Disclaimer: I am not encouraging distracted or otherwise poor belaying. However, I do acknowledge that there are times when the wind picks up, the sun goes behind a cloud, you weren’t thinking and didn’t put on your belay jacket, etc., and you find yourself freezing your behind off while belaying. Here are some yoga-inspired “poses” and techniques to help keep you warm and warmed up for your next pitch while still allowing you to safely belay (break hand always on!). That said, please rely on your own judgement as to which pose or variation you should employ to keep yourself warm and your climber safe. I suggest trying out each of these poses before you belay to make sure you aren’t focusing on perfecting them instead of what your climber is doing. With all that said:
Here are five hands-free, yoga-inspired belay poses to keep you warm and warmed up for your next climb:
Mountain Pose: This pose often resembles “just standing there.” However, if you activate the correct muscles, it can be much more. Thus, you can just stand there while belaying, or you can tuck your pelvis, activate your core, bring your shoulders down and away from your ears while squeezing your shoulder blades together to activate your back muscles, and bring energy up from your feet while engaging your quads. This muscle activation will both help you retain good posture while belaying and keep you warm as your muscles generate heat. (Though remember your number one job is to still be an active belayer.)
Chair Pose: A bit like holding a squat with your knees together, chair pose is great for toning your quads and keeping you warm during “easy belays,” such as when your partner is toproping or practicing placements on longer, easy single-pitch trad routes that (s)he is comfortable on. Start standing with your big toes together and your heals a thumb-print apart. Then bend your knees, sending your hips back as you come into a knees-together “squat.” Make sure to lengthen through your torso to protect your back and lift and open your chest to complete the posture and ensure that you can still watch your climber. Hold for as long as you can withstand the burning in your quads.
High Lunge: This pose strengths your legs and glutes while allowing you to stay in an active, ready-to-jump-in-case-your-climber-falls position. However, it is best employed on flat belay surfaces when your climber isn’t hang-dogging. From standing, take one large step forward and bend your front leg to come into a lunge with your thigh as close to parallel to the ground as possible and your front knee directly over your front ankle. Keep your back knee bent as you engage your core and scoop your pelvis under you. Keep you front quad engaged while you pull your front hip crease back and your back hip crease forward and simultaneously squeeze your inner thighs toward the midline. Once you’ve mastered this, you can play with straightening your back leg to engage your back glute and rotating your back foot outward at a 45-degree angle (Warrior 1), but only if you remain stable for belaying. Switch legs and repeat.
Warrior 2 Variation: From high lunge, straighten your back leg and pivot your back foot and your torso 90 degrees away from your forward leg. Keep your back leg strait and front leg bent as close to parallel with the ground as possible. Then tuck your pelvis to engage your core and glutes, and lengthen through your torso. Keep your bent leg active to prevent it from falling in toward the midline and bring energy up from your back foot. This pose is best done on flat ground while top rope belaying or in other non-stressful belayer situations. You should position yourself sideways to the rock so that your legs are parallel to the cliff and your torso is pointed straight toward the route to ensure you can see your climber.
Horse Pose Variation (best done on flat ground while top rope belaying): Start standing with your feet a little further than shoulder-width apart and your toes turned outward at about a 45-degree angle. Now bend your knees and lower into a wide-legged squat with your knees over your ankles. Tuck your pelvis, engage your core, and lengthen through your torso. Keep the pose active and protect your knees by squeezing your legs outward to prevent your knees from splaying inward. You should feel this in your quads, glutes, and abs.
THE TAKE AWAY: Activating your muscles can help keep you warm while you belay or just hang out on cooler days. You can take the principles from these poses and apply them to all types of belaying situations, including small ledge and hanging belays. For example, you can always activate your core by pulling your navel toward your spine and lengthening from your pelvis to the top of your head to help generate some heat and fix pore posture. Likewise, you can pull your shoulder blades together to activate your back muscles, warming yourself from behind.
You can also use yoga poses and vinyasa flow sequences, such as “chaturanga to updog,” to help you warm up for your next climb. This will help keep you limber and prevent injury. Yoga is what you make it, and you don’t have to be in a class to reap its benefits.