Why I Yoga

Why I Yoga sounds like Ayahuasca’s cousin, and Why I Yoga is, I suspect, why some seek Ayahuasca… to find Something. I practice Yoga to prepare my mind and body for the trials of life, and to nourish my spirit.

Framing this discussion up in terms of Patanjali’s Eight-fold Path, I am currently working through the Yama & Niyama, the guidelines for living, Asana, the forms, Pranayama, the breath work, and Pratyahara, the withdrawal from external forces. It seems that in doing so I am getting glimpses of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi, the farthest out aspects of the practice. I’ll keep you posted on that development, but in the meantime, I would like to share just a bit about why Yoga is so important to me, and why I believe every climber should begin building a practice.

Simply speaking the Yamas are self-imposed behavioral restraints on that seek to improve our relationships. Just to sample one of the Yamas, let’s talk about Satya - truthfulness. Being honest with yourself and others about your climbing ability, experience and skill set will keep you and your climbing party safe, and establish a baseline for a lifetime of learning. Being honest is a must for being a good climbing partner.

On a similar note the Niyamas are observances that seek to improve our sense of Self. Just to tackle one of the Niyamas, let’s look at Tapas - self-discipline. Sticking to a training program is Tapas. Eating strategically is Tapas. Choosing to watch a climbing documentary that will expand your knowledge rather than watching whatever just to waste some time is Tapas. Practice Tapas at all times, but be gentle on your Self.

Asana is what most of us think of when we think of yoga. Asanas are the forms, the poses. The Asanas have great names like Salamba Bhujangasana - the form of the Sphinx, and the forms can be linked into flows that range from incredibly easily to almost impossible. All of the Asanas are beneficial physical training for climbing, perhaps the most beneficial physical training for climbing, because they involve holding body positions and moving gracefully from one form to the next… just like climbing.

Pranayama is about controlling the breath, or Prana - life force, energy, essence. If you’re not quite ready to roll out a yoga mat and figure out the forms, you can still practice Pranayama. Just breathe slowly. It’s good for you. The more you practice breathing slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth, the more naturally it will come to you. Practice breathing slowly and smoothly as you climb. Synchronize your inhales and exhales with your movement.

Pratyahara is the frontier of my yoga journey at the moment. I’m still exploring what it means. Control of the senses and withdrawal from external forces are phrases that are often associated with Pratyahara. It seems easy enough to apply this to climbing, but I imagine it goes much deeper than what I’m about to say… Practice Pratyahara by being conscious of your thoughts about the images you see on Instagram, by maintaining a positive headspace regardless of the music being blasted at the crag and by climbing confidently and with full focus while strangers are watching you or your buddies are spraying you with beta.

It is my hope that if we continue to practice, that the concepts of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi will all fall into place for us. I have experienced just enough to feel confident in that hope, and depending upon the kind of traction that this post receives, I may be willing to explore them with you all in the not so distant future.

Namaste, eh?

Ryan Cavender