Yoga & Rock Climbing

Yoga and Rock Climbing – Falling Down

I’ve been telling my students lately that when you fall out of a pose in yoga, that’s a sign that you’re getting stronger and that you’re testing — and pushing — your edge. Conversely, if you find that you’re never falling down in yoga class, or that you’re never falling out of any poses, chances are that you’re probably staying in your comfort zone a little too much. A similar set of principles can be applied to rock climbing, providing yet another example of how yoga and climbing fit together so nicely.

When I started climbing at the local climbing gym last semester, for the first month or so, I stuck to routes that had ratings in the 5.8 and 5.9 range. I never fell, and I pretty much never had to take a break in order to complete any routes. Climbing was fun, even if I was staying firmly in my comfort zone, but I knew in the back of my mind that the fact that I never fell or really struggled was a sign that I wasn’t learning. Eventually, at the prodding of my climbing partner, I ventured into routes in the 5.10-5.11 range, and suddenly climbing turned into a whole new thing for me. I found myself now unable to finish quite a few routes, at least not without a break or two, and encountered the added challenge of having to figure out more “technical” routes — i.e. skill based routes — whereas before I had often found myself able to power my way through 5.8s and 5.9s with brute (mostly upper body) strength.

The most difficult part of moving to 5.10s and 511s for me is that, quite frankly, they are a lot scarier to do. The moves are harder, the balance is more delicate, and the consequences of a miscalculation are more immediate and more pronounced. For instance, many of the holds on a 5.8 or 5.9 route are large enough and shaped in such a way that you can really get a good, strong grip with your hand around them. So if you make a miscalculation with your feet, say, no problem. You can hold on with your hands and pretty easily correct yourself. But on the harder routes, many of the holds are not so friendly, and may only be large enough for you to (kind of, but not really) grip them with just a few fingers. Since you can’t really get a good grip on these tiny or awkwardly shaped pieces, if you make a miscalculation with your feet and your balance goes off, there’s a limit to what you can do with your hands to help. So balance becomes that much more important here. To boot, these small pieces, sometimes no larger than a small stack of pennies, are ones that you’ll need to stand on as you make your way up the wall. As if that weren’t enough, on the harder routes, there is typically a much larger distance between pieces, forcing you at times to stretch and bend your body in all kinds of crazy positions in order to make progress. All of this adds up to a much more challenging and exhilarating climb. But it also results in a lot more falling. Some people might see this as a bad thing. But when I compare this to the process of learning on the yoga mat, I realize that falling at the climbing gym is just a sign that you’re pushing your edge and taking on new challenges.

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4 thoughts on “Yoga and Rock Climbing – Falling Down

  1. Yes, I see the parallel. On the sharp end of the rope (leading) there is always the possibility of a bigger and more damaging fall. The longer the runout between pieces of pro (tection), the greater this risk tends to become. Lead climbing at/near one’s limit on routes that are protectable (not X or R) brings us to our sharpest focus. Crux moves are laser focus moves… very purifying . When the pro is sketchy this can be intense.

    I find that in yoga this is similarly true. I have found that it is a combination of personal limits and risk that can bring my practice to new levels. It need not be a hard pose, just one that has some element of fear of falling out… for example, floating from downward dog into Bakasana… it takes focus… and commitment to the landing in balance. Too far forward is a face plant. It is this need to stay focused and clear that makes this a worthwhile part of the practice… instead of always taking the safe route.

    I must add that it need not be a dynamic movement, simply any pose that carries that fear of falling.

    One final point is that this is only one dimension of yoga practice. There is always the choice of when is the right time to air it out.

  2. Great post I couldn’t agree with you more. I see all the time with my yoga and climbing the desire to stay in my comfort zone because it makes me feel good in the now. However, in the end without the progression I desire it ends up hurting me.

    Now I focus on continual improvement and fall a lot in both climbing in yoga.

    keep it up,

    Ryan

  3. I’m excited to find this blog on Yoga for climbers. About 3 weeks ago I started Yoga and love it. I look forward to closely following your blog!

  4. I’m a climber (at least I do and love climbing) and my girlfriend is a very good yogi (ging to be a teacher soon). She’s always been kidding me when I speak about yoga and climbing similarities. I have to say that I have tried both but she never climbed…I’m so happy to find this blog that basically confirms what I have been thinking for a while…there’s much yoga in climbing and the other way around!

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