Category Archives: Philosophizing

Rethinking the Concepts of Right and Wrong for Climbing, Training, Yoga and Life

Photo courtesy of Jay Em Photography

Photo courtesy of Jay Em Photography

“Am I doing this pose wrong?”

“I did that move wrong.”

“That’s the wrong way to train.”

It happens in climbing and yoga, both, as well as in so many other human interactions – an overly harsh judgement of self and/or others as categorically wrong, often followed by a defensive, angry reaction and a shut-down to any advice, no matter how well-informed or well-intentioned the advice-giver might be. This closing off can lead to a person giving up on the activity at hand entirely and deeming themselves hopelessly “bad” at it, or conversely, on the person moving even more staunchly toward his or her initially held but perhaps less efficient/less effective means toward making significant progress in whatever area is in question. Both of these responses can lead to a less-than-desirable outcome, an outcome where a person sabotages their own deepest desire to improve at a particular activity.

I have long preferred to use the terms “more efficient” and “more effective” rather than “wrong” to describe how to perform particular climbing moves. After all, if you’ve completed the move, you’ve done it, so it can’t be completely “wrong.” It’s not so black and white. What is true is that there might be a more efficient way to do that particular move, and that increased efficiency will likely be a more effective way to climb through this move, decreasing your energy output and giving you more energy to climb the rest of the route. But what’s efficient and effective for one climber may not be the same as the next, since every body is different in terms of height, reach, composition, age, experience, strengths, and comparably not-as-strong areas, and so forth. It’s up to each person to be willing and open to explore new approaches to climbing beta, knowing all of the above plays into each outcome.

In a comparable fashion, more efficient/effective training for climbing has become my aim. What I seek in guiding my own and others’ training to improve at rock climbing is the quickest sustainable path to seeing a tangible increase in climbing ability level. Does this mean that other, possibly contradictory or conflicting training methods are absolutely wrong? In most cases, not categorically (though there are some exceptions to this, just like with yoga there are some ways to do certain asanas, or poses, in a potentially injurious fashion). But for the most part, any type of fitness training is better than no training; any type of sport-specific training is better than no sport-specific training; and any sport-specific training designed to address your own particular areas that hold you back is better than non-individualized sport-specific training. Training isn’t summarily “wrong” unless it makes you injured or worse at what you’re trying to improve at.

Similarly, I tend to believe that yoga poses and practices aren’t unconditionally “wrong” unless they cause injury – but refining poses and practices so that they  better address the areas they can help open, balance, and strengthen more is a worthy endeavor. As Donna Farhi says in “Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living,” “The only ideal practice is the one that works for you.” Pushing and forcing the body-mind to align in a way that it isn’t open, flexible or strong enough to align in yet is therefore not recommended. Staying with the body-mind where it is presently, and gently working to move step by step toward the next level of deepening the asana or practice in question makes much more sense – without ever labeling oneself harshly as “wrong” for not looking or feeling like an accomplished and experienced yogi in every pose or practice right out of the gate, or for not being able (yet) to follow along when a yoga teacher makes a suggestion for how to deepen or refine a pose or practice.

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo

So why do so many of us have a knee-jerk reaction when a teacher gently suggests a new approach to a familiar pose? For the same or a similar reason why, I think, people get offended and argumentative sometimes about the validity of certain proven and widely accepted (in general sports training arenas) athletic training techniques and methods that might not be what they expected to do, wanted to do, or have long-held the belief that they should or should not do to improve at climbing. And for the same reason people sometimes resist trying new beta for a climbing move, even when they are struggling with their own beta repeatedly. When someone calls into question something that we hold to be true, such as “I’m this advanced in this yoga pose,” or “This is what I’ve always done to train for climbing, plus this other really talented climber agrees with me,” or “My beta is right for me,” we feel threatened.

On some level we might not even be aware of, we don’t want to be “wrong,” so we fight like hell to prove that we are right, often resisting the suggestions of the other person or people, however much more well-informed they may be or however helpful their intentions might be, because we don’t want to get out of our self-made comfort zones of rightness. But what if we could just dump the damning labels of wrongness and rightness entirely, clear our heads, and start with beginner’s minds, without the verbal chit-chat that arises when someone calls into question our well-worn pathways or methods of executing a pose/practice or training plan or climbing beta (or any other area)? How much more would we stand to improve if we stopped and truly listened to others, particularly to those who have spent years studying, researching, experimenting with, and testing the area(s) in question, and particularly if we ourselves have spent relatively little to no time researching or working with the area(s) in question?

In my yoga teacher training to earn my RYT-200, my teacher did not mince words about our asana practice as a whole group. It was a great cleansing of ego and opening of beginner’s mind to reexamine and refine the poses and sequences I think we all thought we “knew” upon arrival. Repeatedly we experienced a deep refinement, step by step, of familiar poses and sequences. I learned all sorts of details that I’d never even thought of or understood before about asana practice. Did I leave my 200-hour training feeling like an accomplished yoga expert, though? Nope – I felt like I’d only just scratched the surface. Honestly, I still do.

Since then, I’ve had people sadly inform me when I make a refinement suggestion that I’ve “taken all their progress away” in a yoga pose – which is the exact opposite of what a refinement suggestion is supposed to make a person feel. A suggestion by a teacher to change one’s approach to a pose is an offering to help the student find a deeper connection and benefit from the asana, not a harsh judgement of wrongness. In terms of climbing movement, the same as above is true – a suggestion to modify or change the way a person does a climbing move is an effort to help that person climb more efficiently and effectively, not a harsh judgement of wrongness. And in terms of climbing training, the same as above is true – a suggestion to improve the efficacy and efficiency of a person’s training program is not a personal attack on that person or the climber/trainer they’ve been working with previously; it is a genuine effort to help that person improve at climbing more efficiently and effectively.

Notice that none of the above are personal; they are not about attacking a person’s inner self or finding fault or wrongness with that person’s intentions or efforts. Rather, they are (or at least, should be!) offered by teachers and guides in an effort to assist another person to get more out of their chosen activities. And, as always, a person on the receiving end of this advice has a choice to make, and that choice is his or hers to make alone. I have definitely had refinements suggested for yoga asanas or practices that I’ve decided I don’t agree with for myself as a individual, along with the many refinements that I have incorporated into my own personal practice and teachings. Ditto for climbing moves and for climbing training methods. For me, it comes down to what makes the most logical sense in any given situation, taking into account the background of the information giver, the way it feels in my body/being, the results I see in my practice or training or performance, how it works (or doesn’t work) for others, and the support I can find from other reliable sources about the suggested piece of information.

This doesn’t mean we become automatons or minions of those who have studied more than ourselves or who possess deeper experience with whatever area we’re talking about – not at all. Asking questions about why such a modification or change might be desirable is always a good plan, and most responsible teachers, guides, friends and coaches will be happy to try to provide sound answers and supportive explanations and sources for the reasons behind why they choose to approach yoga, climbing, training, or whatever else you might be exploring the way that they do. It’s up to each of us as individuals to keep our minds open to new ideas and concepts while keeping our discernment and healthy discretion alive and aware as well. In this way, we can continue to learn, grow and change in positive directions and expand our potentials as human beings in whatever areas we wish to grow without losing our core sense of inner trust in our own abilities to weed out what doesn’t work for us and to celebrate and share what does.

One Climber’s Story: Five Injury Case Studies (V)


To round out this series on climbing injuries, the next few entries will get a little more personal as I present and discuss five injuries I’ve incurred during my life as a climber. I share these in the hopes that they might help other climbers/athletes first and foremost to avoid similar injuries. I also hope to help others understand that if and when injuries do occur, they can provide great insights and lessons for us in the moment as well as for our future selves as to what we should and shouldn’t do to avoid incurring such show-stopping injuries again. Every single injury or series of injuries I’ve lived through has led to a greater understanding of my own body and being, informing and shaping my life afterward in ways that I maybe never would have expected or been open to had the injury never happened.

Case Study Five: Nerve Impingement (2012)

Injury: Nerve impingement in my left arm leading to a temporary partial paralysis of my left hand and wrist.

Causal Factors: Overtraining and too much, too soon, plus a likely connection to the previous muscle tears in 2006, which I believe probably didn’t heal properly and played into this whole scenario. I dove right into training in the winter as hard as I had been training in the previous winter instead of easing into it slowly (which is way smarter). Once again, my enthusiasm got the best of me. I was stoked to try out some new, difficult opposing muscle exercises (pushing motions opposing the common “pulling” motions of climbing), which I should have waited to try until I was more conditioned. My hand started to have some numbness and to feel weak. In response, I backed off what I was doing in training, and it started improving as a result (of course; at least I’d learned something about overtraining at this point). Then I tripped and fell on a hard surface while traveling, and I put my hands out automatically to absorb the shock. This inflamed what was already inflamed even more. My radial nerve became impinged, almost cutting off the signaling from my brain to my hand. I couldn’t type or pick up a glass of water or put a rubber band in my hair, much less clip a climbing rope into a quickdraw with my left hand, for a couple months.

Recovery: I don’t want to rehash this injury here in great detail. I did seek medical help and did get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. This involved absolutely no repetition of the motion causing the injury (i.e. no pushups and guarding obsessively against falling and catching impacts on my arm, and so forth), ample use of NSAIDs (ibuprofen multiple times a day), ice on the affected area, and an understanding that if it didn’t progressively improve or it worsened, that I would probably need surgery or risk losing full use of the limb for life. Thankfully, this injury did heal progressively and I didn’t reinjure it; gradually and ever-so-slowly, I regained the full use of my left hand and arm, and the awful feeling of paralysis, numbness and weakness subsided.

Long-Term Result: This injury was the best injury for me ever, though at the time, it was completely devastating – not just physically but also, mentally and emotionally. All of my injuries throughout life have been blessings in disguise in one way or another, whether we’re talking climbing-related physical injuries or entirely mental/emotional injuries, actually, but this could take me off on a philosophical tangent for pages and pages. The point here is that this injury forced me to take a step back and take a hard look at what I was doing to myself repeatedly in training and even beyond training (too much) and to wave it off like an MMA referee waves off a fighter from his or her already downed opponent, disallowing the opportunity for more strikes and more damage. In this case, I was fighting myself and TKO’ing myself regularly, knocking myself down not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally, completely, time and time again. This is common pattern for the zealous athlete (or any person who is overcommitted to anything), but not a very sustainable or productive approach, especially over the long term.

A frightening, sidelining injury can provide an incredible opportunity, giving you space and time that you don’t normally have to think things through while you’re away from your sport, perhaps becoming an impetus for change, for introspection and for reevaluation/examination of your approach to training, climbing or life overall…even if it only serves as a slow-it-down signal, and nothing more. It can be so desperately hard in the moment (or long, drawn-out moments) of downtime away from the activity you love to see things positively in this manner or to understand what you can take from the situation and mold into a brighter, more productive and fulfilling way of climbing, living and being. It’s not something to succeed or fail at, though; it’s a process and an opportunity for growth and learning.

This injury compelled me to reevaluate so many aspects of my being. The details don’t really matter as far as sharing all of the personal revelations and realizations that came from this. The big message from this injury for me was, “Wake up!” Stop bullying and berating and beating your being, body, mind and soul, for not performing at the levels you aspire to perform at. Find a gentler approach, a sounder path, a safer way to make this journey toward climbing harder (or whatever you dream of doing better or differently) productive and pleasant, both, for all aspects of your being, and those around you, too. Enjoy your relative state of health, strength and comfortable living situation now instead of racing for and banking on some better place that might exist some day in the future (or dwelling in the past).

It’s fine to pursue greater heights and personal goals but it’s also really important – more important – to find comfort and peace and joy with who you are, where you are and what you can do right now – and then ideally, to be able to share that sense of joie de vivre with others, without losing or compromising your own internal sense of balance, integrity and wholeness.

“What you are is what you have been, what you will be is what you do now,” according to Buddha, as quoted by Nischala Joy Devi in “The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras.”

prAna Life: Yoga Mind, Climbing Mind

Vrschikasana in pincha mayurasana, my 2nd day of practicing this asana.

It’s STILL snowing in Wyoming (nothing new & different), so I took this opportunity (after some solid days of climbing training) to start teaching myself a new asana (pose), pictured above — Vrschikasana in Pincha Mayurasana, or Scorpion Pose in Forearm Stand. It definitely still needs lots of work, but it’s a start; I have no idea if I’ll ever get those feet to touch my head, but who cares?! Read how practicing yoga and the process of learning new poses  has helped improve my climbing in ways I never imagined it would in my latest prAna life entry, Yoga Mind, Climbing Mind: Exploring the “Whys” of Learning & Mastering Movements.