I had a super stressful week. Between handling work and personal pressures, looming deadlines and putting out daily small fires, a migraine was brewing as I was leaving work at 6:00 on Friday. We had promised to join one of the teams in our 90 Day Reboot challenge in an indoor climbing gym.
This family is so inspiring – they have been trying a new fun activity every week – from rollerblading to dancing, to ice skating.
So here we are at the reception, I am receiving a pair of climbing shoes and a harness, and I am squeezing my toe sox clad feet in them. I am not even dressed properly, as I am coming straight from work – but who cares, I am here.
Our instructor shows us the two main areas – the free bouldering area where he promises “you will fall, just let yourself fall and don’t worry about it”, and another area with taller walls, where we get to climb supported by a partner and a rope. The area has a bunch of little kids hanging and having fun, plus our friends had been already up and down several times, so I went first.
It wasn’t physically that hard. I saw difficulty in the mental idea of going high, when I knew I was afraid of heights, and the thought that I was doing something relatively hard with no skill or experience. But that was also the part that made it easy – I just had to let my hands pull me up, my feet to find grounding and my torso to link the two, trusting that my body was designed to do that, and billions of people on earth before me had left enough reflex and memory in my DNA for me not to end up killing myself, or publicly humiliating myself in a vertical style panic attack.
I do quite a bit of hanging off bars and trees, but mostly do it being aware of the health benefits. I teach natural movement daily and I am well aware both intellectually and physically of the missing loads of hanging. We spend days without ever loading the upper body, as it’s no longer a requirement for survival. I’ve built little hanging breaks throughout my day – whether I will drop of a door jamb or jump on the bar at my studio.Hanging is such a powerful stimulant of upper body strength, allows the ribcage to connect naturally to the pelvis, helps you explore the connection between upper and lower body and in a natural and reflexive way lets the torso work in appropriate ways.
Climbing on the other hand, is taking it to the next level, where you get to use your strength to pull, push, transfer, at different angles, in way more variations than hanging allows. The loads are smaller and less repetitive – so check for health. While climbing and calculating your next move or fall, your mind is solely focused on the task at hand – there are no to-do lists, no deadlines, no regrets and rumination, it’s just your body, making the best move, while your mind gets out of the way.
We spent close to two hours in the indoor climbing gym, and I left headache free. The stresses and pressures of the week had worn off, and I was now feeling tall, relaxed and honestly, mostly just hungry and tired. Once home, after a delicious curry dinner, I crashed on the floor to watch an episode of “Friends” and promptly fell asleep exhausted and flushed free from the worries of my week.
Once lost in play, we can really process our fears, anxieties and worries in the background, without rationalizing or explaining, delving and digging deep into their roots. Play, like climbing, has probably always been one of the ways to process and integrate life experiences, and it just happened naturally, because it was a necessity for life. You climbed to get somewhere or to gather something you needed, just like you walked to see a friend, find food or shelter. This was all practically time off, when your brain had plenty of time to work through the troubles of the day.
I’ll definitely be going back to the wall. I can’t think of a better way to wash the week’s stressors and worries away, to invite play and relaxation and to move, as is our nature given right. I will also be going back with friends, and our kids, as play, after all, is better together.
More about the benefits of hanging from my mentor and friend Katy Bowman. Read here!