficult moves which after some repetition we manage to link together and execute with ease. In climbing we use categories (from 4 to 9a +) to measure progress, in Ashtanga yoga – asanas. In both cases, if the mind and the body are not ready for the next level consolidation and persistent training follows as a way to overcome mental and physical obstacles. In both activities the emphasis is on the lessons learned during the practice and training. The successful result is an enormous fulfilment shared and celebrated with friends, instructors, teachers…it is definitely not recommended to be used as an ego growing material.

~ The main goal – self-awareness ~

“Obey unruly and standing up face to face with the terrifying places in ourselves, we get access to that sense of self, which is above the struggle, the experience of that place inside you that is always calm, full of energy and love.”

Kino Macgregor

Symbiosis between yoga and climbing:

How with regular practice of Ashtanga yoga every climber can achieve progress.

~ Flexibility  ~

Improving flexibility is a key element in climbing. Stretching the shoulders, hips and calves helps the body easily execute a wider range of movements. Stretching regularly makes more holds and footholds accessible. It also improves technique and prevents injuries. Have you experienced the unpleasant moment of not being able to reach a hold or even start a route just because your leg doesn’t stretch enough? Well yoga practice is the cure for that condition.

Holding awkward body positions for long time is part of climbing. If one can do it efficiently, allowing the muscles to relax he / she will be able to recover before the crux of the route. Ashtanga yoga is essentially training you for this difficulty as you need to hold the position for 5, 10 or sometimes even 30 breaths per asana.

Olivia Hsu, Virabhadrasana

~ Balance and Core ~

In order to have good balance one needs to sharpen the awareness of his / her own center of gravity. This helps to place the body in the most efficient position which in turn allows to perform our moves easily. The combination of core strength and balance makes one’s body more controlled and provides accuracy.

Professional climber Stéphanie Bodet admits that yoga is one of the main reasons she is able to handle complex slab challenges on her numerous multi-pitch adventures.

~ Strength and Endurance ~

Yoga not only helps stretch one’s tendons and ligaments but also strengthens the muscles and skeleton. This is achieved by holding difficult and powerful postures. It is important to develop all muscles involved in climbing, and not only work on finger and forearm strength.

Yuji Hirayama, 9a+ climber who has an 8c onsight in his bag of climbs says that a climbing injury can’t really disappoint him because then he would have more time to practice yoga.

~ Breathing ~

Proper breathing improves:

  • focus
  • calms the mind
  • increases stamina
  • improves concentration

Rhythmic breathing provides enough oxygen to the body allowing it to function efficiently, effortlessly for a longer period of time.

Olivia Hsu, Purvottanasana

~ Focus ~

Every asana in Ashtanga yoga comes with a particular point of focus where one needs to direct and hold his / her eyesight. This is called “drishti”. Exercising the ability to concentrate, one manages to overcome the difficulties occurring in the present moment. It is important to train the ability to eliminate distractions and waste of energy for example when thinking about the past, the future or things outside the scope of what is happening in the now. In climbing this type of concentration is key and necessary when it comes to sending a long route. In such situations it is appropriate to divide the route into smaller parts, gradually overcoming the obstacles dedicating full attention to the immediate problem. The ability to focus on the “here and now” applies not only to climbing but also to other extreme sports. Yoga helps us master this mental skill and use it in situations where we need to have a solid mind.

Steph Davis, BASE jumper, solo climber and yogini certainly have something to say on the subject of focus, especially when climbing 200m off the ground without being tied to a rope. Seems like the main force driving her up the wall and pushing her to the top is the power of concentration and mental control.

In conclusion, I highly recommend to all involved in climbing to combine their training with yoga practice. It can only benefit your preparation and add to the skills required during the epic adventures in the mountains.

Olivia Hsu, Adho Mukha Svanasana

Author: Gergana Petrova