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Placation Intensification Article

Breathe in. I’m in my own little world at the moment where stress is losing an overwhelmingly lopsided battle to relaxation. The lines on the wall in front of me are no longer part of the wall. Instead, they are an infinite array of horizontals, verticals and diagonals that spilt the world around me. When my eyes relax, and I stop trying to focus on every little detail and truly let go, I notice that everything really is endless. Exhale.

During this moment of relaxation, I have successfully managed to drain out all possible interferences. Even my yoga instructor’s voice becomes an inaudible murmur as my breathing presides as the only sound I’m focusing on. Conscious yet natural are my efforts to breathe in through the nostrils and exhale, using my stomach to push any extra air out from the pit of my lungs.

Do this breathing exercise several times, and it’s impossible not to feel a buzz from all the excess oxygen filling your lungs-which I can only assume is the reason it becomes so easy to relax during yoga. During a constant state of euphoria from the oxygen high, people suddenly become capable of the most articulate and unimaginable stretches, or to be more technical, asanas.

A solid hour of body writhing into positions that look anatomically impossible and this is what it all boils down to: the moment of relaxation. Comfortable Indian sitar songs meander across my brain while caressing me like a mother’s embrace. There is that feeling of being one with the environment that this class completely encompasses. Exhale.

A few years ago I found a new love: rock climbing, more specifically, bouldering. Bouldering is a form of climbing in which one climbs anywhere from ten to twenty-five feet up on a boulder without a harness or rope or any form of protection other than whoever is spotting you down below. Every route to get up a boulder is referred to as a problem and is given a rating. The rating scale goes from V0 (the easiest) to V10 (really hard), and anything above V10 is grounds for being considered a ridiculously good climber. If a problem is borderline, for example, it’s harder than V4 but easier than V5, the way to indicate this is to put a + or – sign after the problem; so it would be V4+ or V5-.

Although climbing around in the gym on man-made plastic holds, which can be placed wherever one bolts it to the wall was intense, something was so engrossing about the idea of being out in the middle of a boulder field on a mild spring day with nothing to do but climb. No phone, no TV’s, no video game systems and definitely no school. Nothing except boulders, my rock climbing shoes (which look like ballet slippers) and my chalk bag. It’s a time to actually enjoy what Mother Nature has left to be discovered by those willing to seek it.

There were about seven of us from the Rock Climbing Club that truly appreciated taking advantage of any free time we could get by ditching Tallahassee to head up to Horse-pens 40, Boat Rock, Little Rock City or even Rock Town.

The amazing thing about rock climbing is how demanding it is. Balance, agility, flexibility, endurance, strength, concentration and relaxation are all traits that need to be worked on in order to truly become the best there is. Training for me included three to four days a week at the rock gym climbing for a solid two to three hours, a variety of pull-ups everyday, thumb push-ups, sit-ups and running a couple miles once or twice a week.

This may sound obsessive, but I love it because I finally found something I enjoy that keeps me in shape. I always hated packing into the weight room and staring at myself in the mirror while sweaty men grunt with eye-bulging, vein pulsating agony as they try to bench-press more than their neighbor. Something about that always seemed unnatural. The only weights required for training in rock climbing was my own body weight.

Inhale. I remember to let the air fill my lungs from the bottom to the top. Feeling each vertebrae stretch further apart as a result from the expansion of my lungs. Each muscle tightens slightly and my heart beat accelerates-nothing major, but enough to make it noticeable. Exhale. Every muscle loosens in relaxation and my heart rate resumes normally.

I am in an asana known as Anulom Vilom, or Meditation. My legs are crossed Indian style and my palms rests lightly, like feathers, on the tops of my knees. Guided meditation leads me to and through the boulders of Horsepens 40 in Alabama. A place that is nestled high in the mountains of Steele, Alabama. Forty acres of naturally formed sandstone boulders stretching as far as the eye can see in every direction. In a climber’s eye, this is perfection.

My mind fades from reality to a place where last weekend I conquered a new goal and took another step in advancing another rung on the ladder in the climbing world.

Every hold and maneuver is being played through a bird’s eye view in my mind. I can still feel the joy pulsating through me in little amber waves of energy as I drift back into the past. Back to my own personal moment of Zen.

“Pull! Pull!” Dustin shouted from the ground as I remained suspended on the roof of a cave roughly fifteen feet above ground in the boulder fields of Horsepens 40. With all my weight on my right foot and my left foot hanging, I tried to remember to breathe and relax. This happened to be a hard task because my left hand was slowly slipping out of the three finger gaston on the roof of InspectHer Gadget (V7). I was, therefore, forced to shift all my weight onto my right hand which happened to be gripping intensely, with white knuckles, on a mild crimp (imagine the lip of a door frame. Now reduce the lip of that door frame to ¼ of an inch and place it diagonally on the lip of the roof).

“Breathe, Sal. Just relax and breathe.” I heard Ryan saying to me as he waited patiently below me with a good spot in case I should fall.

In one swift movement, I pushed up on my right foot and extended my left hand out to grab the sloper/pancake hold, literally a two and a half foot reach. “Hold it!” Bryan yells in encouragement as I slap the tips of my fingers on the slope of the hold, the not so “good” part of it where the hold first began to jut out of the boulder creating a smooth angle. If only I had hit three more inches above, on the spot where the hold goes in enough, making a small lip that I could with ease stick with my whole palm.

My right foot slipped off the wall and, like a pendulum, I swung while my left hand fingered its way a few more inches up into the positive part of the pancake, the part intended to be held. Just as my sweaty right hand finally popped off the diagonal crimp, I pull myself up to the juggy top-out. I clenched my fist and held on with all I had. I did it! I got my first V7 problem ever. As I hung there in my moment of triumphant exhilaration, I mumbled to absolutely no one at all, “I’ll never let go Jack.”

On the ground below, I heard Bryan and Ryan giving me their cheers and applauses, letting me know that I was getting better. I rolled over the top with majestic ease, and sat for a minute looking to the ground and the five inches of reinforcement that the crash-pad would have provided for safety. I exchanged mental high-fives and smiles with everyone, while I regained my breath and my composure before tackling the downclimb.

“You know what you should do, bro?” Ryan asked and between breaths I managed to nod my head signifying to him that I didn’t know what I should do. “You should come to yoga with me.” “Yoga?” I chuckled. “Yeah, man. Yoga.”

Inhale. I am awake now, back at FSU, sitting in prayer position. My legs are folded like chicken wings over each other and my hands are clasped in perfect formation. I couldn’t do this better if I was in church. I raise my hands and eyes to the teacher then, in unison with the whole class, I bow my head slightly and exchange gratifying glances with the teacher. Exhale.

The class all stands up and scatters like confetti amidst the room. Still moving slowly, I roll up my purple standard yoga mat and walk it to its bin where everyone deposits their own.

I hear footsteps following me to the bin and then Ryan’s familiar voice chimes in, “I’m surprised to see you showed up.”

“Yeah, well I figured it can only help, right?” I chuckle and respond.

Ryan single handedly was able to convince four of us to go to yoga with him. Emily, Bryan, Dustin and I all decided that it would be a worthwhile experience. My ultimate purpose for going to yoga is not to deal with stress; I have no problem with that, but rather to improve my climbing ability. I have hopes of increasing my flexibility, my breathing control, and my muscle strength.

“Trust me,” Ryan starts up again, “you’ll notice improvements within the next week or so. I mean, I’ve noticed that it helps me out a lot.”

“That was fun.” Emily adds as she walks from across the room and pulls her hair back to its original ponytail form. “We should do this every week. Tuesdays and Thursday, right?”

“Yeah.” Ryan answers.

I’m not sure exactly where this yoga thing is going to take me; whether it’s going to help me or not with rock climbing, who knows? But I can say that it’s an interesting experience and even if it doesn’t help with my climbing skills, it’s another addition to the list of things tallying my lifetime accomplishments, and that’s something I like to watch grow. Besides it brings my friends and me together, while doing something productive for an hour. Rather than sit around and watch TV, we’re actually learning something. We’re taking care of our bodies while trying to get the most out of them, and that’s a lot more than some people can say. Exhale.

Sal Zullo

Sal on Inspect Her Gadget (V7)

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