I ran into a man that attended at least one of the yoga sessions I lead at kick-off one day in the Sierras. He had abandoned the idea of a thru-hike and was doing a section of the Sierras southbound instead. He recognized me and asked me if I was doing yoga along the trail. When I replied no, he scoffed at me as if I were a hypocrite. I had a similar encounter with another man in Washington (who also was only hiking parts of the trail). I knew before I ever set foot on the PCT that I would not be attempting to keep up my physical yoga practice, just as I knew I would not be able to keep up a journal during this hike. Hiking over 2,700 miles in five months is an extremely intense physical and mental endeavor and I only have so much energy. Every bit of it was used to get myself to Canada.
However, I realized some time after the first encounter, that walking 12-13 hours every day and living in nature for five months WAS my yoga. The meaning of the word ‘yoga’ is to yolk, bind, or unite. The practice (and there are many different ways to practice yoga) seeks to unite the practitioner with his or her true self- the part that is always whole and peaceful and content. It seeks to strip the masks we wear when we think we need to be something other than we are, as well as the chains we often feel that hold us back from achieving our true potential. There are many branches of yoga (karmic yoga, devotional yoga) and many different ways to practice yoga. The physical practice of yoga is only one part of it. There aren’t many ways to hide while walking this trail. People see you for who you are. It is also hard not to be living in the moment out there. There is also ample time to practice letting go and surrendering on these long hikes. It is easy to see that we only have so much control over our lives, and that when you stop gripping and allow, things begin to happen for you without any strain. I applaud anyone who is able to maintain a regular stretching routine while hiking one of these long trails, just as I applaud anyone who is able to keep a regular journal. (They have much more energy than I do!).
While I now have a lot of stretching and physical recovering to do (my entire body is extremely tight and parts are inflamed), I feel that I have received the benefits of 5 months of full-time yoga on the trail! I was able to move my body for most of the day, freeing myself of extra weight and burdens from life in society and of working for others. And while my body is far from able to do the backbends and other postures I was regularly doing before this hike, it has given me the chance to look at and feel the physical practice of yoga through a beginner’s eye which will be invaluable for teaching those new to yoga when I eventually do go back to teaching. It is so easy to get caught up in the progression of more and more advanced postures, which I realize can be extremely intimidating to those new to the practice and are just looking for some gentle stretching. For these beginner eyes, I am grateful.
My long hike has left me feeling extremely peaceful and happy with myself, as well as feeling excited about new challenges and possibilities for my future. (Thru- hikes have the effect of pressing a re-set button on oneself!) I am happy that I now have some time to devote to writing about the PCT and I have already ordered a copy of the guidebook for the Continental Divide Trail!
(However, I still need to figure out a way to fund this writing…)