Using Yoga to Sustain the Body During a Thru-hike
Almost a year ago, Cooper and I and a group of friends headed out to our first attempt of a thru hike. Being from the Driftless Area, said friends and Cooper were interested in exploring similar beautiful blufflands and river valleys. We left in early May with the hopes of spending three weeks walking the entire 230 miles of the Ozark Trail in Missouri.
The Ozark Trail was Cooper and my first attempt at a complete thru hike and it really showed. We knew so little at the start of our adventure, carrying ill-fitted packs and unnecessary camp pillows, or drinking from Nalgenes and carrying full plastic jars of peanut butter. We quickly learned some tricks of the trade that helped us develop into much more apt hikers. Peanut butter in a ziplock is much more hiker friendly than a jar, one pair of socks was just not going to do it, and my favorite lesson of all; yoga is a hiker’s best friend.
Each day would end with a group yoga session around camp, helping us stretch out the daily insults that had built up in our bodies over the course of the day. It was one of my favorite times of the day, a moment for us all to sit together and shoot the shit while nourishing ourselves. We could feel the difference the end of the day yoga sessions made, bringing us a little more energy to push through hard moments and extra miles.
Since then, I’ve been fascinated with the power of yoga in helping increase longevity in outdoor pursuits. In September of 2016, I began my journey towards obtaining a yoga teacher certification and just completed my course at the beginning of March. My area of study was in somatics, a style of yoga that uses inward perception to help reeducate the muscles of the body. The movements are subtle, but incredibly effective in releasing pain held in the body.
On a personal level, the study of yoga helped me grow in ways I never imagined. For six months, I was surrounded by a community of unconditionally loving and accepting individuals, all of whom I was able to learn immensely from. The group of yoga instructors I learned with helped me realize the importance of compassion to myself and others, and the ability within all of us to quiet our minds and simply be present.
I worried as I left Minnesota about the difficulty in sustaining my own growth so far away from a community that inevitably changed me forever. Would it be possible, while living a life in constant movement, to actively work towards compassionate self discipline and a routine yoga practice? My worries were quickly dissolved when a classmate presented me with a different angle. If anything, my practice would flourish because of a higher need for an on and off the mat yoga practice. As pain builds up, my body would crave the release yoga provides and my mind would need the diligence and strength gained through meditation to trudge on.
With that, one hope I have for this blog is to document my experience of using yoga to sustain the body and mind during a long distance hike. I would love to use my education to help calm my mind in moments of discomfort and pain, and to use yoga to heal the build up of injuries inherent to the body when hiking so many miles.
And for anyone interested, I would love to extend some yoga-hiker-karma when we cross paths. If you find me along the trail, don’t be afraid to ask me for a yoga session or some guided shivasana and breath work. I’d love to share with anyone in need!
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