Alli Rainey: Cultivating Balance as a Climber with Yin and Restorative Yoga
“For the first time ever, I’m finding some pleasure in yoga. Maybe it’s the Yin that’s clicking… maybe it’s the conditions I’ve set up: by myself in the corner of the climbing gym during a lunch break from work. The multi-minute, deep stretches of some of the poses are both soothing and connecting somehow emotionally or mentally the way yoga has not done in the past. We’ll see where this leads, but it’s been an interesting and rewarding shift in my yoga experience.” ~ Ken Turley, longtime climber and coaching client
As climbing season moves into full swing, more and more of my days are dedicated to climbing, while virtually all of my days after climbing and off from climbing are dedicated to resting for the next climbing day. Fitting an active and athletic yoga practice into a week already packed with all-day climbing efforts has been becoming more challenging, as I find myself wanting to avoid any movements or workouts that could potentially sabotage or interfere with my between-climbing recovery efforts, no matter how slightly. And so, while I love practicing (and teaching) Vinyasa yoga, as the climbing season has progressed, I’ve found myself turning to Yin yoga and restorative yoga in my personal practice with increasing frequency.
I’d honestly never really tried Yin or restorative yoga prior to my teacher training in late 2013. When some Yin sessions were incorporated into our long days of multiple yoga classes, I felt accepting, but honestly, not super-inspired by Yin at those moments in time – probably because my normal activity level wasn’t the same at the teacher training as it is when I’m home, meaning I wasn’t pushing my body to its absolute limit the way I usually do when I climb and train, so I didn’t feel the same need for a more relaxed, stiller, calmer practice as I have been feeling lately (though I probably benefited from the Yin, regardless!). However, my teacher did suggest that I’d likely want to incorporate restorative and/or Yin sessions into my personal practice when I was climbing and training more actively, and she couldn’t have made a more appropriate suggestion for someone like me.
“…[P]eople love to do things that they love to do. Sounds obvious. Said another way, when you are in balance you will tend to keep doing things that keep you in balance. However, when you are out of balance, you will tend to do things that keep you out of balance! Active people love to do active yoga. Calmer people (a nice way of saying less active people) love to do calming yoga. Don’t always practice what you love; practice what you need! Active people probably need Yin Yoga more than anyone else.” ~ from “The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga: The Philosophy and Practice of Yin Yoga,” by Bernie Clark
I love to do active yoga, as I mentioned above. Sweating my way through a challenging 90-minute Vinyasa flow makes me feel alive and in tune with my whole being, much as climbing at my limit does. But does my body really need that type of a practice numerous days of the week when I’m climbing and training at my limit? Probably not, though I wish (as I always have) that I could do that – and climb at my limit, too, of course! – all day long, every day of the week, with no rest days required. Alas, as a human being this is never to be, since bodies only recover, repair and grow stronger with rest. Too much fast-paced, high-intensity, Yang activity leads to imbalances, and often, those imbalances lead to over-training and overuse injuries – all of which I’m already on intimate terms with due to my predisposition to train/climb/Vinyasa/whatever ’til I drop.
Enter Yin yoga and restorative yoga: Yoga to the rescue! These two practices allow me to do something of value for my body and being – something that seems to have positive effects on my climbing, no less – without detracting from my body’s need to rest and recover. After a day or two of hard climbing or training, nothing makes me feel better than savoring an afternoon or evening session of Yin or restorative yoga. I often will do Yin on the first day after climbing and restorative the second, but there’s not a hard and fast rule that I follow; I just go by how I feel on any given day (actually, come to think of it, the same is true for my personal Vinyasa practice and my overall training plan and climbing as well – these are all now guided by how my body feels, no matter what I may have planned the day before or week before, and no matter what my mind wants my body to be ready to do). Yin yoga, with its deep holds of poses, seems to help unwind patterns of tension and tightness in my body made more obvious or exacerbated by a couple hard days of climbing, while restorative yoga’s deep relaxation and lack of physical effort is a perfect complement to a day that is indeed a complete and true rest day – which I believe is a must-have at least once a week in order to truly honor your body’s need for recovery and repair between difficult athletic efforts.
“Learning to relax is at the heart of living well, but opening your life to include a regular restorative practice is a challenge… Your mind will protest that you’re wasting your time when there is so much else to be done. It is at these moments when it is most important to continue… Remember, the only people who are finished with everything are dead.” ~ from “Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times,” by Judith Hanson Lasater
After experimenting with and broadening my knowledge and practice of Yin yoga and restorative yoga myself for several months this winter during my hard training season, I decided to do what I’ve often done when I feel that something I’m doing for myself might have some value for others – I started, ever so slowly, to pass it on. First and foremost, I began to give some of my coaching clients the alternative of doing short sequences of Yin yoga or restorative yoga poses in place of or in addition to their regular flexibility routines, not as a requirement or expectation at all but rather, only if they were interested in trying something new and open to it. When I received the feedback from a longtime climbing coaching client of mine quoted at the start of this article (with permission from Ken, of course), it gave me the final push to write this article to reach a broader audience, with the hopes of benefiting other climbers and physical-activity-obsessed types like myself.
Yin yoga and restorative yoga encourage us slow it down, to take some time out for ourselves in this time-crunched world to promote personal balance and relaxation, and to give such practices equal value as we give to our more active, more intense and more calorie-burning activities. They remind us that we don’t always need to be vigorously doing something with our bodies in order to improve our overall sense of health, wholeness and well-being – and that sometimes we’d be best off doing the exact opposite of that. Yin and restorative yoga practices provide us with a way to work on improving all three of those aforementioned qualities without sabotaging our bodies’ very real needs to rest and refresh, whether we’re tired from climbing, training, a difficult Vinyasa flow practice, or some other demanding physical activity entirely.
“Making the time for a yoga practice means to honor and love ourselves enough to dedicate time each day to our own well-being. Serving ourselves is a part of serving others. Only when we take care of ourselves can we have more abundant energy to give to others and to our endeavors.” ~ from “Yoga Beyond Belief: Insights to Awaken and Deepen Your Practice,” by Ganga White
~ Alli Rainey, prAna Ambassador
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