Me, a yogi? Pft, no way! Far from it actually. A student, maybe. Yes, a student of yoga. I can live with that.
From where I stand in mountain pose, the more I learn about yoga the more I realize there’s…more to learn. I can’t imagine anyone ever “mastering” yoga. Every pose is never ending. Every pose can always go deeper.
Yoga’s great because it reminds me to breathe and let go, both physically and mentally.
It exposes my weaknesses, which is something most of us don’t like, but then turns them into strengths, which is something we all value and could benefit from.
And, for some odd reason, something I expect other yoga practitioners might understand, I’ve come to enjoy the physical challenges of yoga and actually have fun attempting some of the more difficult poses. I know – call me crazy.
But, honestly, yoga is the sanest thing I’ve ever done, especially as an avid hiker and backpacker.
Get this. I no longer have knee, hip and foot pain. No more tired shoulders or an achy back and neck. And no more holding patterns that limit my hiking ability.
Holding patterns, as my massage therapist calls them, are those tight, achy muscles we get from repetitive motions and postures, like sitting at the computer typing all day.
I’ve read enough trail journals to know a large number of hikers suffer greatly for their beloved hobby. But one doesn’t have to suffer – unless you’re into that sort of thing.
So, as I see it, here are the eleven benefits yoga provides to those of us who live on the trail.
- Strength: The isometric contractions from holding deep poses, combined with working all of your muscles through their full range of motion, creates incredible strength without amassing big, bulky muscles.
- Flexibility: Like strength, flexibility improves in increments. Taking your asanas, or yoga postures, to “the edge” and then letting go of any tension allows you to gradually stretch deeper without pain and discomfort.
- Balance: Being sure-footed on the trail can save your life. Yoga offers challenging balance poses you can practice in a safe and controlled environment with all the benefits spilling over to your trail activities.
- Better posture: Have you ever seen a hiker take off their pack and stand as though the weight of the pack was still causing them to lean. That weight can take its toll on your back, neck and shoulders. Yoga will counteract this pull, help you stand erect and prevent back and neck injuries.
- Endurance: Through yoga, your muscles will become accustomed to sustained contractions, greatly improving their ability to perform for long hours without fatigue.
- Fewer Injuries: Hiking long distances takes its toll on the body. Yoga, through proper conditioning and toning, will greatly decrease your chances of stress related injuries, keeping you on the trail longer and with more enjoyment.
- Improved Cardiovascular Health: Many yoga poses twist, bend, fold and invert your body, causing your heart to have to work harder to pump blood to these tissues. The result of his is a gentle, yet powerful strengthening of the heart and circulatory system.
- Greater Lung Capacity: Yoga encourages proper use of your breath, or Pranayama. Learning breath control will give you greater endurance and keep you from getting “winded” when climbing hills and mountains.
- Universal Practice: No matter where you are, yoga is unique in that you can do it anywhere. You don’t need a studio or a gym, machines, weights or much paraphernalia at all. What you need is a soft surface and a willingness to practice. Some hikers even take their yoga mats with them on the trail.
- Inexpensive: As an activity goes, yoga is cheap. Sure you can invest in all sorts of props and clothing, but compared to backpacking and many other sports, yoga requires very little investment. Save your money for more gear.
- Instant Community: Yogis are literally everywhere. Finding a group to practice with is easier than you think. Even on the trail, it’s not uncommon to see someone go into downward-facing dog. The point is, yoga is an individual pursuit but you never have to practice alone – unless you want to.
I’m sure there’s more – much more – and I look forward to discovering them as I deepen my understanding of yoga and spend more time on the trail.
If you’re a hiker, I invite you to explore the world of yoga. Your body will repay you ten times over.
See ya’ on the trail