Yoga for Outdoor Geeks Part One.
Why yoga and bouldering is such an excellent combination.
It’s amazing what comes to mind when you’re hanging upside down with your heel hooked a feet or two above your head.
Some might think about the very heavy pizza they just had for dinner. Others may worry about how their butt is showing, ashamedly aware of their pants slipping off. Others again are able to let go of distractions and focus on the task at hand, notably the next move.
While my thoughts have definitely fit into the two first categories as well as a whole lot of others that are soundly destructive for the bouldering agenda, they took a slightly more positive turn last night.
As I was hanging on the wall, struggling to awaken dormant muscles and trying desperately to do what the people on the ground were shouting for me to do, I was struck by a sudden thought of amazement:
Wow, my foot is really high up. How did that happen? And how on earth am I still able to hold on without letting my body pull me down as if I was wearing weights??
I’ve got one word for ya: yoga.
That yoga is beneficial for athletes is nothing new. In fact, more and more athletes use yoga to complement their training and those that don’t have most likely heard about the benefits (and if you haven’t, I strongly suggest you read Nicole Doherty’s article on top 10 reasons athletes should do yoga).
Yoga is an excellent complement to any kind of sport, whether it’s for injury prevention, physical performance or mental training—and this goes for outdoor sports such as bouldering as well.
Bouldering, a kind of climbing that usually involves much more falling down than climbing up, demands patience, core muscles and flexible limbs. Patience because you’re attempting problems that might take you forever to figure out. Core muscles so that you can stick to the rock while having very little to hold on to. And flexible limbs so that you can do monkey-like moves like hooking your heel above your head when you’re short of hands.
When bouldering, you want to slide your body gracefully along the contours of the rock. You want your body to be able to use whatever the nature offers on the rock’s surface to continue your rocky quest. You have to be creative and that creativity is only limited by your body and mind.
While yoga might not turn you into the next Chris Sharma, an intelligently structured yoga practice may reduce those bodily limitations and enable you to really let that creativity unfold. Try including the following four poses into your yoga practice, or practice them on their own, and see if it makes a difference on the rock. Maybe you’ll end up doing monkey-like moves beyond your imagination as well!
1. Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose):
Don’t let the strange name mislead you into underestimating this pose. Gomukhasana works magic on the hips and shoulders by stretching the outer hips and opening the muscles around your shoulders and upper arms. By hooking your hands together behind your back with one hand coming from above and the other from below, you stretch the tricep and inner armpit on one side and the pectoralis and deltoids on the other. Over-developed pectoralis and deltoid muscles is a common phenomenon for climbers, leading to forward-rolling shohunched back. Gomukhasana can prevent this by stretching and lengthening the muscles in the opposite direction.
2. Lolasana (Pendant Pose):
As emphasized by Adventureyogi, strength for climbing is developed through the practice of climbing itself. While Lolasana is first and foremost a strength builder for the arms, back and core muscles, it also teaches the body to carry its own weight and to move in a way that is beneficial for climbing. I admit it though—this pose is a real challenge as it not only requires a certain amount of upper body strength but also flexible hips. It’s a super fun pose to work with though, and will be well worth the sweat and tears!
3. Bakasana (Crane Pose):
Lolasana is often used as a preparation for Bakasana as you place and use your body in the same manner. The difference is that in Bakasana, you place your shins on your upper arms which represents slightly more of a challenge your balance. In addition to strengthening the arms, back and abs, this pose stretches the upper back and opens the groin. It’s easy to fall forward though, with your face head-first, and in order to prevent that you have to distribute your weight correctly. Needless to say, the pose enhances your body awareness and teaches your body the skill of balancing flexibility and strength.
4. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pigeon Pose):
My all-time favorite hip opener! (And this cowgirl pose must be my favorite pigeon-pic so far!) Pigeon is medicine for tight hips and the king of hip openers. Why? Because is stretches and lengthens both the hip rotators as well as the hip flexors, enabling your pelvis to move more easily. While strong hips is normally not lacking amongst active people, flexible hips is. And for climbers, it might be the one barrier to hooking that foot above the head. While the pose looks fairly easy, it’s vital to align the body properly as you might cause unnecessary strain to your front knee if you don’t.
Last night, in my upside-down-heel-hooked position, my thought of amazement over my surprising physical ability was followed by another one:
If I don’t move soon I’ll fall down. And in order to move, I have to stop thinking about my flexible hips (yayh!) and figure out how the heck I will proceed.
I breathed my distractive hip-thoughts away and attacked the next problem at hand. And that’s another benefit yoga has for climbing: it provides tools such as breathing techniques to calm your mind, enhance your focus and let go of fear of falling down and not knowing what might happen next. It strengthens awareness of not only how your physical body works and reacts but also how your mind works. And that awareness is worth gold when you’re dealing with activities involving risk.
Go for the rock!
And go for yoga!
A fun, hip video to help beginners feel less intimidated to try climbing/bouldering:
Katinka is an adventure-seeking, wine-loving yogini with a passion for the unknown. Her curiosity has led her into many peculiar situations, from having tea with Sudanese ministers and roadtripping through India’s heartland searching for guerrilla soldiers to crossing the Alps on skis. She loves contrasts, which is why you find a mix of high heels, climbing shoes, cowboyhats and yogamats in her closet, and strongly believes it enriches her life. When she is not in the classroom teaching French, you will find her climbing a mountain, working on her handstand or under a blanket reading while sipping a tempered Côte de Rhône. Get in touch with her by e-mail or facebook.
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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger