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The Moving Meditation of Hiking

I just returned from 10 days of hiking with my hub in the Austrian Alps, while my girl skied the Austrian Alps (summer ski camp on a glacier, in case you were wondering). I had lots of time putting one foot in front of the other to ponder the moving meditation of hiking.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2:46 – sthira-sukham asanam – says that your connection to the earth should be steady and joyful. It’s not always that easy, when you are struggling to catch your breath as you gain altitude, almost trip on about 1,000 rocks, and wonder not for the first time how long until we get there. But then it all smooths out. You look up and around at your surroundings and declare them the most beautiful you’ve ever seen. You feel the expansiveness of the sky above. You feel the connection to the earth with every step, one in front of the other. And you find your rhythm, your hiker’s high.

The point is, we have to work to cultivate steadiness and joy. They don’t just happen spontaneously. In our yoga practice it’s the same. From the hot-off-the-press book Living the Sutras: A Guide to Yoga Wisdom Beyond the Mat: When we approach even challenging poses with ease, they eventually become steady. And if we can remain steady in Mountain Pose and resist the itchy nose, the desire to fidget, the red numbers on the clock, we have prepared ourselves to take our practice off the mat. When we have that ease and steadiness in our physical practice, we begin to cultivate those same qualities in business meetings, in our relationships, and with ourselves. 

If you’ve read this blog at all or know much about what I do, you’ll recall that I combine yoga with other activities on retreat, including horses and hiking. My philosophy is that yoga helps you do anything you do better. When we practice yoga and then hit the hiking trail, I want you to see the connection, to feel it. Yoga awakens an awareness of putting one foot in front of the other, of creating a steady and joyful connection to the earth – and of making your trail time a moving meditation, vs. just logging miles.

On the mat, we awaken many things within ourselves that we previously weren’t aware of. There are more than a few books out there on that subject. When we spend time outside in nature, we intensify that awakening. When you can experience how yoga influences your time off the mat, to me that is the most meaningful benefit of all. One that’s taken me years to articulate. And sometimes that awareness of something greater than ourselves, and discovering that we are part of it, is best felt and not spoken.

Hiking yoga break: cow face pose amongst Austrian cows.

I hate to sound clichéd, but it goes back to it’s about the journey, not the destination. When I lead a guided meditation, I always discuss how linear our culture is. We are all about the end game, which makes it really hard to have any appreciation for the process. It’s a cultural heritage that is tough to shake, and one that yoga and meditation do not jibe well with. We actually lose the benefits that they offer if we approach them linearly. So, when I catch myself wanting to know how much further on a hike that happens to be kicking my ass…I have to dig into my yoga practice for the tools to be present.

We have only three spots left this year to practice moving meditation and hike with me – one spot on our August 2-5 Yoga and Advanced Hiking retreat, and two spots on our September 13-16 Yoga & Yellowstone Hiking retreat. Hope to meet you in Montana. Namaste.