Heidi Wirtz, an instructor for Climbing’s Yoga for Climbers online course, pushes herself hard on the rock and in the yoga studio. She travels worldwide, scaling technical big walls, like her first free ascent of the South Howser Minaret in the Bugaboos, and leading adventure yoga retreats through her company Earth Play Retreats. Luckily, the two disciplines go well together. Here, she describes a few reasons why.
Yoga calms the mind by bringing attention to the breath, says Wirtz. The deliberate breathing taught in yoga can help keep climbers calm on the rock when they’re exerting themselves or in hairy situations.
2. Body awareness
“Yoga is all about learning your body, figuring out exactly how your body should be in certain poses,” says Wirtz. She defines body awareness as the ability to know where pains and other sensations in your body are coming from, as well as being spatially aware. In climbing, this translates to knowing how to use your body—for example, knowing whether you have the span to stick a long reach or toe onto a distant foothold. Through yoga, says Wirtz, “You learn how to use your body correctly on the rock.”
3. Core strength
A lot of yoga moves build core strength, which is important for keeping your hips close to the rock, thus distributing more weight to your feet than your arms. “You learn through yoga about your center line, and your core, and how to hug into your midline, which you need so that you can stay stable on the rock,” says Wirtz.
Obvious, but still worth mentioning. A consistent yoga practice helps climbers use high feet and execute wide stemming moves.
5. Injury prevention
A strong core and good flexibility, apart from improving your climbing, can also help prevent injury. You can, for instance, make reachy moves without pulling a muscle. And by keeping your core tight, you’re more likely to “not let your body get into a compromising position,” says Wirtz. Further, yoga helps develop muscular balance. For example, the vinyasa flow involves lowering the body to the ground from plank, which strengthens the triceps and other “pushing” muscles like those in the chest—this can help prevent elbow tendonitis by correcting typical climber imbalances.
The benefits above all tie together to build confidence on the rock, says Wirtz. “That ability to feel your body and know your body, and you have that core strength that you’re going to gain through yoga—it’ll directly translate to your ability to stay calm on the rock because you’ll have a lot more confidence.”
Ready to use the ancient practice of yoga to boost your climbing? Take Climbing’s Yoga for Climbers online course.