Climbing & yoga. Like campfires & s’mores, chips & salsa and Brain & Stewie, they just go together. I recently caught up with Olivia Hsu, a “black belt” climber and yogi. She climbs hard while embodying the essence of yoga. And I’m not just referencing her killer downward dog, but also the mindfulness and qualities that have become core to her personality. Bitten with the climbing bug 13 years ago, Olivia’s psych led her to begin climbing almost daily, which resulted in a finger injury and a forced break from climbing. While recovering, Olivia was on the look-out for a new activity to keep her moving while rehabbing the finger injury. Enter yoga. From her first Ashtanga practice, she was hooked. Once her finger injury healed, her love triangle with climbing and yoga began.
After chatting with Olivia there were five lessons that crystallized for applying the practices of yoga to climbing — whether you’ve never stepped foot on a yoga mat or practice daily.
Flexibility + Strength
Olivia explained that yoga physically enhances your climbing performance, “One of the most complimentary benefits of a yoga with climbing is the combination of flexibility and strength. One without the other is virtually useless. If you can get your foot up, but you can’t activate it, that renders you stuck.” Yoga opens flexibility in areas of the body critical to climbing (shoulders, hips, hamstrings), while building strength to leverage this flexibility into progressive moment.
Tip: Sun salutations A and B form the foundation of yoga. Practicing these poses regularly will build flexibility and strength. Proper alignment is critical, so check out your local yoga studio to learn the basics.
The physical practice of yoga, also called the asanas, are just one of the eight branches of yoga. Another branch, which is key to climbing, not-to-mention life, is pranayama (aka breath). Olivia explains that Ashtanga, which is a Vinyasa type of yoga, means linking breath to movement. “When you practice yoga regularly the breathing becomes innate. When you climb and are really exerting yourself there is a tendency to hold your breath, so yoga helps train you to breathe without having to think about it.” Inhale and exhale.
Tip: Practice ujjayi breath while climbing. Seriously.
Physically, both yoga and climbing require focus (drishti) to balance. Having awareness on center of gravity and body position are key to keeping you on the wall and in the pose.
Tip: Your center of gravity tends to be at your navel. Keeping one foot underneath this point or both feet on either side helps to keep weight and balance in your feet.
Balance for Olivia, as a dedicated yogi and professional climber, also means listening to her body. “I practice yoga 5-6 times per week and climb 4-5 times per week, but I adjust my yoga practice according to my climbing goals for that day. I won’t do the advanced series on a day I want to redpoint something.”
Tip: Check yo’self before you wreck yo’self. Resting is an important part of training.
Pursue Your Passion
Olivia was on track to becoming a lawyer which traditionally involves working summers at a firm in hopes of landing a job there after law school. Olivia found herself with a stronger desire to pull rocks than to push paper. She said, “In that moment I realized I had a different ethos.”
Fast forward 10 years, Olivia is living out her dharma: when your reality aligns with your core beliefs and passions so that you are best serving the universe (and yourself). Guess what? Living out your dharma is yoga.
Finding Your Fire
Yoga is all about self reflection through mindfulness and meditation. The point: understand what makes you tick. Olivia talked about her motivations to continuously climb in a sustainable way. She says, “It’s the combination of pushing my own limits, my community of friends and enjoying the outdoors. That’s the whole picture—the perfect package.”
Find what works for you. “The great thing about yoga (and climbing) is there is a practice for everyone.” From Ashtanga to Iyengar, from bouldering to sport, these complimentary activities have something for everyone. Interested, but not sure what type of yoga is right for you? Read up on Yoga Journal’s article.
Thanks to Olivia for nerding out with me over climbing and yoga.
If you want to experience the goodness first hand, check out this trip Olivia is offering with Dalia in Mallorca. Climbing, yoga, beach… need I say more?
Climb on & Namaste! ~Joc