A lot of yogis find that once they reach a certain level in their yoga practice, they are no longer interested in participating in other forms of exercise or sport. For instance, many serious yogis do not lift weights, because the kind of muscle development that comes with lifting weights can be counterproductive to what we are developing in our asana practice, which is what I like to call “strength within flexibility.” I even find that running and walking excessively are counterproductive to yoga because they cause my hips to become so amazingly tight. (Lately I’ve been walking about 3 miles a day around campus, sometimes more, and my hips are so tight as a result that I have to start every practice now in Child’s Pose…on my elbows!)
One physical activity that I’ve been getting into lately that seems to be totally consistent with a serious yoga practice, however, is rock climbing. In fact, I might even venture to say that yoga and rock climbing are a match made in heaven. I’ve only gone to the climbing gym here in Bloomington a handful of times now, and I’m already seeing the tremendous advantages afforded to me by my yoga practice. A lot of other climbers who don’t do yoga seem to buy into the popular misconception that the main and perhaps only thing you develop physically in yoga is flexibility. This is clearly wrong. The physical development that comes with yoga is strength within flexibility. So, in my own experience with rock climbing, it’s not, for instance, just that yoga lets me get my leg to some difficult to reach piece, but it provides me with the strength to actually use my leg powerfully even once it is stretched out into a weird angle or position. Also, the balance, focus, poise, agility, etc. that one develops in a yoga practice all translate extremely well to rock climbing.
Most importantly, perhaps, there is also a certain kind of “no fear” or “just let go” outlook of non-attachment that one develops in yoga that translates so well to rock climbing. Specifically, there are many moves in climbing that involve risk and uncertainty, but, as I’ve found with my yoga practice, if one lets go of attachments to the “what ifs”, this is accompanied by a kind of liberation that allows one to truly and fully exist in the present moment, exactly what one needs to make that next difficult move. (See my 08/23/06 “Fear Factor” posting on this topic.) You can’t, after all, expect much success in rock climbing if you are constantly or even periodically thinking to yourself, “What will happen if the next move doesn’t go as planned and I fall?” In fact, you don’t even need to consciously think such a thought for it to get in your way. So long as the basic notion exists within you somewhere, even as a feeling or the mere seed of an unformed thought, that’s enough to take you out of the moment and to cause the kind of nervousness and/or hesitation that, ironically, will result in your making a mistake and falling.
So what are some specific asanas that are good for rock climbing? Here’s a partial list that comes to mind:
* Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon) – builds strength in the leg, hip and glutes; develops balance, rotation in the spine, and flexibility; the perfect yoga pose in many ways.
* Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) – builds shoulders, forearms, back, wrist and hand strength, not to mention balance and confidence in your balance.
* Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle) – builds strength in your leg while your hips and front leg are really flexed open; rotation in the spine; composure and power in an elongated position.
* Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III) – builds strength in legs and hips, back; for an extra challenge, try one-legged Warrior III push-ups: bend the knee into a crouched Warrior III with hands in Namaste, and then stand back up to normal Warrior III; repeat.
* Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana (Standing Split) – again, not to sound like a broken record, but this pose builds strength within flexibility, especially when you take both hands to your ankle and use just the leg and hip to support your entire body weight, and to balance it. This pose also really helps to build what one of my yoga teachers calls “the subtle muscles” of the foot.