When I share with people that I like to climb rocks in my spare time I regularly encounter faces of dismay and questions… Why? Reflecting back on what I have learnt about wellbeing over the years, I note that my recreational pursuit ticks many of the foundations I explore in my corporate wellbeing programs. Here is why I find climbing so rewarding, physically, mentally and emotionally.
The most obvious is the physical nature of the activity. Climbing encapsulates most of the fundamental components of fitness: strength, power, endurance, balance and flexibility. We know that if exercise was a pill, all doctors would be prescribing it. Far reaching are the health benefits of regular activity to mind and body.
When I climb I do so with others. My wife is very thankful that I am not a free soloist, someone who climbs without a rope or partner! For me, a climbing weekend is a great way to catch up with friends and be social in an active way. Humans are social creatures and there is an abundance of research into the benefits of remaining connected and the health risks associated with social isolation.
Climbing outdoors is also a way that I get a regular green fix. Connecting with nature is good for the soul and there is an increasing amount of study going into the health benefits associated with regular “nature bathing.”
When I climb there is no time to be caught up with rumination or extraneous thoughts. I am acutely aware of my environment and being engaged in the present moment. On a good day this is experienced as being in the “zone” or experiencing a state of “flow”. That is: “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time.”
Stress and building resilience
The fear of falling is one of the earliest anxiety patterns developed by an infant. For most of us the fear of height and the potential for falling and injury are hard wired. Climbing is an exquisite dance in regulating the fight & flight response. With exposure one becomes better at managing the stress response to big wall climbing.
Through climbing I have learnt how to remain focused in the present moment while still visualizing future moves that move me closer to my climbing goal. It’s not that one does not experience fear at times, but having faith in the process and taking action in the face of fear. Key to this is managing risk, assessing fall consequence and committing when necessary. Learning breathing techniques to better regulate ones nervous response to stress is critical in performance in climbing and any stressful situation.
From my studies in neuroscience climbing helps to create new connections, assisting the prefrontal cortex in taking charge over the amygdala and limbic system. Rewiring mind and body to be more resilient when faced with stress or a challenging situation.
Climbing involves living some of my core values of: courage, acceptance, personal growth, self-care and enjoying nature. Living my values gives me purpose and a sense that I am creating a life that is meaningful. This also gives a sense of wellbeing. The feeling is vital!
Now, I’m not suggesting that we all take to rock climbing for better wellbeing, however understanding some of the foundations that underpin your wellbeing and implementing them is key. Here is my top 6:
What are your foundations for being well? I would love to hear from you.
Jason's winter Vital lifestyle
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