Yoga can be the perfect complement to any climber’s weekly training program.
By Abi Cotler with contributions from Sarah Haughton and Ryan King
For many, it would be unthinkable to consistently climb (or do any regular training) without also doing yoga. There may well be too many benefits from yoga to count, but it can complement your climbing in five main ways: flexibility, strength, balance, breathing, and focus. I spoke about these benefits with a few of the well-loved yoga instructors at Mesa Rim and they offered some balance with two very different and valuable perspectives.
First, Mesa Rim yoga instructor and climbing coach Ryan King enlightened me on some of the more ineffable connections between yoga and climbing:
“Japanese-American professional climber Ashima Shiraisha is the greatest climber I have ever seen. In an interview with The North Face in 2016, Ashima says that her intention at climbing competitions is to, ‘have a quiet and strong soul, or mind.’ She says that ‘Yes, that’s a motto for like climbing, or in life!’ It seems to me that this is also the intention of practicing yoga and can also serve well as a motto or mantra. In other words, if climbing has a goal, if yoga has a goal, if life has a goal, could it be that they are all the same?
“In ancient yogic tradition, the yoga poses were meant to prepare the body for meditation (typically seated, with the eyes closed) in order to realize the soul, or you can say, to see if there is a soul at all. In Japan, the concept of meditation is only slightly different. Zazen is the practice of sitting with the eyes open facing a blank wall, as a way to face oneself in order to realize one’s essence or true nature. It seems to me that as climbers we face the blank granite wall for the same journey of self-realization. For the climber, the rock acts as a mirror, and as the Zen koan goes, ‘What is your original face?’”
Next, I spoke with Mesa Rim yoga program coordinator and instructor and owner of San Diego’s Yoga Bow studio. Sarah agreed that climbers who commit to a regular yoga practice (regular being key here) can expect to experience increased flexibility, mobility and focus in their climbing. “Through regular practice,” she said, “balance and strength, especially in the core, will improve and you will find more efficiency in your breathing and the ability to focus more clearly on your projects.”
Sarah also noted that yoga can really help climbers avoid injury, saying, “Yoga emphasizes listening to your body fully while also giving you a chance to restore both body and mind. Climbers who practice yoga will likely experience less injuries and faster recovery time from current injuries.”
Sarah shared some specific poses (below) that she sees as being essential to complement any climbing regimen. The poses are in the Bowspring style, a newer style of yoga evolved from modern scientific studies on optimal functioning of the body that is highly effective for climbers looking to enhance their skills.
“Bowspring specifically focuses on strengthening the back of the body to enhance spring-loaded power,” Sarah told me, “which will directly relate to lightness and strength on the wall.” Check out the poses here: