Text: Penny Orr Photos: Rob Greenwood
Following on from our article on the benefits of yoga for climbing, yoga teacher, climber and WCS16 workshop leader Penny Orr has developed a short sequence of postures that will help you work yoga practice into your weekly routine. These postures are also chosen with a particular focus on what is beneficial and feels satisfying for the climber's body. Enjoy!
1. Mountain pose/ Tadasana/ Samasthiti
This is the base pose for all standing postures/asanas, but it’s also useful as a pose in itself, as it improves posture, strengthens thighs and knees, and cultivates concentration.
• In a standing position bring your legs together, toes touching and heels
either slightly apart or lightly touching. Spread your toes wide and feel your
weight evenly balanced through both feet.
• Activate the thighs, pull the knee caps up and tuck the tailbone slightly
under. Pull the bellybutton in towards the spine and keep the lower ribs
• Inhale, lift from the crown of the head, creating space through the spine.
• Exhale, roll the shoulders back and down, reach down through the finger
• Pause in Tadasana breathing easily but consciously. Hold for 5-10 deep breaths.
2. Down dog/Adho Mukha Svanasana
This is a great pose with many benefits. General benefits include, relieving stress and mild depression, energising the body and improving digestion. For climbers, in particular, Down dog strengthens and opens the shoulders, lengthens the hamstrings and calves, and calms the mind.
• In order to set up for down dog come onto your hands and
knees. Make sure your hands are slightly in front of your shoulders and your
knees are directly below your hips. Spread your palms with the index fingers
pointing straight forward or very slightly turned out.
• Tuck the toes under and lift the pelvis high. Keep the knees slightly bent to
start with, lift the heels high in the air. Create space along the spine and open
the chest by pressing the belly towards the thighs.
• Keeping this extension through the spine, slowly lower the heels toward the
ground and straighten the legs, without locking the knees. If your hamstrings
or lower back are tight, keep the knees bent slightly - it’s more important to
lengthen the spine than it is to straighten the legs.
• Pressing into the base of the first finger and thumb, squeeze the upper
arms together but press the shoulders away from the ears by rolling the
outside edges of the armpits down towards the ground and creating space
between the shoulder blades. Let the back of the neck lengthen and gaze
back towards the ankles or knees.
• Hold for 5-10 deep breaths.
3. High Lunge/Crescent Variation Pose
Crescent pose is a fantastic all round posture, working stregth, flexibility, and balance. It helps to strengthen the calves, thighs, and glute muscles, which work to prevent “disco leg” while you fiddle with that damn nut placement! Extension through the hip flexor will help to make high-stepping more accessible and comfortable, while lifting through the toes on the back foot provides a nice balancing element.
• Start in down dog. Exhale step your right foot forward between your hands, making sure your knee stays directly above your ankle. The back leg stays strong and straight.
• Inhale float the chest up and sweep the arms up to the sky, keeping the palms facing each other.
• Tuck the tailbone under and pull the bellybutton in to avoid overarching the spine and to help draw the shoulder blades down the back to create space along the tops of the shoulders and to support the chest.
• Lengthen through the sides of the body, reaching up through the finger tips. If you feel no discomfort or compression through the neck, look up towards the thumbs.
• Hold for 5-10 deep breaths.
• As you exhale, release the arms and send the torso to the right thigh. With another exhale step the right foot back and return all the way to down dog. Pause here for a few breaths, then repeat this sequence with the left foot moving forward between the hands.
4. Parsvottanasana/Intense Side Stretch
This is a much more challenging pose than it appears. As well as strengthening and lengthening the outer hips and hamstrings, mastering this posture also involves good balance. Importantly, taking the hands behind the back opens the chest to counteract the typical climbers ‘gorilla’ posture. If you are particularly tight in the shoulders, pressing the palms together behind the back may not be possible. As an alternative, grab opposite wrists or elbows.
• From Tadasana, bring your hands together in reverse prayer, or simply bind the hands together behind your back. Be careful not to overarch the spine as you do this.
• Inhale, roll the shoulders back and open the chest. Exhale, step the left foot back and turn it out 45 degrees. Keep both legs strong and straight - spread the toes wide to help activate the legs.
• Square the hips by pulling the right hip back and your left hip forward.
• Inhale lift through the heart centre; exhale, fold forward by hinging at the hips, rather than through the spine. Maintain length through the spine by moving the chest forward and towards the big toe on the front foot.
• Hold for 5-10 deep breaths.
• To exit the posture, exhale the left foot forward to Uttanasana or standing forward fold. Inhale, float the chest up to Tadasana and pause here for a few breaths.
• Repeat this sequence on the other side.
5. Child's Pose/Balasana with Variation
Child's pose is a wonderful resting position that also gently stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles. A good pose to help wind down at the end of a yoga practice or climbing session. This added variation is the most wonderful stretch for the latissimus dorsi, which is one of the largest muscles in the back and also fairly hard to target while stretching.
• Kneel on the floor with the tops of the feet flat against the ground. Touch your big toes together and sit back on your heels.
• Take the knees about as wide as your hips. Then, as you exhale, melt your chest down towards the ground and stretch your arms out in front of you. Lengthen the back of your neck so that your forehead can rest on the ground.
• Spread your fingers wide and lightly press your hands into the ground, activating the shoulders and lifting the elbows off the mat. Send the breath to the back of the ribcage and lower back.
• Walk the hands all the way over to the right. Stretch the hands away from the body, lightly press into the ground and try to pull the ground back towards your pelvis.
• Pause here for 5 deep breaths.
• Walk the hands in to the centre of the mat and repeat on the opposite side.
• To release, slide the hands under the shoulders and inhale as you use your arms to press the weight of your torso upright.
6. Savasana/Corpse Pose
Though it looks like the easiest pose, Savasana (final relaxation) is often viewed as the most important and difficult posture to master. I’ve noticed that climbers in particular find it very difficult to lie still and relax for any length of time. In climbing we always have something very concrete to focus on as we move and think about the next hold or gear placement. We very rarely stop and stay completely still. Relaxing is an art and it takes time to master: the trick is to relax fully with attention. Try to relax without falling asleep instantly!
• Rest your entire body on the ground. Extend your arms and legs outwards from the centre line of the body evenly and symmetrically.
• Mentally scan the body, all the way from the tips of the toes to the crown of the head, reminding each muscle to release and relax.
• Let the eyes be soft and heavy. Allow the breath to come to its natural rhythm as you observe any internal sensations.
• Stay here with a still body and a still mind for 3-10 minutes.
• To come out of Savasana, start by taking a few deep breaths. Slowly invite some movement into the fingers and toes as you regain physical awareness of your limbs. Give yourself plenty of time to move safely out of this posture - or, alternatively, try practicing Savasana before going to sleep. Using the same alignment cues, position yourself in bed. Spend several minutes in the pose before allowing yourself to drift off to sleep. You might find that the quality of your sleep improves.
Yoga for Climbers (Yin and Yang flow) led by Penny Orr and Mina Leslie-Wujastyk will feature as one of the specialist workshops in this year's programme available to Full Ticket holders.
Penny wears Eclipse vest and Solstice Night Sky leggings from WCS sponsors 3rd Rock.
For further information on Penny's yoga classes in Sheffield, check out her website.