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Black V2 on the Grotto.

What do yoga and indoor bouldering have in common?

If you’ve been to any indoor climbing gyms like The Grotto you’ve noticed that many also offer yoga. Some offer additional fitness classes as well. What’s the connection?

Yoga began thousands of years ago as a seated meditation practice. Eventually the yoga gurus (teachers) developed the energy level practices of pranayama (directed breathing). From there, asanas (postures) besides the seated meditation pose, came out. Eventually these were sequenced together into the practice of hatha yoga that we see in our culture today. But there are many different philosophies of yoga and subsequent stylistic expressions. You may take twenty different classes called Vinyasa and find just a few similarities among them, the types of poses being the most common ground.

There’s a lot of disagreement as to when Bouldering became an outdoor sport. Some say the late 1800s, some say the 1990s. Chalking outdoor routes seemed to start in the late 60s and indoor climbing walls developed around the same time. The advent of plastic holds came in the early 80s. The fascination began in Europe but didn’t really explode in the US until the early 2000s.

The intended purpose of yoga as a fitness endeavor is to stretch muscles, increase blood flow and bone density, flush out glands and the nervous systems, build strength, flexibility and endurance. On an energy level, the practice creates a flow of prana (vital life force), also known as chi or ki. The connection between illness as an energy blockage practice and healing modalities such as Chinese Medicine are widely accepted in the East and are growing rapidly in the US. If sickness is the result of blocked channels, yoga certainly helps in opening them up for us. It also increases our sense of vitality, clarity and sexuality, among other benefits. On a mental level, yoga has practices too. The Yamas and Nyamas of yoga help us with ethical guidelines. The sister science of Ayurvedic Medicine integrates all aspects; physical, energetic, mental into one system of wellness.

If you ask people why they do yoga, you’ll get varied answers. For the most part, the Western approach is physical. But if you go back to the roots of yoga, the purpose is spiritual transformation. In short, an end to the condition of human suffering. I don’t think you’ll find those same roots in the climbing world, though some amazing spiritual writings, such as those by Julius Evola (who also wrote on secret yoga) have come from climbers. If you ever saw the TV show Everest, you’ll probably agree that those climbers were on some kind of mission, maybe spiritual.

Bouldering is, to me, the most physically demanding practice I’ve ever done. I’ve been doing weight lifting all of my life and have dabbled in martial arts, running, skiing, cycling and other sports here and there. I’m a full time yogi, with over 450 hours of training and have taught over 2000 classes. While we don’t master yoga (it masters us), I feel like I’m a pretty strong power yogi. Not too many people show me up in a yoga class, unless they’re super flexible, which isn’t really a skill. But in bouldering, I am a 110% novice. It is difficult and it is humbling. As I mentioned in another blog, I wasn’t even interested in it aside from the fact that my girlfriend wanted to try it out. But in the past six months that I’ve been bouldering, I’ve started to notice some very interesting similarities between yoga and bouldering. I do both for fitness, energy and spiritual growth. Below are a few commonalities that I’ve discovered. Let me know if you have some of your own.

  • A lot of people in the bouldering gym do either yoga or climbing. Few do both.
  • Yoga asks us to balance, both inwardly and on our hands and feet. If we don’t balance on the climbing wall, we get nowhere.
  • Boulding requires intense core, upper body and leg strength. Same is true for yoga, though many non-power yoga styles don’t emphasize it. If you come to one of my classes, you’ll see that power is a central theme.
  • Yoga began as a meditation. We try to calm the subtle fluctuations of the mind. In climbing, we have to find a zone, an inner balance of calm and force. This is perhaps the most interesting similarity in my experience.
  • Yoga has ethics, such as non-harming, practicing compassion and not stealing. Bouldering has had its reputation as a rowdy, partier sport, maybe something like skiing and surfing, but in the gyms we are asked to practice consideration for others in many ways. So there are some ethical, behavioral ideas that could be seen as another link between yoga and bouldering.

I’ll have more of these to share in future blogs. If you have comments or questions or an idea for posting your own stories, videos, pictures and experiences on The Grotto’s website, feel free to send me an email at [email protected] Until then, I’ll see you on the wall, probably in one of my bouldering poses, you know, holding on for dear life but trying to look cool haha.