Hiking for the Mind, Body and Soul

For many, adventure is healing.

Perhaps it’s something about the rhythmic patter of your feet against a dirt trail. The triumph upon reaching your destination. The sounds of nature — or even more so, the lack of city noise.

Hiking reveals different treasures for different people. It might be how you love to stay in physical shape and challenge your body, but I’ve always seen hiking as more of a spiritual activity. As part of my battle against anxiety and depression, I turned to yoga and meditation, and pillars of those practices continue to refine my adventures.

While some of these may seem obvious at first, here are a few things I’ve implemented into my hikes to elevate my experience:

Feel out your body

Often, sports are fuelled by an aggressive drive — athletes want to break boundaries and test their limits. In the yoga studio, you quickly learn yoga isn’t a sport, but a practice. It’s key to listen to your body, and while there’s nothing wrong with pushing your limits, it can be self-realizing  — and even confidence-building — to know what those limits are too. Once you hit the trail, try feeling yourself out. Mentally scan through your body head to toe and notice how each part of you feels. Are your hips not as open today? Spend extra time stretching them. Are your eyebrows furrowed? Jaw tense? Knees shaky? Think about why. No matter how much you train, your body can feel different every day thanks to several factors. So don’t get frustrated when this time your stamina might feel a little short, or your legs are easily cramping. Acknowledge these feelings, and accept them. Remember not to compare yourself to others, too. Unlike sports, practices aren’t based in competition. Just think: Who and what is this journey really for? If you know it’s truly for yourself, it may be easier to clear any battles between your body and mind.

Breathe steady

You love to challenge yourself — I mean, why else would you have ended up on this trail? But when you find yourself carefully watching your footing, or hitting a sharp incline, it can be hard to remember to breathe. No matter what the obstacle, try to focus on keeping a steady breath. This can also help keep your mind off distracting thoughts, unreasonable doubts, or even how tired and achy your body is. Don’t be afraid to let your mind wander though. Think of it as keeping your thoughts on a long leash. At any time, when you need to quiet your mind or even out your emotions, draw your focus back to your breathing.

Take time to listen

Whether that means doing it while you’re walking, or taking a few moments to stop and sit, take time to listen to the sounds around you. And I mean really listen — try to notice things that may not have been obvious before. You can even take it a step further: Close your eyes, acknowledge the sounds, and let them build the scene around you. Can you hear the breeze rustling the leaves? The wind blowing pebbles across the dirt trail? Which direction the bird flew in? Where it landed? I find this helps keep your mind focused, helps improve your intimacy with the world, and can even make you more attentive in everyday life.

Of course, take in the views

It may be obvious, but sometimes we look at things without really seeing them. Hold off on taking a photo, and let your eyes soak in the view first — it’d be a shame to only truly appreciate the view in hindsight. Greedily take in sights by the spoonful. Try to place words for it. And if you can’t find the words, recognize how your surroundings make you feel. If you feel compelled to, silently express your gratitude.

Acknowledge the bigger picture

The last tip can often lead to this one. Realizing the grandiose world around you can help shrink your everyday problems. I tend to do this when I hike higher altitudes: Take in the vast landscape, wherever you may be, and focus on the sky. Think of your problems and stresses as the clouds above. But realize there is a grand, open and endless sky beyond them. Slowly but surely, the clouds will pass, leaving you with an open field of endless possibilities — all the other countless opportunities within your life.

Some of these things may be tough to do at first. While the idea of relaxing may sound easy, many have trouble switching to neutral and turning off their thoughts. Everyday we are bombarded with sights, sounds, ads, issues, bills, work, pressure, plans… You know. But it’s not about pushing them away. Much like savasana in yoga, the balance comes with remaining aware, but releasing tensions in your body and mind. And with the fresh air and beauty that comes with it, hiking a trail is the perfect platform. Clearing your mind, finding intimacy with the environment, and learning more about yourself can help you find your stride — leaving you fresh and confident for the world that’s waiting for you beyond the trailhead.