No climbing for one month.
It sounds like a prison sentence to most serious climbers – something only endured when an injury or other unwanted life circumstance demands that a person place climbing by the wayside for some time.
And yet, I imposed exactly this choice upon myself voluntarily and willingly this past November/December.
I have no regrets.
As with so many of what have appeared in the moment to be the most horrible incidents and experiences of my life, so has played out the aftermath of the nerve injury that rendered my left hand semi-paralyzed at the start of February 2012. I think of this as the proverbial final straw for me, the culminating wake-up slap in the face after a series of smaller slaps consisting of more minor, but still frustrating, injuries. Though the nerve healed relatively quickly – at least back to the point of me being able to use the limb with no visible or obvious impediments – the impact on my psyche, and consequently, my climbing, was far-reaching and lasting.
To make a long story short, a major result of this injury has been a deepening of my personal yoga practice. This in turn prompted me to decide to become a yoga teacher.
I had no expectations for my month-long intensive yoga teacher training (YTT) at Anamaya Body Mind & Spirit Resort in Costa Rica beyond knowing that I’d likely leave with a greater comprehension of yoga than I did when I arrived. Though I’ve practiced yoga poses regularly throughout my life (I started when I was 10), I was a self-taught practitioner, and I knew I had a lot to learn. Even knowing that I had a lot to learn, this teacher training blew me away. Our teacher, Jacqueline Chiodo, was excellent and our training was thorough, incorporating not only asana practice and alignment but also, yoga philosophy, history, breathing, chanting, chakras, anatomy and Ayurveda, among other areas.
For a month, I lived in a house in the jungle on the top of a hill with four awesome ladies while I expanded my knowledge of yoga along with about 30 other soon-to-be yoga teachers. Monkeys and geckos provided a background chorus as we practiced multiple times daily on the yoga deck overlooking the ocean. We lived and breathed yoga; we got to know each other well through laughter and tears. It was an honor and privilege to be part of such a diverse group of insightful people from all over the globe.
yoga-teacher-training-climbing-one-month-04As for the not climbing the whole time there, that part was easy…it didn’t bug me at all. I jokingly searched around for “things to climb,” but not with any serious or desperate drive. I did pull-ups some days in between yoga classes, and I enjoyed that conditioning, for sure. But I do think that climbers can benefit from having an off-season, like most athletes do; it’s a great break for the body to do something else and it can recharge the brain and the body, both, guarding against overuse injuries and burnout. So no climbing was no big deal. And I actually enjoyed the challenge of not having the “climbing crutch” to help me relate to people there; we had to talk about stuff besides climbing because nobody there was really into climbing. It was probably the first time in a couple decades that I spent an entire month without talking to anyone who would recognize the name “Chris Sharma”. Talk about putting climbing in perspective!
When I finished teaching my first solo class to my fellow yogis toward the end of the program, I burst into tears. My classmates had amazed me. As the instructor, I’d been privy to watching the whole class instead of participating as I usually did. As I walked down the deck in one direction, I instructed a challenging balance pose, and when I turned around to walk the other way, what I saw was one of those startling moments of supreme beauty where time seems to freeze and your mind just takes a snapshot: every single person in the class was balanced perfectly, in unity, no wobbling to be seen. It took my breath away, and I just barely managed to hold it together until I finished the class. My most treasured moment from the entire training – a gift of balanced beauty from 30 bodies of all ages from all around the world synched in perfect unity in that moment.
Looking back now, I’m so thankful for the nerve injury that seemed so devastating and backbreaking at the time. I needed it, I think – I needed something to get me to stop needing to climb in order to feel whole or happy, something that challenged me to find more balance in my personal existence and less grasping of external stimuli to make me feel uplifted and fulfilled. And it’s not that my physical yoga practice or even teaching yoga to others has replaced climbing as a needed activity either, not at all. I enjoy asana practice, for sure, but I don’t feel like if I didn’t practice yoga physically, I would feel miserable for the remainder of my life.
What I can confidently say now is that I could face never climbing or practicing physical yoga again – and I very well may someday, given that aging is inevitable for every one of us – and still find contentment as a human being. This definitely wasn’t true when I got the nerve injury, and I honestly think that’s what disturbed me the most about the whole situation.
This doesn’t mean that I love climbing any less or that I don’t want to climb hard or train hard anymore – not at all. In fact, the freedom that I feel in knowing that I could not climb and still be fulfilled has somehow made climbing more enjoyable to me than ever before…and not just my own climbing. This enjoyment extends into sharing my love of climbing and yoga through teaching with others as well. For that, I am truly grateful
~ Alli Rainey, prAna Ambasador, climber & yogi