Everything Zen: How Yoga Improved My Climbing + A Quick Guide to Different Yoga Types

So I'm gonna begin this post by saying that I am definitely not a doctor. I have a degree, yes, but it's a liberal arts one that basically makes me qualified to diagnose you as a poor speller. I am also not a yogi. I do yoga, but there are days when none of the poses make sense and I resign myself to an hour of glorified flopping around on my mat. But, I am a climber. I've been at it for about 13 years now, and I can attest to the effects that a year thus far of yoga practice has given me. A prime example of climber shoulder hunch.

I injured myself during my time training for competitions in my youth, but instead of taking care of it, I chose to ignore it — like all sensible people do. And if you guessed that my injury would only get worse, then you'd be right! Your prize is the ability to travel back in time and punch 15-year-old me in the face. Congrats. Anyways, after beginning to attend yoga classes, I found that I was not only able to mitigate the pain of my shoulder injury, but also begin to reverse the issue that was causing it: the dreaded climber shoulder hunch. (For some reason I also thought it was called "Boulder Shoulder" but a Google Images search of that got weird ... so ... disregard). Through religious use of heart-opening stretches, and a constant consciousness about my previously awful posture, I corrected my shoulder hunch and have noticed a significant reduction in my shoulder pain. Boom!

And let's be honest, shoulder hunch is just the tip of the iceberg of climbing-related problems. While in Down Dog at a recent yoga class, my yoga instructor tut-tutted as she saw my hands — instead of spreading neatly out on the mat, my knuckles bent up like I was trying to palm a basketball. "You're a climber, I see. You've got climber hands." No duh. I weakly attempted to straighten my fingers out in shame, but they soon curled back up into that perma-crimp we all know and love. But that's not good. It means my tendons are too tight, and therefore more prone to injury. By regularly doing hand-strengthening poses like Down Dog, you can stretch the tendons and pulleys in your hands to the point where your fingers might look ... dare I say ... normal? Gaining more flexible tendons doesn't weaken them — it just gives you the ability to have Gumby fingers to crush all holds out of existence.

Hip and hamstring inflexibility are also issues known for plaguing climbers. We spend so much time working our arms, shoulders and fingers that we forget leg day, every day. Our poor little legs turn into inflexible sticks, to swing around on overhangs and cram into the latest super-shoe. Just a little bit of hip and calf stretching during yoga, and you cold be high-stepping and heel-hooking for days.

Climbers can be a loud, rather aggro bunch, but there's a lot we can learn from our soft-spoken yogi friends. My climbing, as well as my climbing-related injuries, have only improved after starting yoga. If I go more than four days without yoga now, the panic starts to set in — Am I going to feel stiff? Am I going to get injured? Am I going to die?! Yoga can serve as the perfect counter-balance to the punishment we put our bodies through while climbing, and it can keep a lot of avoidable injuries from happening in the first place.

For any climber maybe thinking of picking up yoga, I put together a little guide of the different types of yoga you might see at our gyms, and when and why you'd want to try them. Yoga for dummies, if you will, but you guys aren't dummies. I know better that that.

Vinyasa

Vinyasa yoga is, in essence, yoga poses synched with breathing. There is a pretty heavy flow aspect to Vinyasa, with each pose flowing into the next one, in harmony with your breath. Vinyasa, in Sanskrit, translates to "connection," signifying the direct relation between your breathing and movement. It is a very flexible form of yoga, meaning the poses and flows can be varied greatly to accomplish a variety of different goals, such as flexibility, power, etc.

When to try Vinyasa: Vinyasa is a great intro into yoga. Because of its flexibility, it's very simple to modify any poses in a flow you find too difficult into something a little easier. It's great for beginners,  to get your blood flowing in the morning, or before a workout.

Along with a regular Vinyasa Flow class, at Summit we also offer power flow, slow flow, and inversion flow Vinyasa classes.

Power flow might be pretty self-explanatory. A key component of Power flow is cardio. It'll get your heart rate up and you'll probably break a sweat. These classes usually have a pretty heavy emphasis on standing poses to increase your circulation.

When to try Power Flow: Not for the faint of heart, Power flow yoga can be a pretty intense workout. Maybe if after a long weekend you've got some toxins you feel you need to sweat out, then Power Flow is the class for you. A Power Flow class before your workout might sap all of your strength, so would be best after climbing, or as a standalone workout. Other benefits of Power flow are increased stamina and strengthening of the bajillions of stabilizer muscles usually neglected in most workouts.

Slow flow Vinyasa is less intense than Power flow, but don't expect it to be easy. Slow flow places emphasis on holding poses for extended periods. Correct form is important in Slow flow, so you're not spending 45 seconds in a possibly injurious position. Also, make sure you are conscious of any preexisting injuries with Slow flow (although this really applies to all of yoga ... and all of life for that matter. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.)

PREACH

When to try Slow flow: Slow flow is great anytime, and for really anyone. The slow movements calm your ADD mind, and holding poses will build muscle. It might be the slowest way to jacked ever, but totally worth it.

Believe it or not, yoga can actually be fun, and Inversion flow is perfect proof of that. Inversion involves a lot of being upside-down, in various head-stands, hand-stands, forearm-stands, whatever-stands. These classes can be a fun time to experiment with things you wouldn't normally try. And they're a safe place to flop around on the mat, and generally be a goof. (I know this. I am normally that goof.)

When to try Inversion flow: Are you bored? Try standing on your head. Now you're not bored. Inversion classes are fun, while improving your balance and increasing your core strength. I would recommend Inversion classes to anyone at anytime, as long as you don't have any serious shoulder issues ... and don't mind being upside-down.

Ashtanga

Ashtanga classes are similar to Vinyasa but they are a little more structured. It centers around five different Ashtanga asana (pose) series, which are usually followed sequentially. It's fast and repetitive, and a pretty intense overall workout. "Ashtanga" means "eight-limbed" in Sanskrit, which is in reference to the eight different aspects of yoga focused on in Ashtanga, such as concentration, posture, and breath control, to name just three.

When to try Ashtanga: Normally not recommended for beginners, Ashtanga is great for anyone wanting to up their yoga game, or try a form of yoga that is more traditional. It is meant to be practiced every day, and when practiced regularly it'll get you really strong, really fast. Do work son!

Yin

If your aim is to feel like a rubberband through yoga, then Yin is your class. A very slow-paced class, you won't necessarily be breathing hard and breaking a sweat. But you will be able to put your legs behind your head ... eventually. Yin classes are usually composed of just a few poses, but they are held for very extended periods, like five minutes, to allow you to sink into your fullest expression of the pose. Yin is usually about flexibility and not about strength.

When to try Yin: Umm, can I say all the time? Yin is great after a climb, to really stretch out your already warmed up muscles. Yin is aimed at loosening your connective tissues, and stilling the hamster wheel going crazy in your brain.

This is not a comprehensive list of every type of yoga — just the types of classes currently offered at Summit. I hope this guide helps you pick which class to try next!