Yoga and Hiking: Taking Yoga Off The Mat
I started Yoga Teacher Training with very little experience in doing yoga. I went to my first power class a few days before signing up for a yoga teacher training specifically geared towards teaching a power vinyasa flow. I had attended a few restorative classes in years prior, but I had never stuck with it. If you had asked me a year ago “how often do you do yoga?,” an accurate response would be “Oh, about once every five years or so!” In this post, I will be divulging the interactions I have found between thru-hiking and yoga/YTT.
The Initial Romance
I remember thinking before I signed up for YTT that becoming a yoga teacher would be a really ‘cool’ thing to do. We are all aware of how trendy yoga is right now and for good reason! Yoga, I find, is like super-medicine. It has powers to heal you in more than just one way, but I didn’t know that until recently. I knew through friends and coworkers that going through a teacher training was intense in nature and I liked the sound of that, but mainly I thought teaching yoga was cool and being able to stand on my head would make me EXTRA cool. In a similar regard, I remember, in the beginning that thru-hiking sounded really cool. I knew it was intense in nature and I liked the sound of that, but I didn’t know a goddamn thing about it other than that the mountains looked epic in photos and the people hiking looked really cool with a pack on their back and trekking poles in hand.
The Breaking Open and The Healing
YTT breaks you open. Before I went through it, I was apparently the type of person who did things because they sounded cool. Saying this now makes me cringe, and writing it makes me feel vulnerable beyond belief but being vulnerable and honest is how we change and shift. I said that in my first blog post too, but I really do believe it. YTT reminds you that you are part of something much larger, that the self and the identities that we create and build around ourselves can often be falsehoods, and that pain and suffering are an innate part of the human experience. TEACHING yoga has shown me that it is a quite humbling experience to help others break down the walls that they have built around themselves too and that it is essential that I practice the work before I teach others to practice the work too. Additionally, yoga teaching for me has been scary beyond belief. I have never been a fan of public speaking and I did not realize the intense anxiety I would feel regarding teaching. It has made me more uncomfortable than I have been in years, but it is the kind of uncomfortable that you are stronger for after. Thru-hiking breaks you open too. From what I can tell, you lose sight of many identities you once held about yourself. You work through pain and suffering more than you have ever had to and it can literally break you, physically and mentally. I look forward to using what I learned in yoga teacher training for my hike and am hoping that I do well with the tools i have learned to keep going when things get hard.
Coming Back to Breath
In yoga, you can always come back to breath. Your mind may wander throughout your practice, but you learn to acknowledge those times and then bring your thoughts back to your breath. As a teacher, about 60% of what you say in class is “inhale, exhale.” I am hoping to use this philosophy during my hike when things get rough. At the very least, I can remember that I am breathing and I am alive. Taking deep and full breaths is an important thing to remember when working through change.
Hike your own hike. Make your practice YOUR own practice.
I read on the internet over and over again the phrase “hike your own hike.” I will meet a handful of people on the trail and we will all be doing our hike a little differently. Our reasons for being out there are different, our gear is different, our food is different and our pace is different. I am committed to remembering this for my hike, as I read over and over again that it can be a deal-breaker to go too fast while you are still developing your trail legs. When I teach yoga, I constantly remind students to remember to make their practice their own practice. To me, this means as a teacher that I am there to guide them but because we all bring something different into class and to our mat, we must remember that our practice is going to feel, look and sound different than those around us. Some days in class, I take child’s pose for a long time because it just feels right that day. I recently heard a thru-hiker give the advice that a thru-hike is NOT a job. You don’t have a schedule or any commitments. You literally can do whatever you want and if you do not feel like hiking some days, just take the day off. Similarly, in yoga, sometimes all you need to do is breathe and that is okay.
Sutra 1.1 “Now begins the study of yoga”
You just start. The first thing to getting something done is starting. I can prep for my hike all I want, but I eventually just need to hit the trail and start walking. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
Sutra 1.2 “Yoga is control of the mind.”
This one is pretty self-explanatory in its relation to thru-hiking. The number one thing any thru-hiker has told me is that you have to have mental fortitude. You have to be able to get through the mental lows and keep going.
Sutra 1.13 “Practice means choosing, applying the effort, and doing those actions that bring a stable and tranquil state.”
Thru-hiking will not always be just a walk in the woods. Many days, it will be anything but tranquil. I hope to look for and find opportunities for contentment throughout the day. Sometimes, it is as simple as stopping to eat, a conversation with a friend or fellow thru-hiker, a bird in a tree. I’ll be looking and listening for those moments.
Sutra 1.14 “When the practice is done for a long time, and with sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable and solid foundation.”
I think to complete a thru-hike you have to be sincere about why you are embarking. You have to be firmly rooted in the goal. Additionally, your trail legs are not going to come about until you hike day-in, day-out with steady practice and devotion to the walk. Having a solid yoga practice will act as a good reminder to keep going and to bring yoga to my hike, even when I cannot practice asana or the physical poses.
I think when planning a thru-hike, it can be easy to become attached to an idea or expectation of what your hike will be like. There is so much information out there and accounts regarding the experience of others that it does become a little hard to not have expectations when going into something like this. I think it is okay to have plans but expectations can be a dangerous thing. In life, expecting something and not getting it can be a real downer. Yoga has taught me that letting go of expectations is important. The advice on the internet says time and time again that it can be quite easy to get caught up in milage, to become structured when the point of the hike was to let go of structure for a little while. I hope to remember to bring non-attachment into my hike and to let go of things that could become bothersome on the trail (i.e. not going fast enough, being lonely, taking a zero or a nero.)
I can’t wait to journal and write about the ways in which YTT and my practice come through in unforeseen ways on my hike. Part of my reasoning for creating this post is to have something concrete and succinct to look at while I am gone, to remind me of the ways in which I can bring yoga to my hike. I think that my journey through yoga teacher training was very much meant to happen immediately before my hike and I am so thankful for the experience.
More to come soon!
“The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.” – Caroline Myss, Anatomy of the Spirit
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