July 11, 2016

Don’t Trip on the Stupid Stuff: The Yoga of Hiking.

Stacey Pierce-Talsma climing mountain photo

I love hiking more than anything else in this life.

Some days, hiking is my yoga—it is breath and mindfulness and motion. Hiking takes the kinetic buzz of our minds—the frantic pace of life, the anxiety, the stress, the mundane, the details—and it swallows them whole. The vastness of nature absorbs the small details that envelope our day to day existence and reminds us that we can be as solid as the mountain, as flexible as the grasses and we can endure and thrive in whatever environment mother nature throws at us.

For me, each hike is similar: a series of thoughts, acknowledgement of challenges, and an embracing of presence—each of which are especially important if there’s a steep cliff dead ahead!

Each stage of a hike represents a real life challenge, and the trail teaches important lessons about day to day life.

Here are some hiking life lessons I’ve learned of late:

1. Revel on the start of your journey.

I love the start of the hike! Energy abounds, the pine trees smell sweeter, the moss is greener,  it’s like a fresh new start. I love beginning new projects.

2. Disperse the doubt.

So, you’ve been going now, maybe for an hour, maybe two, and you hit a rough spot, a tricky climb, a scary ledge, and the doubt creeps in. Maybe this is as far as I should go. What if it’s like this the rest of the way? What if it gets trickier? But you keep moving, one more step, one more rock, let’s just see what is over this hurdle. You push through the doubt because you just have to get to the peak—after all, you didn’t come all this way to make it only halfway up the mountain!

3. Look at your feet, but take breaks.

I want to look up, to look around, to engage with my surroundings, but I can’t! There are all these f*cking rocks. If I look up too much I will step wrong and twist an ankle or fall to my death. So I need to stop. I stop so I can balance paying attention to my footing, step by step, rock by rock while engaging in the vastness of this mountain and enjoying the view.

4. Embrace the cliff.

I’m slightly afraid of heights—okay, I’m actually really afraid of heights, but somehow I still love hiking big mountains. I like the thrill, the challenge and pushing myself to keep going. Despite that, as the cliff looms, it can be hard for me to keep moving. I become paralyzed. Much of my fear resides around the fact that this trail is an out and back—whatever I go up, I must later come down. But I’ve figured out this one thing: it’s never as scary the second time around as you thought it was the first time. Most of the time you will wonder what you were afraid of, except for maybe that one time…even then, you were still okay (you only bled a little).

5. Approach the summit.

Here is where the going gets easier, not necessarily physically easier, but mentally easier. The terrain has changed, you are in the alpine zone and you can smell the top. Blisters disappear, sore legs find their second wind, you can feel the excitement in your chest and all because the top is right there.

6. Peak bag it.

Arrived. Achievement. Touch the top. Don’t be afraid to stay awhile and revel in the accomplishments…and the view!

7. The descent is a new challenge.

The top felt like success, but now you realize it’s really only the half way point, and it’s a long way down.

Hiking helps us learn about follow through—the goal isn’t just getting to the top, you have to be able to get back down too. If you have hiked before you know that the descent can be just as difficult if not more so than the ascent—-your legs are tired, your quads are screaming and you no longer have the top to look forward to. Maybe the trail is an out and back, so everything up is now done in reverse. Find a way to adore the mundane, embrace the descent, find sweetness in the exhaustion of effort, revel in a new perspective.

8. Don’t trip on the stupid stuff.

It’s always on my way down. Usually near the end of the path, inevitably I trip on something really stupid and nearly break a wrist or ankle. I’ve been so careful this whole time, calculating ledges, scrambling over rock piles, avoiding bear poo—and now this. When you are fatigued and your quads and hamstrings are quivering, those tiny rocks and scree can be your downfall. Don’t let the small stuff get you down just as you are about to succeed. Don’t lose your mindfulness to the project at hand.

Focus on the finish.

9. Celebrate the accomplishment.

The car is insight, you didn’t trip on any stupid stuff, and maybe you only bled…a little. But you are here and alive and accomplished. It was never about the peak it was about the journey. It was about the space and the breath, the company and the adventure. You carry the journey with you—etched in your aching hamstrings, muscle memory of all the lessons the path has to teach you.

Followup lesson: 

Upon reading this this post to my husband he replied, “You really think about all that stuff while you are hiking? Why don’t you just f*cking hike?”

Another valid lesson.




Author: Stacey Pierce-Talsma

Photo: author’s own

Editors: Renée Picard; Emily Bartran

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