Learning how to do something new is brilliant for your mind – it facilitates neuroplasticity which is highly beneficial and keeps neurons firing on pioneering pathways. Learning how to use your body in a new way is even better for the same reason but just on a more visceral and integrative level. To learn something that achieves both then provides a double dose of goodness. You probably think I’m just talking about Tai Chi as usual but this time I’m actually referring to rock-climbing (and Tai Chi).
After having been encouraged to watch the highly entertaining American Ninja Warrior (not to be confused with the extremely lame UK version) on YouTube by my partner I found myself pretty impressed by the feats of the contestants, especially their death defying climbing/movement skills. I began wondering to myself whether or not I could be capable of the same. So as a result of this question niggling away in my brain for some time, and to cut a long story short, we recently enrolled on an indoor rock climbing course at Chichester College where they have a nice 8m high climbing wall.
As well as really looking forward to learning how to climb I was also a little apprehensive; from a young age I have been quite scared of heights though I thought that climbing might be a good way to finally deal with this old demon. The first class soon came around and we met with Joe, our instructor, who took us through all the basic requirements and necessary safety procedures such as how to wear our harnesses and tie-in correctly. Joe’s teaching style was right up my street, him being very relaxed with a great sense of humour. He also had some amusing rhymes to remember how to tie all the appropriate climbing knots, I seem to remember something about strangling a burglar and then poking him in the eye! In terms of climbing technique, much of what he described was very similar to Tai Chi principles such as being aware of your centre of gravity, staying balanced and relaxed, using minimal effort, going with the flow and focusing on moving naturally within your comfortable range of movement. After hearing all this familiar theory I was soon feeling quite at ease and confident that climbing, in fact, would be a doddle. Thus I was happy to sacrifice myself as usual and put myself forward to climb first.
As I steadily made my way up the wall I noticed that I had to completely pay attention to what I was doing and remain in the present moment in order not to fall off. This was quite a strong motivating factor! My Tai Chi training certainly helped with this and my strong legs were very useful for pushing me up so as not rely on upper body strength alone. About three quarters of the way to the top I mistakenly thought it would be a good idea to risk a little look down. A wave of fear washed over me as I tentatively peered at everyone far below and I started to think about what would happen if I were to fall. It suddenly flashed through my mind that I might be frozen to the spot. However, instead of shouting down for someone to call the Fire Brigade to rescue me I took a couple of deep breaths, refocused myself and carefully finished my climb to the top. At this point Joe yelled up to me to simply let go of the last hold and my partner would belay me down. Again, this suddenly seemed very risky and I felt the fear return, but as the old saying goes ‘in for a penny in for a pound’ and I just had to relax and let go. Of course I survived, and being belayed down to the ground was actually great fun. Back on terra firma I was over the moon and couldn’t wait to try it again.
Since then I have been climbing quite regularly, it’s a very enjoyable supplement to all my other training. I highly recommend it because by climbing lots of different routes it means that you have to try challenging new ways of using your body. Furthermore, you can’t just move blindly or simply rely on brute strength, you really have to pay attention and be body intelligent. Check it out!
Sam Moor teaches Chen style Tai Chi full time across Sussex: