Mental Wellness, Physical Wellness

Finding my Metaphorical and Physical Rock

From Guest Contributor: Manisha Rajaghatta

Back in middle school, I found myself enrolling in a rock-climbing program through my town’s recreation center. I had never had much exposure to it except in summer camps when I was little, but this slight familiarity was comforting as I explored different after-school activities.

It started with top rope climbing. For those unfamiliar with the sport, there are three major types of climbing when indoor: top rope, bouldering, and lead. Top rope is the one most people are familiar with, where the climber is in a harness and is attached to a rope as they climb up routes on tall walls. The slack is picked up by a “belayer” who also ensures safety and helps them down securely. This is the type of climbing our after-school program focused on and where my love of climbing really started.

As I got older and started climbing with robotics teammates in high school, I was introduced to the world of bouldering.

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This is when you free climb with mats to catch your fall at the bottom of the wall. These routes, like their top rope counterparts, involve a variety of hold types: volumes (like the one my feet are on in the picture above) that project off the wall for added complexity, and “top outs” where you can climb up and over the top of the wall.

While there is also lead climbing where you feed the rope as you climb, my experience has limited me to top rope and boulder climbs. The interesting components of this sport are the two different workouts you can get depending on the type: bouldering is like a sprint, focusing on testing your strength, while top rope climbs are like a marathon, testing your muscular endurance and ability to climb for a long time. This enables the tuning of a workout to target different physical wellness – combining climbing, with cardio and weight training, allows for a comprehensive workout as rock climbing is truly a whole-body workout as legs, arms, back and abs are all used when approaching a route.

This physical component has made rock climbing a passion that’s grown over the years in addition to sports and other activities I’ve done. My athleticism is worked on overall throughout the week depending on my workouts and in turn, so is my brain. Rock climbing is very much a mental sport as well as physical since your biggest enemy can be your motivation and willpower. By training my brain to keep going through a climb or moving on a route, I have been able to work on my focus and internal drive in all aspects of my life. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’ll never get through the route, and further, you won’t be able to climb at higher levels and try moves that are super fun. Especially on the top rope climbs, the combined test of motivation and endurance really pushes me to be able to achieve my best, both in the sport and in life. It’s a stress reliever in so many ways whenever I get to the rock wall and I find it as a great escape when I need to step back from anything and revisit it with fresh mind and body.

This is actually a part of the sport that has always resonated with me, no matter what is going on in my life. Regardless of the challenges, physical and mental, that life throws at me, rock climbing is always there for me to blow off steam and push myself to achieve more and do better. I’ve left rock climbing temporarily a few times in my life because of time/life choices or injuries.

The first time was from middle school to high school as the transition had me pursuing other activities and in a way, forgetting about rock climbing during my weekly schedule. The second time was freshman year of college, again because of time commitments. The third time was actually for a super short time this past year as a result of a rock climbing injury. Each time, I found myself rediscovering the sport and finding how it fit into my life in a new way each time. The first time was a social activity to do with friends, the second time was a way to blow off stress while getting back into working out, and the third time was a way to maintain my love for the sport as a hobby but also as a competitive sport.

The key takeaway from this has been that no matter what has been going on in my life, rock climbing has been my metaphorical and physical rock to keep me grounded. Each time I’ve drifted from it, I’ve found my way back because it’s something that makes me feel physically and mentally complete. Without it regularly in my life, I find myself itching to get back to the rock wall and trying a new climb. It’s a way to keep me mentally and physically well and if I hadn’t found something like this, that I could rely on no matter what my life throws at me, I’d be very unbalanced.

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