For the last year, I’ve been hiking regularly. For the last six months, I’ve also been making yoga a priority. It wasn’t until I went on a backpacking trip recently that I realized how much my yoga had changed my hiking for the better. Here are just a few of the things yoga has taught me about having a successful and enjoyable hike.
When things are hard, we often start to hold onto our breath. In yoga, and in hiking, it’s important to make sure you’re still taking full inhales and exhales to give your body the fuel it needs for the difficult stretches. Another thing I learned: If you are able to breathe fully, even if your legs are shaking or burning, you’re probably OK. But if you’re not able to take a decent breath, or able to slow down your exhales, you might need to slow down.
I have this idea that “good” hikers or “good” yogis never need to take a break, but that’s not true. Breaks are an important part of successful exercise. You need them to refuel, refocus and check in with where your body is at. There are all kinds of recommendations for how often to rest while hiking, from stopping for five minutes every hour to taking an extended break every two hours. Looking at breaks as failure was making it harder for my body to tackle the challenge at hand.
It’s really easy to get caught up in what other people are doing and comparing myself to them. In yoga class, maybe it’s someone who is doing more advanced poses. In hiking, maybe it’s the hikers zooming past me or that my partner keeps waiting for me. Comparing myself to those people isn’t helping. In yoga class, I often close my eyes. In hiking, I try to remember: Go your own pace. There are few things that ruin hiking faster than trying to follow someone else’s standard.
It can be really disappointing to show up to class and not be able to hold plank like I could the day before; similarly, it can be frustrating to have a slower pace, stiffer legs or get tired more frequently than on my last hiking trip. These things are going to happen. Sometimes it’s the terrain of the trail, and sometimes it’s me. I try to enjoy it for whatever it’s going to be… but I am definitely still working on this one.
In yoga, you can skip the fancy gear, but what you shouldn’t skip is a mat that helps your hands and feet stay steady on your mat. I fought with an old, cheap mat that rolled up underneath me as I moved into runner's lunge and stretched out in downward dog until I finally invested in a mat that stayed put. Likewise, your hiking gear doesn’t need to be fancy, but it shouldn’t make your hike harder. On my first backpacking trip, my backpack was too small and I hadn’t done a good job of tightening all of the straps, so it rubbed and bruised my body and threw me off balance for 10 miles.
When my arms start getting tired in Warrior II or my leg starts dipping in Three Legged Dog, sometimes the best thing to do is focus on my breath and re-energize my body — even though they seem tired. On my latest hiking trip, I’d skipped too many breaks and was struggling to put one foot in front of the other when I remembered this tip. I took a break and then decided to try to push myself just a little more, and lo and behold, I was able to pick up my pace until the end of the trail.
More than anything, yoga has taught me to pay attention to my thoughts. When I’m in a difficult pose, it’s easy to get lost in comparing my pose to other yogis (my leg isn’t as parallel to the ground, I should be able to hold this pose longer, why is this so hard?) Noticing those thoughts, and realizing that they aren’t necessarily true, often makes them get quieter and also lets me enjoy the practice for what it is. It’s been the same in hiking. When I start to tell myself that I’m too slow, not strong enough or that I look ridiculous hiking up a mountain, recognizing the thoughts and letting them go allows me to get back to the experience at hand — putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how slowly I get there.
What has yoga taught you?
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