How LifeForce Qigong helped me be a better climber
How LifeForce Qigong helped me be a better climber
As I have found with a number of other activities and aspects of my life. There is no doubt that since I returned to climbing in August 2015, my LifeForce Qigong practice has had a significant impact on climbing ability. This applies to my levels of strength, endurance and technical skills.
As some of you will be aware from past posts such as Don't Look Down - Can you see the Integral in Urban Free Climbing? Pt1, I have a climbing background. Throughout college I climbed extensively, worked for a while as an outdoor instructor on high ropes and outdoor climbing. Then life changed and it slipped into the past, experiencing only a brief resurgence around 8yrs ago.
As it does, life changed again last year and I have been enjoying a strong return to climbing, doing most of my training at The Boardroom in Chester, with plans to be back out on Welsh rock this summer.
What has really amazed me is how strong I've felt as I have been building back up the grades. I've had greater sense of peace (as opposed to panic) when attempting harder climbs. My levels of mindfulness have been better than I have ever experienced during such activity. My balance, alignment and body coordination have been at times surprising as I attempt harder grades (7a to date on top rope, 6a+ on leading). And I have just felt the flow of movement be something that is so smooth that at times I almost don't feel like I have done the 4hrs+ of climbing that I seem to be achieving. Staff at The Boardroom have commented that we seem to be climbing longer than many people who go and there tends to be very little time out between climbs.
What do I credit this fantastic flowing return to climbing to? LifeForce Qigong, plain and simple.
So what is it I hear you ask?
Layman's terms, it's a bit like an easy type of Tai Chi, without the extended complex routines to learn. So it fits into the category of Chi Kung or Qigong, which like yoga or pilates, is focussed on helping the structures of the body to be conditioned for greater health and longevity.
Through its engagement of mindfulness as a core element, it also helps us to be functioning more from our parasympathetic nervous system, rather than the sympathetic, which is indicative of lower levels of stress hormones and inflammation and faster recovery of the soft tissues as well as strengthening the immune system and supporting improved digestion.
We all know how increased stress hormones can over time lead to greater levels of ill health including chronic fatigue, chronic inflammation and poor physical functioning. But how many of you have a counter practice to ensure that, not only do those levels effectively come down between climbing training sessions, but that they don't even get as high in the first place, making our recovery faster and easier and less likely to lead onto a chronic condition in the first place.
This is achieved through the mindfulness aspects of Qigong and it's use of the mind in a meditative format to calm the body and allow greater focus with less stress. This is of such benefit to climbers as it allows you to remain calmer on a climb, be more efficient with your oxygen use, meaning less lactic acid and 'pump'. It also means you will end up with more energy because you will have enough self-control and greater self-awareness. This increases your ability to adjust, soften, relax and release the muscles you don't need to use, that you won't be unnecessarily burning calories on contracting muscles that aren't actually helping you up the wall. This will also help you move more freely and fluidly in any space, being lighter and more dynamic - the real essence of LifeForce Qigong.
But this is not just meditation, we are not just sitting around doing nothing. It is engaging every major system in the body at the same time and allowing all of those to improve their function, whilst being in a state of meditation.
So if we already get a degree of these benefits from yoga and pilates, why would we need something else? For the same reason we have leading, top roping and bouldering. They are all climbing, but have different aspects which some prefer over others. So in a way it's a horses for courses type choice. But it is also much more than that.
Qigong really emphasises the softness, the relaxation and release. The term Song (pronounced sung) is just that. relax and release. Through Tai Chi (which is a form of Qigong) this allows the flowing softness that creates speed and power. Tension in the tissues only slows us down and as I've said, burns unnecessary calories, tiring us more rapidly.
So how does this condition the body? If we take a practice like Qigong practice like Yijing Jing (which translates as Muscle/Tendon Change Classic), we know that it aims at strengthening the muscles and tendons, so promoting strength and flexibility, speed and stamina, balance and coordination of the body and has been used successfully to do that for martial artists since the 6th century. Any of that not useful to climbers?
The conditioning practice of chi kung allows for several key aspects.
Firstly alignment of structures in the body. The better the muscles, tendons, connective tissue (fascia) are in optimum alignment, the better they function, just like any machine that has inter connecting parts. Misalignment means poor, limited or reduced function.
Secondly it promotes better circulation, therefore oxygenation and repair of body tissues. With it's adage 'The mind leads the chi, which leads the blood', we are directly engaging biofeedback on the body, a highly useful technique for developing increased self-control and self-management, as well as being hugely beneficial for physical health.
Thirdly, it develops better power in the body. The deeper alignment of the structures of the body means that when power is required or engaged, the alignment is much more efficient and maximum power is achieved more easily. This can be seen in such chi kung practices as Fa Jing, the explosive power in martial arts.
There is no doubt in my experience that chi kung as a practice improves my climbing. You do have to practice regularly over an extended period of time to reap the benefits. This is an adjunct practice, essential to improve things, but not sufficient in itself to make you a great climber. You still have to practice the climbing. Like good nutrition, having a healthy meal here and there doesn't make up for a bad diet (which interestingly will also make your muscles ache more and promote inflammation).
But there is no question that it gives me a greater sense of peace and calmness while I climb, gives me greater control over my breathing and therefore over my energy, my anxiety and my confidence. And from that perspective it is more than worth the time and effort I put into adding it to my training regime. Which interestingly enough can be as little as 10-15 minutes done at any time of day, practiced almost anywhere. Again, is there any climber out there who thinks that wouldn't be a good thing to have?
You can find some really interesting Daoist meditation exercises to try for your self on the Relax Like a Boss Website https://relaxlikeaboss.com/taoist-meditation/
And a little more on the benefits of mindfulness here https://outwittrade.com/mindfulness-benefits
Cover photo credit: http://www.hdwallpaperscool.com/rock-climbing-hd-wallpaper/