Since I left my job at Saks, I've been out rock climbing 3 times, and it's been amazing. Rock climbing has been something I have been itching to get out and do for a long time. Probably ever since I first heard about all the indoor climbing gyms in the Boston area. I remember going to my 8th grade science trip and the thing I loved the most was the giant rock climbing wall that they had at the facility. Every time they had someone there to supervise us climbing up the auto-belay wall (maybe between 15-20ft high?), I was there climbing until they closed it up. When there was no one to supervise, my free time was usually spent climbing on the horizontal wall--which was maybe 6 feet high and the objective was to climb sideways along the wall. Wherever there was a rock wall available for climbing at an amusement park, that was usually where you could find me (when I wasn't riding the roller coasters).
So, when I finally had time opened up for me and people I knew who could go with me to these places (most of them are either outside the range of public transportation or not easily accessible by it) I finally took the opportunity. The first night, my friend and I spent at least 2 hours climbing, mostly on the "top rope" section (where you are hooked into a harness and your climbing buddy is holding on to the rope beneath you). My forearms and hands were aching the next day, but it felt so good to use muscles that never get used and just to do something different--something other than my yoga practice. The next time out was just straight bouldering. Bouldering = climbing at lower heights but without a rope. Which means WHEN you fall (and I did, many times) you fall onto a giant foam crash pad. Bouldering is unbelievably harder than top roping because you have no rope. When your arms get tired during top-roping, you can let go for a second while your climbing buddy holds you in place. When your arms get tired during bouldering, you fall. Or you let yourself just hang from your arms for a second or two before attempting to climb again. But you are still using your hands to grip and then more energy to pull yourself back up. I was bouldering for over 2 hours that day. The next day, I could hardly raise my arms because the lat muscles along the side of my body were so sore. I've been practicing yoga for almost 2 years. My body has not felt this sore and this tight in a long time.
But it also feels stronger than it did before. A friend of mine put it really well. He said that yoga is mostly a pushing motion while rock climbing is pulling. So when I go climbing, I'm engaging all those muscles that don't get used much in yoga. All the muscles that serve as stabilizers to the main muscles that get used during yoga. My practice is starting to feel stronger. My arms and shoulders don't feel as tired when I'm in down dog because they aren't doing all the work anymore, my lat muscles feel stronger and picking up some of the weight, like they're supposed to. My hands and forearms are also feeling stronger, which makes my arm balances feel much more stable. Another big one that feels stronger is my core. One of my climbing buddies told me before that climbing is all about your core. I knew that but I didn't feel my core engaging while climbing...but that didn't mean it wasn't working. It's like you automatically start engaging your core muscles to hold you close to the wall while you're moving. And I can feel the difference while moving in between the poses in my practice. It's really starting to feel like more of my movements are starting from my core, without me even trying to do so. The climbing feels so much more effective in "waking up" the core muscles than just doing crunches or traditional abdominal exercises. It's as though this teaches you how to use the muscles of your core to move yourself, rather than just beating them to death through crunches and the like.
Anyways, this was on my mind this morning because of the reaction I got when I told a couple of the yoga teachers that I usually work closely with that I been out climbing a few times. It kind of makes me laugh. The one that I told last night literally went from smiley and happy about whatever we were talking about before to "the face." I don't know exactly what that face is. It's a sort of serious face that is like a cross between shock and...I don't know, concern? Disapproval? It's really hard to describe what that face is. It's kind of like the face your parents give you when you're telling them that you're doing something that's not what they want you to do. Like they're trying not to show their shock and disapproval but it's clearly there, just a bit muted. I thought I might be reading too much into it last night, but when I told my other teacher this morning, I got the same result. Happy and enjoying whatever we were talking about to energy drop and "the face." Really? When I told one of them last night and I had mentioned that I was amazed that I hadn't gotten blisters yet, she said, "Not yet, but you will." Maybe. There's definitely a few spots that feel close to blistering, but I just put lotion on them, stretch my hands out and it goes away. And if I do get blisters, that's ok. The skin will heal and then it will grow back stronger.
I don't know. Maybe they think it might hurt or take away from my yoga practice. I remember a conversation that I had with one of my first yoga teachers back when I first started practicing. I told her that I used to run and missed doing it. She had told me that yoga was great for running but that running was not good for yoga, because it makes you tight. Yep. Running will definitely make your hips, hamstrings, quads and hip flexors very tight. Along with your calves, bum, and shoulders. Pretty much every muscle in your body will get tight--because you are using them. You know what else makes your hip flexors tight? Sitting for hours on end at a desk job. Running is known for making your low back cranky because of all the pounding that you do. You know what else does that? Walking...and even sitting, just from the compression of your own body weight. But that is life. When we use our bodies, they tend to get tight. Heck, even when we don't use them they get tight, just from staying in one position for so long. And that is what the yoga is for. More and more I am starting to think that yoga is designed to counteract the effects of life. Then again, yoga needs a counter too--all those chaturangas and arm balances tend to make your shoulders and upper back a smidge on the tight side, and don't even get me started on how sore and tight my hamstrings were when I first started my Ashtanga practice ;-)
Yes, yoga is considerably less demanding of the body than other forms of activity--in terms of stress on the joints, compression and general "tightness." But yoga isn't the only form of movement out there. While we were resting in between tackling the many bouldering routes, one of my climbing buddies (who is also a very avid and advanced yoga practitioner) asked me if I ever got tired of just doing yoga. I told him, "honestly? Yes." He felt the same way. Neither one of us is saying that we don't love our yoga practices. It's just that, as he put it so perfectly, our bodies crave other sorts of movement. Sometimes I swear my legs literally ache to just start breaking out in a full on sprint--to really move. My lungs also miss the strength that they had from running. I definitely don't feel like I can breathe as deeply as I did when I was running. Or hold my breath as long as I did when I was swimming. Those are both a kind of lung strength that I don't feel like you can get from yoga.
I guess my point is this: I don't think that doing other forms of exercise will "hurt" or take away from or delay the progress of my yoga practice. It's just going to change it. I can say one thing for sure, it's definitely adding a good dose of humility to my practice. I've always been Twister-star flexible, even with my very active lifestyle, but after almost 2 years of a daily yoga practice, my "flexy-bendiness" has been taken to a whole other level. I do my best to not let it go to my head, but I can't deny that there is a little part of me that feels so much satisfaction at my heels easily touching the floor in down dog. Or my head touching the ground in a wide-legged forward fold. But with rock climbing engaging and strengthening the muscles that are usually just being stretched, some of my bends aren't as deep as they used to be. So now I really get to practice "letting go of the attachment to the pose." I can't bend as far forward in certain poses because the inner leg is far too tight from use. And that's a good thing. I rarely use the inner leg for balancing and now I can feel it working. And that's ok. I'll stretch it to wherever it's comfortable limit is right now (because if I push it to where it was pre-climbing it'll probably snap) and the tightness will eventually subside.
There's a blog that I follow a lot written by a yoga teacher I've really come to admire. She has said before to not curse the less flexible parts of your body and "to be proud of your strength." When I read that, I thought it was such a great sentiment. Now I'm actually practicing it.