Its Not Just How High You Climb, but How High Climbing Makes You Feel!

Climbing many times requires mental focus, here eyeing out a climb and contemplating

Climbing many times requires mental focus, here eyeing out a climb and contemplating

I meet so many people who tell me the minute they got on their first climbing wall, they were hooked. They tell me it was exhilarating, challenging, and just plain awesome.  The first fifty or so times I went climbing, though, I despised climbing.  Climbing made me frustrated and angry.  Climbing, for me, was a chore in the beginning and a trip to the gym made me want to pull my hair out. Why, you might ask? Because my feelings about climbing were linked to my feelings about failure. If I could not get to the top, I viewed that as failing myself. I knew that this was not an accurate impression and that forcing myself to climb would eventually lead me to a healthier perspective on persevering at things I’m not naturally good at.

I meet people every day who tell me they also started climbing to overcome their fears and self-imposed limitations and did not enjoy climbing either themselves at first. Climbing was a sport they decided to take up despite their initial feelings on it because they knew it would be good for them in one way or another. They went to the gym with goals beyond moving up grades and trained instead by pushing their mental barriers or major physical limitations.

Climbing is a sport where mental attitude contributes to 50% or more of performance. Without a stable mindset or a stable muscle framework, you might miss that next hold, experience a major injury, or be the next rock climbing fatality. Rock climbing is also the perfect sport to both recognize underlying fears or physical concerns and to overcome them.

Climbing produces many emotions, here we are happy!

Climbing produces many emotions, here we are happy!

Numerous organizations have recognized this therapeutic benefit of climbing as well.

These include programs such as:

  • Chicago Adventure Therapy: They use rock climbing as one means of helping “under-served youth in Chicago have a lasting positive impact on their communities and become healthy adults by teaching effective social skills, increasing participants’ sense of possibility, and fostering a sense of empowerment and personal responsibility” (http://2011.chicagoadventuretherapy.org).
  • AACT (Autism, Asperger’s Climbing as Therapy): An indoor rock climbing program designed to help children “develop positive recreation skills, increase muscle tone and motor skills, develop trust and relationship building skills, increase self-esteem and empowerment, promote independence, health and wellness, and enjoy themselves in a safe and controlled environment” (http://www.aact-climbing.com).
  • The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt: Rock climbing is used as a “powerful tool for self discovery,” exploring “risk taking and overcoming self-imposed limitations” and “can also be used as a metaphor for many mental health issues” (http://www.retreatatsp.org/services/rock-climbing/).
  • Other Programs Around the US: Other programs providing rock climbing to the exceptionally challenged exist through Outdoor Action and Peak Potential at Princeton University, Splore’s Rock On! program in Utah, and ABC Kids’s Climbing in Boulder (http://www.examiner.com/article/rock-climbing-s-therapeutic-benefits-for-people-with-autism-and-asperger-s).
  • Expedition Therapy: They claim rock climbing also helps everyone who participates with leadership skills, group processing, technical skills, and self-awareness…just to name a few (http://expeditiontherapy.com/expeditions/expedition-6-rock-climbing/).

Beyond overcoming mental barriers, rock climbing can also help people push their physical boundaries as self-treatment for conditions such as:

Over the next few months, I will be writing more about climbing as therapy, specifically on how to recognize your underlying fears and limitations through climbing, how to overcome them, and first-hand accounts of people like you using climbing as therapy for themselves.

Please comment or email (climbingjourney@gmail.com) about how you have used climbing as therapy for yourself! You might just be featured.

Awwww Nikki, Dan and Winter, climbing has made them love the outdoors and explore without fear!

Awwww Nikki, Dan and Winter, climbing has made them love the outdoors and explore without fear!

About our Guest Author – Nikki is a dear friend of mine who has overcome many challenges in her life and climbing was the bridge that took her to the next phase.  She went from major physical challenges as a young child, deep depression as a high school teen, fear of everything, to achieving college through masters and becoming a genetic counselor. Backpacking and hiking led to climbing, which has led to sport leading and larger adventures. Now she and her husband are planning a Fourteener and working towards traditional leading.  Since her life is inspiring and she has put forth much research in this arena, I look so forward to learning and drawing from articles many of us can relate to, apply and share with others. 

Stay Tuned Next Month: How it all began and just how rock climbing helped me!

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