Since the pandemic I felt a calling to explore the beauty of nature more than ever. After my first trip hiking in the UK, I’m happy to say that the only bug I caught was the desire to get outdoors as much as possible. Much to my surprise I discovered that hiking mountains has many of the same benefits as practicing yoga.
The word ‘yoga’ means ‘union’ or ‘to yolk’, to join mind body and spirit. This unification of all aspect of being is what makes yoga so special.
On my last trip the Peak District I thought about why I love hiking mountains. Similarly to yoga, hiking is beneficial for not just my body but for my mind and spirit too.
So here are my 4 lessons from hiking mountains & how they relate to practicing yoga
1. Embrace Change
There is not a single moment when change is not present.
As the pandemic reminded us, we can’t control what happens around us. Clinging onto plans without embracing change will only cause suffering. By letting go of control you flow with the unexpected, release worry, and find a state of peace.
Nature is a wonderful visual reminder of dynamic change. On our second day hiking in the Peak District, it started pouring with rain unexpectedly. A cool mist covered the land making it dark and moody. This was not the ideal weather for the wild swimming or picnic we planned!
We got wet, we got a bit lost, but I loved it. I loved the sky filled with drama, the muddy stones, and the lush green banks. I waded in the ice-cold waterfall while my brave friend dunked herself in.
Nature reminds us to let go of plans and expectations. The ability to embrace change and move with the flow of nature is a magic ingredient for living happy, joyous, and free.
On the mat, yoga teaches us to embrace change by letting go and surrendering into a yoga posture (asana) or accept challenges (perhaps a balancing posture) with grace and dignity. On an emotional level, yoga helps us feel whatever it is we are feeling, and by doing this we become aware that difficult feelings will change too.
2. Enjoy Simplicity
In a world where often having more means better, it is so refreshing to be somewhere where less means more. When in the mountains, simplicity rules.
When you’re hiking only the essentials for survival become important, for example water, food, sunscreen etc. The less you have the less you have to carry. It doesn’t matter if you have money in your pocket, or fancy job title, or expensive belongings at home. These 'valuable' things become obsolete.
And it doesn’t matter what you look like. It is more important to be comfortable and dry than anything. It feels liberating to not care. The mountain doesn’t care who you are.
Spending time in the simplicity of nature is wonderful for giving a fresh perspective of what it is you really want. Simplicity equals clarity.
In a similar way yoga helps us to overcome our ego and connect with our true self. Your ego is the changeable elements (for example your looks, your bank balance) and your true self is who you are at your core (which is unchangeable). Connecting with your true self will ultimately lead to inner peace and a sense of worth which is not impacted by external validation.
3. Experience Freedom
After 18 months of no travel and various lockdowns it is no surprise that I was feeling claustrophobic. I hadn’t left London for over year, so when I got the chance to hike along the beautiful coast of Cornwall, I was greeted with the freedom I’d been craving. Freedom wasn’t just a change of scenery. Hiking in beautiful landscapes gifts me freedom from worries and stress.
A few wrong turns in the Lake District meant our 5 hours hike turned into an 8 hour hike; it was difficult and challenging. The hike was hard work but worth it. I felt a sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction afterwards. At the end of the trip, I gained a renewed sense of freedom; I’d awakened a taste for life’s simple pleasures.
On the mat, we use effort to move into a yoga pose, but we can practice letting go of all the effort in order to come deeper into a pose and experience a sense of freedom.
For example, in final relaxation (Savasana), I invite students to let go of all effort and feel the body completely supported by the earth. Notice if there is still holding or gripping in the body. Bring awareness to those areas and direct the breath there. The breath can help to create space on the inhale and release tension on the exhale to melt any lasting tensions. If we can let go of all effort, and let the breath work it's magic, the body will come deeper into relaxation.
When you surrender to what is, you let life unfold with curiosity rather than anxiety. Freedom from effort will open you to possibilities, often so much greater than you could ever have 'planned'.
4. Kindness Is All Around
Life’s greatest joy is making connections to others.
Living in central London making connections with others is not the norm. We don’t say hello to others we pass in the street, in fact, saying hello to a stranger would likely prompt them to walk along a little quicker gripping their bag.
In all the places I’ve hiked, fellow hikers smile, speak, and share their stories. In the Lake District passing people along the mountain prompts greetings. The local pubs bubble away with strangers sharing their adventures from the day.
In the Peak District a kind stranger gave us a hot cup of coffee when we came out the freezing lake. Who knew you could make new friends at a waterfall! With kindness all around we too helped strangers with no phone reception find their way, and supported each other on challenging parts of the mountain.
In yoga, we practice Ahimsa (non-injury). Practicing Ahimsa is cultivating kindness for others and ourselves. On the mat, this might translate to not pushing your body into pain, or taking an extra few breaths in child’s pose. To others, it's about being compassionate and connecting with people with an open heart.
These are just a few of the benefits we receive when we lace up our walking boots and hit the mountain. There are many more emotional and mental benefits of hiking and the outdoors in general. What are some of yours?
Much like practicing yoga, hiking brings me a sense of happiness and peace. The glorious gift of yoga gets me returning to the yoga mat, and in the same way completing one hike has me planning the next. And this is one addiction worth cultivating.