Why Rock Stacking Is A Mindful Alternative To Leg Day

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Why Rock Stacking Is A Mindful Alternative To Leg Day

Words by Mr Ryan Willms | Photography by Mr Liam MacRae

30 March 2020

In 2020, we have more options for working out than ever before: from CrossFit and Barry’s to F45 and PX90. What unites all these options is their focus on intensity and results: in a Hiit session, you aim to max out your metabolism in the shortest time possible. When lifting weights, it’s all about the numbers on the side of the dumbbell, and how to push them upwards. While these exercises can be beneficial, they are creating a lot of stress in your system and it’s important to have balance in your movement practice.

Rock stacking – that is, the amiable practice of piling up rocks to form sculptural towers – offers a different opportunity. Like surfing, rock climbing or trail running, you have to find harmony and get into sync with nature, while providing a chance to see if you can actually lift something in the real world. Not only does it do the body good, it does the soul good. In fact, it’s one of the best holistic workouts I’ve encountered (if we can call it a workout), especially when done on the beach with no shoes on. It forces you, gently, to become very present with your environment, inside and out. Walking across the sand or stones while carrying 50 to 120lbs rocks doesn’t leave your mind much room to wander as you have to keep balance, shift your weight, move across uneven ground, hold your grip and ideally keep breathing.

Mr Paul Chek has pushed this practice to the limits over the years, referring to his “Stone Buddhas” as his teachers. He often works with his clients in this way to cultivate a deeper connection with them, encouraging them to listen to their soul and guide them to the next stone. Paul has often surprised himself at what he can accomplish by lifting over 200lbs rocks above his head.

Of course, with rock stacking, there is the mental aspect to consider, too. There is a meditative experience in slowly combing the sand for the right rock, carefully scanning, taking your time, breathing deeply as the waves come in and out, feeling the sand between your toes. At the gym, it can be easy to get caught up in reps and how much weight is on the bar, but when you’re out in nature, it’s much more about seeing and feeling.

To start the pile, the bigger and flatter the rock the better to create a foundation; a great metaphor for life if there ever was one. The stones are like a puzzle and their shape, texture and size will determine how big or small your pile will be. Let the stones call to you, let the shapes, balance and rocks guide you to be a part of the creation. It doesn’t need to be big, tall or even have more than a couple rocks in it.

It might look easy, but, as you tackle larger stones, the ability to find balance on the uneven shifting ground provides quite a training ground for a variety of muscles in your feet and legs that don’t often get utilised in the safe, flat gym setting. It’s time to put those dead lifting skills to work, keeping your back straight, hinge at your hips and use your legs to lift the rocks.

There is an overwhelming feeling of peacefulness with this practice, and it gets better by consciously using your breath to lift and place the rocks. Just like in the gym, breathing can make a huge difference in activating either your sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system. You want to remain calm; make it easier and efficient to lift and carry these rocks. Breathe deeply into your gut through your nose, lift with an exhale or keep your breath held until you’ve got it up – then slowly release. When you’re lifting bigger rocks especially – once you’ve inhaled – make sure to activate your core, that’s where your real power is.

As with everything in life, it’s also important not to get attached to the outcome. When you’re finished, try pushing it over safely and see how it feels to let go. Nothing in this world is permanent, especially your pile of stones – the more comfortable with this idea we can be in our lives, the more inner peace we’ll find in each moment.