The first memory I have of being fully present was face-to-face with a bat while we were both hanging off of a small sandstone cliff in Michigan. I was about 10 years old.
I put my left hand on a ledge, pulled myself up and froze. My belayer asked me what happened. I told them I was looking at a bat. They asked if I wanted to come down. “No, no, no, no please let me stay.”
Climbing to Get Grounded
I don’t know that I’ve ever come that close to meditation before or since. My mind was wide open and empty. Time stopped. I was fully present in my breath and body. From what felt like hundreds of feet up (probably closer to 15), I felt strangely grounded.
Climbing was my yoga long before I knew that yoga was yoga. As I’ve moved from place to place, relationship to relationship, it has been one of my constants. I frequented a grungy little bouldering gym as an angsty college student in TN. I picked up my fair share of cute guys at Brooklyn Boulders during my time in NYC. I now teach at Seattle Bouldering Project, a gym that will always feel like home.
Climbing has always been a place of refuge–one of the only places I’ve felt permission to be fully embodied. It’s still the place I go to get grounded.
Rock Climbing is Not an Upper Body Sport
As a movement coach and former climbing teacher, one of the first myths to bust when I teach new climbers is that it is predominantly an upper body sport.
Sure, your grip, shoulders, biceps and back will get worked, but as you develop technique, you start to realize that your true power comes from other places: your feet, your problem-solving skills and your ability to breathe when things get a little spicy.
It’s a full-body, full-attention, whole person kind of sport.
Here’s the deal: Any time you’re resisting gravity you must create a downward force. To scale a wall, you’ll use some combination of limbs. If you’re just using your arms, you’re using 50% of your potential. The more skill you develop with your feet, the less your hands and arms have to do. (Which is excellent news for anyone who doesn’t have the grip strength of a gorilla.)
Rock Solid Climbing Prep
Here are some of my favorite ways to help your brain and feet become more connected. Yay, proprioception! Once you’ve mastered these moves, you’ll be ready to try some more advanced footwork and rock climbing exercises!
With each move of your climb, place your toe on the chosen foothold and wag your heel side to side. You can, over time, do this drill with more and more weight on that foot. The goal is to increase sensation while pivoting on your toe.
If you want to stop wasting energy mid-route, using your feet precisely will help a ton! Approach each foothold like you would press an elevator button. As soon as you plant your toe, press into that foot and make your next move. Try not to readjust once you’ve planted. This skill will help you become far more efficient so that you can climb longer and feel better afterward.
Here I share my favorite post-climb routine with foot and toe exercises, then self-massage on Roll Model® Method original size therapy balls to get my feet to look and act like feet again.
Whether you’re new to climbing, brushing up on your skills, or just intrigued by the idea of scaling a wall, I’d encourage you to head to your local gym or crag and try out some fancy footwork.
Nothing else even comes close to getting me fully present, breathing deeply and completely embodied. If you have any questions or want a climbing buddy (have rope, will travel!), reach out in the comments below…
It was interesting when you mentioned that true power during rock climbing comes from things like problem-solving skills and your feet. I would imagine that problem-solving skills are something that you develop the more you climb. I would imagine that some kind of coach could also help you learn the proper problem-solving skills.
ohhh rock climbing!! Thanks for this article. I will definitely being trying the interlacing fingers and toes. (I’ve tried toes with toes but my toes are too little). And awesome orientation on shoes and climbing!
I’ve been rock climbing a handful of times and those tiny shoes do sure take a toll. I love your emphasis on the lower body when it comes to rock climbing and I love the video you created to massage the feet after wearing those tight tight shoes. It’s amazing how much of my foot I felt on the floor after the simple roll out with the YTU balls and it’s amazing how often i forget to love on my feet. Thank you for these tips!
Vert good ideas In thé video for feet massage! I will try this method! Thank you!
Awesome! Many yogis these days are getting into climbing to help balance out all the pushing done in yoga with some pulling, and I’ve wanting to as well but I wasn’t sure where to start. These videos will be great to work towards the strength and proprioception necessary in the feet and toes for climbing and some nice techniques to release them after to make for some very happy feet!
I’ve recently started rock climbing because I noticed I was missing a lot of pulling actions from my yoga based movement practices. This has opened up a whole new can of movement that I am excited to explore for years to come. Im totally trying the bug squishers next time I’m on the wall at the indoor climbing gym
Thank you for sharing your post climb routine. Not a climber myself but found it super effective in helping me help my feet return to the shape of feet. 🙂 Peace.
Who would’ve thought, the feet -it makes so much sense! I’m not a climber, but i have many yogi friends who are and i cannot wait to share this with them. Thank you, and BTW you are adorable in this video-great job.
Great video demo! Even though I am not a climber, I find the exercises really useful for improving my foot mobility and proprioception. With age, my feet require more attention to maintaining flexibility and improving movement.
I really liked your videos. I love to roll my feet and practices different stretches and strengthening exercises with my feet. You just shared some new moves! I really like how you held the joints at the base of the toes and gave them a little shake – encouraging movement there. Much appreciated!
Great post. Thank you for sharing your expertise!