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.