There’s a common saying among long-distance hikers to “hike your own hike.” It seems like a simple motto, but as with many things, it takes on more meaning the farther one gets into his/her hike, and the more one thinks about the saying. It’s so easy to get caught up in a competitive mode, or the herd mentality while on one of these hikes (just as it is in life). There are many hikers that start the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, with the goal of making it to Maine. Although there is a wide range of starting dates for this trail, it is easy to feel “behind” if hikers who were once in your vicinity break away, hiking at a faster rate, doing more miles per day, and taking less rest time. On the Appalachian Trail, there are notebooks in most of the shelters along the way where hikers can write down whatever is on their mind. While these notebooks provide some entertainment on breaks and knowledge of where fellow hikers might currently be, they also create a sense of comparison. “That person is a week ahead of me now. I am so slow. I’ll never catch up with them. I’ll never see them again.”
But that is their hike. And this is yours. Their backpacks are probably much lighter than yours and allow them to travel at a faster rate. Maybe they have to finish the hike by a certain deadline and are hiking much faster than what would be an enjoyable pace for them. Maybe they don’t have enough cash to take rest breaks in towns along the way.
I tried once, in New Jersey, to walk with a guy who I knew from the start of my hike. He was given the trail name, “Sir Richard”, as he came from England. For a long time, I had been hiking alone. I hadn’t met anyone that I “clicked” with like I did with the people I met in the first week of my hike, when we were all fresh and eager and on our own. (Most of them were now far ahead of me because I was taking longer stops in town to write a web journal). By this time in the hike, everyone had their hiking partners or groups, and there wasn’t a sense of others wanting to make friends. One day, alone again, I was putting on my pack after taking a side trail to collect water. I looked in the direction I had come from and to my great surprise, suddenly saw a familiar face! Sir Richard! I had thought he was weeks ahead of me by now! How on earth could he be behind me? It turned out that he was slowed down by painful shin splints by trying to hike too many miles, too fast. I happily walked with him and we caught each other up on our experiences so far. He said he was happy to have someone pace him so that he wasn’t overdoing it again.
Several days later, we hiked to an outdoor center, where I had some packages waiting for me. I usually only received my one maildrop with my food and supplies for the next section, but at this particular place, I received two extra care packages! It took some time to get everything sorted and packed away, and I sensed that Sir Richard was growing restless and frustrated. So, I quickly tried to throw everything into my pack. Only now it was a huge, very heavy, lopsided tower! And Sir Richard wanted to hike fast. My shoulders, back, and knees were protesting loudly. This was too much weight for them to bear. I couldn’t talk because I needed to conserve all of the energy I had in order to carry this huge beast of burden. We had at least 10 more miles to hike that afternoon. And now I felt like a lousy, silent, grumpy companion. At one point, I needed to cough and no matter what I did, I couldn’t clear my throat! When Sir Richard pointed out an old stone wall in the forest, I desperately wished that he wanted to go take a closer look at it in order to give me a chance to take a short break. However, he wanted no such thing. As usual, I had to take my pack off every 15-20 minutes to give my screaming shoulders and back a moment of reprieve, only now, a million mosquitoes swarmed us and started sucking our blood the moment we stopped. Sir Richard told me that he was going to move on. He said that he felt like he was pressuring me to keep up with him. I was now left to suffer all on my own. New blisters were forming on my heels, I was exhausted, in great physical pain, and dejected because I couldn’t keep up with the pace of my friend. I was not hiking my own hike.
In yoga, we are constantly being reminded that we shouldn’t compare ourselves with anyone else in the room, that we all are on our own journey, that we open up in our own time. We’ve all had different life experiences, inherited different genetic traits, and have treated our bodies differently during the course of our lives. The more that we try to do what we are told to do, or what we think we should be doing, or what others are doing, the more we move outside of our bodies, and away from our centers, which will almost also lead to injury or harm to ourselves. If instead, we begin to listen to our own inner wisdom and the guidance of our own body, our practice will evolve over time in a natural order. When we have built enough strength in one area of our body, a new pose will be attainable. When we have opened up another part of our body, another pose will be possible. We are always where we should be.
The way in which we live our lives only becomes meaningful if we live it in the same manner. We must follow our own heart and our own intuition. We must follow the places that joy leads us, share our strengths with others in order to make the world a better place, continue to work on our weaknesses, and live life at a pace that we are able to maintain without depleting ourselves.
We must remain true to ourselves. We must stay on our own paths- just as we must “hike our own hike”.