Trail Yoga

After 30 years of anticipation and planning, these last few weeks are moving incredibly fast… like a snail. There always feels like there is still so much to do, and I have plenty of time to do it, but then I’m another week closer and I’ve lost that whole week of getting things done. Of course, this is nothing new. I will feel completely unprepared until I step foot on the trail, and after about fifteen minutes will know without a doubt I’ve got everything I need and all I need to do is place one foot in front of the other for one more breath. I’ve been doing this a while, I know the drill.

But as the years pass, I’ve noticed the effects of strenuous physical activity more and more. In my 20s I could hike all day and just get up and do it again the next day. In my 30s, I began to notice I would begin to stiffen up a bit if I didn’t do a little stretching after I hiked. By my 40s I was needing a few minutes of warm-up and stretching before and after. Now, as I move into my early 50s, I’m finding the need to warm up and limber up becomes mandatory.

In my mid 3os while running the Philadelphia marathon, I sustained a pretty rough injury. Around mile 21 my IT band seized and I could barely straighten my leg. I stupidly completed the marathon, run-walking the final 5 miles. After that, I found even six months later I couldn’t run more than a 3k without feeling pain. So I turned to yoga as my primary exercise and over the next couple years made it a daily practice, which has ultimately healed my injury and allowed me to return to long runs and extensive hiking. A few years ago I went through some formal training and have even begun to teach some community classes in Newark, NJ.

Most days now I wake up feeling pretty stiff. My body doesn’t feel as naturally limber and easy to move about as it once did. But I find if I just give myself twenty minutes of yoga to warm up and start my day with, my entire day feels physically better. If I finish my day with another twenty minutes, I sleep better and wake up the next morning feeling more energized, which leaves me more likely to do morning yoga. So this is something I really want to maintain as I hike.

I foresee a few challenges with maintaining a regular yoga practice on the trail. The first is that mornings will be hard at the beginning. I anticipate cold mornings, rainy mornings, and full lean-tos, which aren’t really conducive to a morning yoga and meditation practice. Even if it’s just cold I can do some warm up, but rain makes it pretty miserable. I am packing the zpacks duplex so it’s possible to do a touch of warm up yoga before getting out of the tent, but if this is the case I’m probably going to have to rely a bit more on my lunch break and evening stop.

I’ve found lunch is a great time for some stretching. I’ve already warmed up my muscles from a bit of walking and I’m ready for the break. Also, I tend to do my hot meal at lunchtime. My habit is to break camp pretty quick in the morning with a light snack, hike a few hours until I find a good water source, and then eat my hot meal. So that break while I wait for my food to rehydrate is a great opportunity for a brief practice before I eat and get back on the trail.

Having the discipline to yoga in the evenings may be hard as I’m a very social creature. There is something about rolling into camp and chatting with folks and getting engaged in conversation and the like and not taking the time to break and turn inward. On the other hand, as an instructor, this could also become an opportunity to expand some other peoples practices and for more of us to stay limber and avoid injury.

The final challenge is how much of my day am I going to dedicate to non-hiking fitness activities on the trail. I’ve known enough through hikers to know you tend to get in the rhythm of hiking all day, and everything else is eating and sleeping. That said, I think an hour a day of practicing my spiritual maintenance which also contributes to my ability to keep going physically is a reasonable amount of time to spend. I view this in the same light as I do my meditation practice. For all the time I spend on the mat or on the cushion, I get that time back in mental efficiency, physical ability, and simple presence.

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Comments 2

  • Sabrina : Mar 2nd

    It’s so exciting to see your plans to integrate your yoga and meditation practices into hiking. I know that hiking has been a real love for you for most of your life, and it’s inspiring to see you weaving together your new practices with your older one. Plus, I never would have made it through that last section hike without yoga breaks. Thanks!

  • Sputnik : Mar 2nd

    I’m interested in your updates! I also do yoga, the sitting/meditating kind, and suffered last year because I let the practice lapse on my long hike of the CDT. Like you, I’m determined to keep the connection with spirit. It’s nice to know somebody else is thinking about making that work!


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