Breath. Body. Mind. In both climbing and yoga, the times when we are doing it ‘well’ are when these parts of ourselves meld together, shifting, moving, interacting in beautiful synchronicity.
I’m Anna, yoga teacher and bouldering enthusiast! I first started climbing four years ago but really with intent in the last year, climbing outside for the first time (on Dumbarton Rock!) and starting to learn about proper technique. I’ve been practicing yoga on and off since I was a teenager but it all started to click for me when I first encountered the strong and dynamic style of Vinyasa flow which I now teach. In July this year I completed 200-hour yoga teacher training with the wonderful Mudra Yoga and have started to teach in Glasgow.
There’s so much crossover between yoga and climbing and they’re hugely complementary to practise in dialogue. At the simplest level, yoga is brilliant for stretching out, particularly when you’re used to using the same muscles in the same way repeatedly. And this is the route into a yoga practice for many people, to complement or counteract other physical activity. Yoga can offer some more holistic movements, stretching and balancing muscles groups that might get overworked – such as biceps or forearms in climbing – and bringing in or working others that might get neglected through one specific sport or exercise.
Yoga is known for promoting flexibility and when you say ‘yoga’ the first image loads of folks might have is of stretchy people doing crazy backbends in lyrca. And if like me you’re not a naturally bendy person, yoga can seem a wee bit intimidating! It certainly was to me when I tentatively started going to yoga classes. I didn’t think I was flexible enough to do yoga, which seems like a mad thought now – like thinking I’m too dirty to have a bath. But if you really want to get that high foot (without lifting it into position!) maybe you should think about developing your flexibility.
Just as with climbing, you can start easy and push yourself to whatever level you choose. What I learned quickly is that yoga meets you wherever you are, the practice is infinite and adaptable, and I firmly believe that there is a yoga practice to suit every body and every mind. As well as flexibility yoga also promotes strength – but integrated strength, not hammering away at reps or muscling into something, but finding ways to move and hold your body that pushes at your edges in a holistic way. And because yoga is generated in and by your own body and not using external forces like weights to build strength for me it feels safer in terms of potential for injury – I can’t push beyond the place that my body is at – I have to work with my body.
Get in tune with your body
How many times have you found yourself trying to find your balance halfway up a technical slab? Improving balance and proprioception is another benefit of yoga. Yoga encourages you to listen deeply to your body, noticing all the little shifts and movements that take place as you execute the many balancing postures involved in the practice. And the balancing postures have an added bonus of strengthening some of our more delicate joints like ankles and wrists, making them less prone to injury. With a bit of time spent on yoga, you might feel more confident the next time you’re eyeing up an intimidating rock over or figuring out that magical flag of the leg.
The trick is to keep breathing
Did you know that your breath is a real barometer for what is happening inside your body and mind? I’m sure many climbers will have experience using an exhale to dyno, while others have to remind themselves to breath at all when attempting hard moves! The purpose of the physical asana practice is really just to connect us with our breath, also known as prana – life force and energy. It took me a while to get into breath work, it’s more subtle than the physical practise but now it’s one of the parts I enjoy the most. Tuning into it and noticing it, can tell you a lot about what’s going on. Stop and assess your breathing the next time you try something challenging. Once you get to know your breath you can manipulate it, use it to calm or energise, to go deeper into something.
But the primary benefit for me, is when it all comes together. Breath. Body. Mind. As a climber have you ever felt ‘in flow’ in this way? You’re climbing and suddenly you’re no longer thinking about how tired your arms & fingers are, or worrying about whether you’re going to be able to keep a grip of the next hold – your mind is still, your breath instructs your movement and your body just… moves. In yoga there’s a term for this state, yogis think of it as a layer of being called anandamaya or ‘bliss body’. I love this and think the term is so accurate – a state of mindfulness and connectedness and absolutely – bliss. Who doesn’t want that?
For me being in this mindful and connected place, and moving, is what I love the most about both climbing and my yoga practice. The benefits of mindfulness and of this kind of ‘moving meditation’ requires a whole article of its own but I think ultimately this kind of deep connectedness to body and mind promotes the most important kind of health – physical, mental and emotional altogether.
If you want to come and discover some of the crossovers and synchronicities between yoga and climbing for yourself, visit "Yoga for Climbers" to book your place now on my weekly vinyasa yoga class at The Newsroom. I'm looking forward to moving with you soon!
**Please note yoga is not permitted on the mats**.
Please use an appropriate stretching area away from climbers.