Yoga: Mental and Physical Cross-Training for Climbing

yoga_coffeetapeclimb.JPGJeff Jackson, Rock and Ice Magazine Features Editor, office Yogi, and 5.14 climber, is a firm believer in the mental and physical health benefits of yoga. This summer, he took a yoga break at 2 p.m. every day he was at the office. He kept his yoga mat and rugs in the hallway and would spend at least 30 minutes moving between poses outside of the conference room before returning to his desk.

Now you might be wondering how being the office yogi has anything to do with climbing 5.14, or 5.11 for that matter. Well, have you ever wished that you’d stretched more before trying to high-step? Yoga is a great way to improve flexibility. I wouldn’t spend 20 minutes lying on my living room carpet stretching, but taking a break to move between poses and stretch to the soothing sound of an instructor’s voice sounds like something I might do once or twice a week.

But more than flexibility, yoga, especially more physically strenuous Vinyasa practices, builds strength physically and mentally, allowing one to glide up the rock with flexibility, power, and grace. Additionally, the focus on breathing, something many climbers forget while giving their all on a route or problem, can facilitate your climbing, helping you to stay calm and Elvis-leg-free through cruxes, since you’re focused on breathing and your movement on the rock instead of fear. On a more basic level, breathing provides your muscles with oxygen to produce the ATP (energy) to power your movements.

The mental benefits of yoga extend beyond breath control. One must focus on each muscle in the body to correctly hold and flow between poses. For those of us who aren’t highly coordinated, yoga helps us build an awareness of body positioning and how to better control and perform movements, which can translate into smoother and more precise motion on the rock.

Beyond helping your climbing, taking a half hour to focus on your practice can be a meditative experience, leaving you more balanced and refreshed mentally, similarly to how climbing allows one to forget about life’s worries outside of getting oneself up the rock safely. If you’re too busy to get outside or to the gym, try taking a few minutes to refocus with your favorite yoga sequence.

There are many levels and types of yoga.  Some, such as Vinyasa and Ashtanga, are more strenuous, while a beginner Hatha yoga class or video will focus more on simple postures, relaxation, and meditation. Try out difference classes or YouTube videos to find the practice that works best for you. Don’t know where to start? I like this short video as a warm-up before gym or strength sessions or when I only have 20 minutes to stretch out. The Petzl RocTrip yoga video (see below) is also great for when you want to feel like you have some climber company figuring out the poses, and the instructor gives helpful tips to modify poses to accommodate common climbing injuries.

I cannot guarantee that practicing yoga will make you into a 5.14 climber, but it can be a healthy addition to your week, whether or not you see the benefits in your climbing right away. But who knows, you might find yourself sending your projects and slowly becoming known as the office yogi.

Originally published November 9, 2015, on 

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