Women in the Wild
One of the Most Accomplished Rock Climbers in the World, Olivia Hsu.
How Ashtanga Mysore Yoga brings a Sense of Balance and Flexibility to her Climbing
Olivia: Instagram: @olicow
Interview: Chris Lucas: @cwlucas
Q: Which came first, climbing or yoga? How did you first discover them?
A: Climbing came first. A girlfriend of mine and I went to a beginners rock climbing day and I remember climbing a 5.10 (the most technically difficult grade) my first day I had an empowering moment where I realized even though I could barely do one pull-up, I could use my flexibility and problem-solving skills to figure out moves that suited my body. I was instantly hooked. I discovered yoga through climbing. I eventually ended up with a finger injury that forced me to take some time off. I found a yoga class which happened to be a Ashtanga Mysore class, and instantly fell in love and practiced every day.
Q: How does yoga impact your climbing, not just in terms of longevity, but also in terms of the actual climbing?
A: Yoga brings a sense of balance to my climbing. On a physical level it helps my strength, my flexibility, my breathing/regulating on routes, and of course my durability and longevity. Compared to other sports, yoga is very complimentary to climbing. I can take a month off from climbing and get back to where I was without much effort. Yoga is like climbing in that it requires complex movement patterns. It taught me to use my breath as a tool to create ease under stress, whether it’s a hard route or difficult posture. Mentally, yoga helps me be more present with my climbing and recognizing the day to day differences in my body. People joke when I climb it’s like I'm doing yoga. I've been doing the two side by side for almost 17 years, maybe they have morphed into one!
Q: How did you decide to teach mysore and what about the practice speaks to you?
A: I taught Mysore from the very start. I started by apprenticing my teacher in Australia for a couple years. These days most people do teacher trainings, and I'm truly grateful for my apprenticeship because those opportunities are few and far between. Now I travel to relieve other mysore teachers who have their own studios so they can be students themselves. I love the Mysore practice because it’s where the heart of the Ashtanga practice lies.
Q: What makes a great yoga teacher? What makes a great climbing teacher?
A: Compassion in both. When I can put myself in someone else's shoes, and experience what other people are going though - this is the essence of teaching. A great yoga or climbing teacher is a person who can inspire and support their students.
Q: Who are your teachers in each of these disciplines and what have you learned from them?
A: I studied yoga under Mary Taylor and Richard Freeman for the last 10 years and learned a tremendous amount from them. Mary and Richard have be wonderful teachers not only in asana but in life, teaching me at the root of yoga lies compassion. More recently, I studied with Tim Miller who has a love for teaching that is infectious. I see yoga as a mirror for our lives and we are constantly evolving as human beings. Justin Siong and Dave Wahl are some of the best climbing trainers around and they have taught me how to train, how to dig deep, and where my limits truly are.
I feel like I am forever learning and this all is a never-ending process similar to a daily mysore practice: I get up, roll out my mat and even though it’s the same practice, it's always different and I learn something new even in postures I have done a thousand times!