Please find an article I wrote for ROCK, Australia’s Climbing Magazine. Spring 2012, no 92.
The combination of Yoga and Rock Climbing is a match made in Nirvana, because at their peak, both practices represent an experience of the timeless. The timeless is when any separation created by thought is absent, and we are one with the moment, or in this case, the task.
I have been practicing Yoga for 17 years and I have never approached the performance/experience of a posture without full conscious attention. The reason I understand attention in this way, is down to the thousands of hours I have spent attending to the sensation and feeling of breathing and stability applied to lengthening movement.
In contrast, I have very little climbing experience, but I understand the embodied aspect and can relate to the intention and attention required to transcend barriers and thresholds. To do this requires a body that can be strong and long, which is next to impossible to achieve if you are training conventionally, so let me tell you more about the science and practice of yoga.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning yoke or union. The meaning of ‘union’ is not as a tangible bond, but as a realization. Awareness of self, direction and the larger movement of life is not conceptual, and is revealed when we truly understand the nature of experience.
In the West, Yoga has been largely reduced to the practice of the physical postures, called asana in Sanskrit. Asana means seat or foundation, and the practices are a foundation for meditation practice.
I’m sure for many readers of this article, climbing represents a window to dissolving any sense of separation between body, mind and task, and this was the purpose of the ancients who evolved the practice of Yoga through observation of self and nature.
Now lets begin to explore some of the physical aspects and benefits of authentic yoga practice.
The various postures are designed to open and release tight areas of the body by learning to lengthen intelligently. This is only possible when one begins to understand the role of stability, balance, proprioception and attention available in the experience of the posture.
Early on you realise that the postures are not destinations from A-B, rather they encourage an ongoing exploration of A-Z. They require a listening attention that is directed inwards, which reveals the intelligence of moving over time.
It is important to always perform the postures slowly to ramp up the feedback process from the body to the brain and back. It is necessary to sometimes pause when you are lengthening, to allow the nervous system, the time it needs to know where the body is, in space. This pausing is respectful of the intelligence that is represented by the cortical map of the body in the brain. The brain is a map of the body. The body is an expression of the brain.
Every posture involves a yielding presence and an active push. Yielding is always into a support surface (hence the understanding of asana meaning foundation). The support from a Western biomechanical viewpoint is a closed chain movement. Closed chain contractions allow us to access proximal stability, in the way that the limb communicates with the trunk. The push is an active process of the trunk and limb.
The pushing and yielding are two sides of the same coin, and involve moving with the breath.
As your capacity for attention increases, so does your inner energy. When we fully attend, nothing is missing. You are exactly where you want to be, doing exactly what you want to be doing. Quality is everything, when we realise that the body gives the brain its information for moving.
This bodymind integration is one of the ongoing results that comes from consistent practice.
A term that is common in both practices is the concept of an edge. Where you are in the posture represents an ‘edge.’ Taking your time to be aware of edges as they turn up in your practice is an inner process. There are lengthening edges, stability edges, balance edges, and mental edges.
The skilfulness at realising what you are playing with, when to breathe, move, and pause will determine the satisfaction of your experience. Just as in climbing, if you assume an edge, there is a consequence. The role of consequence is to teach, but sometimes we are slow learners!
Standing postures are essential to connect with and load your legs and feet eccentrically (lengthening contraction). Seated postures challenge your hips and spine. Lying postures and supported postures tap into the feedback processes necessary to understand stability.