Yoga for Hikers: Building Strength Between Hikes

The wilderness is healing, a therapy for the soul.
~Nicholas Kristof

Shoulder stretch yoga at the trailheadIf you are new to hiking, getting back into it, or building up to a long hike or backpacking trip, your body will thank you for practicing these yoga poses on days between hikes. This sequence strengthens your hips, low back, shoulders, knees, calves, ankles and feet. Additionally, take fast-paced, aerobic walks, 20 to 45 minutes each, two to three times each week. With adequate conditioning, you can enjoy longer and more difficult hikes, injury-free, for even better summit views.

Warm up with two or three gentle Sun Salutations before moving into these poses.

Downward-Facing Dog

From hands and knees, move your hands forward and lift your hips, straighten your legs and drop your heels toward the ground. Keep your tailbone lifted while stretching up out of your wrists, elbows and shoulders, letting your chest drop toward ground. Relax your neck and gaze at your knees. Hold for two to five breaths as your spine lengthens.

High Runners Lunge

From hands and knees, step your right foot forward between your hands, directly under your bent knee. Curl your left toes under and lift the left knee, straighten your leg and press through the left heel. Lift onto your fingertips and draw your heart forward and up. Look ahead for a breath. Repeat with your left foot forward.

Warrior I

Standing, step your left foot back. Keep your hips squared and angle your left toes forward. Bend your right knee until it lines up with your ankle. Lift your heart and extend your arms overhead. Hold for two to five breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Warrior II yoga pose on the beach

Warrior II

Standing, step your left foot back and turn your hips and torso to open to the left. Turn your left toes toward the left side. Bend your right knee until the knee is directly over your ankle. Lift your arms to shoulder height in the same line as your legs. Gaze over your right fingers and hold for two to five breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Goddess

Stand in a straddle with your toes angled outward. Bend your knees over your toes and, keeping your torso erect, lower your hips until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Reach your arms overhead, then bend your elbows and lower them to shoulder height. Draw your shoulder blades together to open your chest. Hold for two to five breaths.

Horse

Stand in a straddle with your toes angled outward. Bend your knees over your toes and, keeping your torso erect, lower your hips until your thighs are parallel to ground. Press your hands into tops of your thighs, fingers forward. Lift your shoulders toward your ears as your hips sink lower. Hold two to five breaths.

Chair

Stand with your feet under your hips. Lift your arms overhead. Bend your knees, reach your tailbone back and lift your heart. Hold two to five breaths.

Tree

Stand on your right leg. Bend your left knee and open the knee to the left side. Bring the bottom of your left foot to your right calf (or into your right thigh, provided you can get your toes higher than your knee). Lift your arms overhead. Gaze at a focal point and balance for at least two breaths, then repeat on the other side.

Airplane

Stand on your right leg. Extend your left leg back, as straight as possible, with your left foot flexed. Lower your torso and lift your left leg until both are parallel to the ground. Extend your arms back slightly away from your sides like wings. Gaze at a focal point on the ground slightly ahead of you and balance for at least two breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Plank

From hands and knees, reach your feet back with your toes on the ground and your legs as straight as possible. Keep your shoulders over your hands and reach through your heels. Engage your core muscles to hold your hips in line with your shoulders and heels. Hold at least two breaths.

Cobra

Cobra yoga pose in the grassLay face-down with your chin on the ground, your elbows bent and your hands under your shoulders. Press the tops of your feet into the ground and lift your chin and the top of your chest as high as is comfortable. Relax your shoulders back and reach through the crown of your head. Hold at least two breaths.

Locust

Lay face-down with your chin on the ground, your elbows bent and your hands on either side of your chest. Lift your feet, your chin, and the top of your chest. Keep your gaze at the ground slightly in front of you. Hold at least two breaths.

Boat

Sit with your legs bent and your feet on the ground. Rest your hands on the ground on either side of your hips. Lengthen your spine, lean back slightly, and lift your feet until your calves are parallel to the ground. Lift your hands and reach toward your feet. Hold at least two breaths.

Table Top

Sit with your knees bent and your feet on the ground. Bring your hands to the ground slightly behind your hips, fingers pointing toward the hips. Lift your hips off the ground until your body, you’re your shoulders to your knees, is parallel to the ground. Press your arms straight and drop your head back to gaze up. Press your knees forward to lengthen the front of your body. Hold at least two breaths.

Bicycles

Lay on your back with your knees bent over your hips and the lower legs parallel to the ground. Interlace your fingers behind your head and open your elbows to the sides. Keeping your feet flexed, press your right foot forward and straighten that leg while lifting your head and shoulders and twisting your torso to bring your right elbow to the left knee. Return to the starting position, then extend your left leg and bring your left elbow to the right knee. Repeat as many times as desired.

Always end your yoga practice with a final relaxation.

While practicing on your own is good, yoga is awesome in a group. Find some hiking friends and head to your nearest yoga studio for a class. In the Adirondack High Peaks region, join me or another talented teacher at True North Yoga.

Yoga for Hikers: Poses for Coming Down after Hiking Down

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
~Kahlil Gibran

Shoulder stretch yoga at the trailheadYou did some asanas at the trailhead to warm up for your hike, you had a great view from the summit, and made your way down. Now pull off your boots and wind down after by gently stretching your hiking muscles. You’ll get the most benefit from these poses if your muscles are still warm, so, if your hike ends at an Adirondack favorite – a table in the Noonmark Diner in Keene Valley, New York – take a walk or do some gentle sun salutations before you start the poses.

Hero with Neck Stretch

Sit on or between your heels withe your knees parted slightly.  Rest your hands on your thighs and extend your spine.  Take two to three deep breaths.  Keeping your spine extended, drop your head forward and lower your chin to your chest.  Draw your shoulder blades down and release your neck muscles.  Take another two to three breaths.

Cat Rolls

Come onto your hands and knees.  Inhale, tip your tailbone up and lift your head.  Move your heart forward and drop your lower back towards the ground.  Exhale and round your back, lifting the middle of your spine while tucking your tailbone under and dropping your head.  Repeat as many times as you desire.

Child Pose with Foot Stretch

From hands and knees, tuck your toes under and press the balls of your feet toward the ground.  Drop your hips onto your heels, resting weight on the heels to stretch the soles of your feet.  Drop your forehead to ground and reach your arms forward.  Hold, breathing, for as long as desired.

Downward-Facing Dog

downward facing dog yoga on rocksFrom hands and knees, move your hands forward and lift your hips. Straighten your legs and drop your heels toward the ground.  Keep your tailbone lifted while you stretch up out of your wrists, elbows and shoulders, and drop your chest towards the ground.  Relax your neck and gaze at your knees.  Hold for two to five breaths as your spine lengthens.

Upward-Facing Dog

Lay on the ground face-down. Curl your toes under and place your hands under your shoulders.  With an inhale, straighten your arms and lift your torso and thighs. Round your shoulders back, draw your heart through your arms, and drop your pelvis towards the ground.  Keep your low back long and reach up through the crown of your head and back through your heels.

Half Forward Folds

Sit with your right leg extended and your left knee bent out to side with the left foot against the right thigh.  Lengthen your spine, tilt the upper pelvis forward and reach your belly towards your knee. Holding right leg for support, lower your chest towards your leg by pulling the thigh bone deep into your pelvis.  Hold for two to five breaths, then repeat on other side.

Forward Fold

Sit with both legs extended in front.  Extend your torso up and over your legs, lengthening your spine, and tilt the upper pelvis forward.  Hold your legs or feet for support and stay for two to five breaths.

Happy Baby

Lay on your back, pull your knees up towards your shoulders and hold the inside of your feet.  Keep your feet directly over your knees and pull your feet and knees downward while lengthening your lower spine.

Supine Pigeon

Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the ground.  Lift your right foot and place the right ankle on the left thigh, just below the left kneecap, and open the right knee to right side. Keep your right foot flexed.  Hold the back of your left thigh with both hands and draw the left knee towards your chest. Keep your right knee angled away from your body.  Hold for two to five breaths.  Repeat on the other side.

yoga supine twist on rocks in river

Supine Twist

Lay on your back with your left leg extended, and your right knee bent and drawn into your chest.  Hold the right knee with your left hand and extend your right arm out to the side.  Guide your right knee to your left, and lift your right hip off ground while keeping your right shoulder down.  Look towards your right hand.  Hold for two to five breaths.  Repeat on the other side.

Relax and Reflect

Lie flat on your back with your arm and leg muscles completely released.  Close your eyes and rest as long as you desire, enjoying the energy flowing through your body and the memories of the day.

 

 

Yoga on the wild frontier of perimenopause

My body is changing and my yoga practice is like exploring an unknown roadWhat if you woke up one morning and found yourself in a different body, like Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis? That’s how perimenopause feels to me.

My body is changing so quickly I don’t know the body I’m in anymore. In some ways it is like puberty, but with the frightening self-awareness of age and experience.

I have been practicing yoga for more than twenty years. There have always been times when I felt like a beginner; those times were usually when I was exploring something more advanced or new to me. But now I feel like I am discovering what my body can – and cannot – do as if I have never done yoga before.

Achy joints

At the end of the day, whether my practice was restorative or vinyasa, I feel it in my joints. Often it is my hips doing the complaining, but it might be my shoulders, or my knees. On some days it is my hands or feet. I have a hard time getting comfortable enough to go to sleep. The feeling is less satisfying than the soreness that accompanied stretching and strengthening muscles in new ways when I was first learning asanas. I feel restless and frustrated by these aches.

Hand, meet wall

Balance poses, like tree and half moon, used to be my favorites. I would spend hours putting together long sequences of poses, moving from one to the other while balanced on one foot. Then, one day, I started losing my balance. To practice these asanas now means falling out often, or using the wall as a prop.

Two drishtis

Those who see me in person know that I started wearing glasses everywhere two years ago. My eyes have always had difficulty working together, but now I have developed severe double vision that cannot be corrected by contact lenses. Even with my glasses, if my eyes are tired or relax too much (which never happens in a yoga class, right?) I see two of everything. Focusing on one point is especially challenging, because I’m never sure which of the things thing I’m looking at is “real,” and which is the double.

Brain fog

I have the attention span of a goldfish. When I…

 

What was I saying?

And so on

I’ve been a bit grumpy about all of this, but I am finally moving towards acceptance. After all, what is my yoga practice for if not to feel deeply into my body as it is now? I am moving into new territory, and it is up to me to draw the map.

That means that my practice is, again, that of a beginner. I must see what helps and what hurts. I need to discover my new edge and let go of what now takes me past it. Even with two decades of experience, I don’t have the answers. If your body is changing – due to menopause, pregnancy, injury, a joint replacement, diet – neither you nor I know how your practice needs to be. But you are welcome to join me on the wild frontier to find out through experience.

Sacred Spirals and Breathwork

“…no circle is ever closed. We walk ever in spirals.”
~ R. Scott Bakker

Experiencethe spiralsin yourbreathDo you feel like you’ve been here before? We see time as linear and circles in the patterns of nature. And so spring comes around again. Or does it?

During the past two moon cycles I’ve been quiet. Introspective. I’ve become aware of many patterns repeating in my being-ness. I’m seeing challenges that I’ve dealt with before, unresolved issues, and even childhood activities resurfacing. It’s frustrating. Why do I have to deal with this stuff again?

Then, a few weeks ago, I began seeing spirals everywhere and I became aware that I am not walking a straight line, or in a circle, but dancing through the labyrinth of existence. Spring has come around again, but it is not the same spring, and I am not the same person. I’m meeting familiar challenges with more experience and insight. And I am exploring new-again activities not as a child but with a child-like mind.

When I recognized and appreciated the sacredness of the spiral path I am walking, I opened to wonder and beauty and an order within the chaos of living. I see that each time a pattern reoccurs I am being offered an opportunity to apply new awareness, new tools and new skills to move through it with more grace.

You may, too, find yourself in a familiar place as you walk your own spiral path. What comes up for you again and again? And how do you respond? Notice if frustration, defeatism or despair arise. Then see if you can breathe into the sacredness and acknowledge who you are today. What more can you bring to the challenge? Maybe you are ready to release the pattern, but maybe you will spiral around again to face it as the you with even more experience.

There are a number of ways to connect with the spiral shape through breath work. I find spiral breathing both calming and centering. The simplest way to experience the spiral breath is to breath in up the back body, and breath out down the front body. Try it now. See, sense or feel the breath traveling up your spine as you inhale. Feel it flow down through your chest and belly as you exhale. As the breath deepens, you might sense it spiraling out until the breath is circling into the space behind and in front of you.

You can also spiral the breath in the coronal, or frontal, plane. which helps to bring awareness and balance to the breath and the mind while you explore the spirals. Take a breath in through your right nostril and draw the breath up your right side and into the top of your chest. Then exhale through the same right nostril and send the breath down the left side. Repeat a few times with the right nostril, then switch to the left. Inhale up the left side and exhale down the right. Practice through the left nostril a few times. Then try breathing through both nostrils while spiraling the breath. You will have two opposing spirals circling at the same time. Practice the two nostrils together a few times until you can feel both.

Dancing in the Moonlight

MoonlightOnce every three years or so there is a month with two full moons. The second is known as a blue moon. If you’re reading this on July 31st and you go outside right now, you’ll be standing under one.

Astrologers seem less excited about the second-of-the month aspect of today’s full moon than about the moon being in Aquarius. Breakthroughs in the midst of struggles are predicted. You’d do well to pay attention today.

But perhaps you were not even aware that the moon has just gone full. Why is the lunar cycle even important?

I grew up on the south shore of Long Island, on a skinny street between two canals. It was a poorly crafted street which went downhill as you traveled inland from the bay to its lowest point where the two canals dead-ended. When the moon was full, high tide was very high – so high that the ocean spilled over the bulkheads and flooded the street at that low point. If you needed something from the store, you were just going to have to wait a few hours.

Most of us live too cut off from natural phenomenon like moon tides to feel the consequences of the lunar cycle. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. The same gravitational pull that affects the tides draws gently of the water in your body. It changes you, in albeit subtle ways. When we start to pay attention – really pay attention – we become aware of those subtle changes.

Yoga is an excellent tool for building subtle awareness of your body. The practice of Chandra Namaskar, the moon salutation, taps into the cyclical nature of the moon while opening the hips, the seat of the second Chakra. The sacral energy center is the home of water energy. Water is changed by the moon. Do you see where this is going? The circling sequence of Chandra Namaskar itself represents the cycle of lunar transformation, the flow and ebb and flow and ebb that is the constant rhythm of life.

Are you tuned into the lunar cycle? Is it time to start exploring the moon’s ever-changing energy again? I’d love to hear from you. Share your comments below!

Inspiration to Run with the Wolves

One of my Goddess Spirit Circle sisters is reading Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, and shared a reading from it when we met last month. I remember reading the book many years ago (Amazon.com remembers I bought a copy in 1998!) and being wowed by the powerful feminine archetypes. Ready to be inspired again, I just ordered another copy. And when I was putting together graphics for my social media posts this week, I added some quotes from Dr. Estés. Stand up and howl, sisters!

CPE Stretch

CPE Wherever

CPE Woods

CPE Defiant

Do you have a favorite quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estés? Share it with me in the comments!

Celebrating Earth-based Spirituality on Pagan Pride Day

“A wee child toddling in a wonder world,
I prefer to their dogma my excursions into the natural gardens
where the voice of the Great Spirit is heard in the twittering of birds,
the rippling of mighty waters, and the sweet breathing of flowers. 
If this is Paganism, then at present, at least, I am a Pagan.”

Zitkala-Sa

secondbestcircleToday I am in Syracuse, New York, to lead “Elemental Yoga” at the annual Central New York Pagan Pride Day festival. My workshop is from 10:00 to 10:45 a.m. Afterwards I get to spend the remainder of the day connecting with and learning from others who, like me, look to nature for their spiritual inspiration.

Pagans are an eclectic group; their diversity makes them interesting and fun. Their practices may be formal and structured or spontaneous and casual. There are numerous subsets under the Pagan umbrella. Pagans may worship deities from classical or tribal mythology, practice shamanism or magick, view futurology, community or ecology as religion, focus on the Divine Feminine, or simply venerate natural phenomena. Most chose their spiritual paths, rather than following the religions of their families.

At today’s festival we’ll be celebrating the upcoming autumn equinox, as well as doing lots of networking and community building. My husband will be manning the Adirondack Earth Lore booth to showcase his amazing woodturning, and I’ll be hanging out there discussing yoga and healthy living with anyone who will listen. We’ll do some drumming. I’ll watch bellydancers. And I’ll be showing folks how to connect with the energies of Earth, Air, Fire and Water with yoga.

In the area? Come on over to Onondaga Lake Park and join the fun!

Feel the Earth Element in your body with these three yoga poses

EarthElementMountainNext weekend I am teaching a yoga workshop called “Elemental Yoga” at the Central New York Pagan Pride Day Festival in Syracuse, New York. I’m very excited. This is the first time I’ve ventured out of my comforting Adirondack mountains to teach yoga to strangers, so I’m also a bit nervous. I have been doing lots of grounding work over the past few weeks, drawing nourishing energy from the earth, while at the same time inviting my vision for the workshop down to the physical level so it will manifest.

Yoga always helps me stay grounded and centered, but these three simple poses are my go-to poses when I need a quick refocus.

  1. Mountain pose. Tadasana is the basis of all standing poses in yoga. It embodies the grounding energy of the root chakra and brings awareness to your postural alignment. Stand with your feet no wider than your hips and your toes forward. Soften your knees, spread your toes and balance your weight between the balls of your feet and the center of your heel. Drop your tailbone and reach the crown of your head up, lengthening your spine. Relax your arms by your sides. Close your eyes and imagine your weight dropping into your feet, like you are trying to be so heavy that no one can lift you off the ground. You might sense your feet sinking into the floor or, if you are outside, the ground. Keep your knees slightly bent – if you lock them it will be harder for you to keep your feet heavy.
  2. EarthElementLotusLotus pose. Padmasana originated in the meditative practices of ancient India and is still used by modern-day practitioners. This centering posture presses your sitting bones, your physical “roots,” firmly down. Due to the hip and knee flexibility required, full lotus pose, with both feet placed on the opposite thighs, is not available for everyone. If you find it difficult, you can modify by bringing just one foot onto the other thigh (half lotus pose) or simply crossing your ankles (easy pose). If you practice Padmasana regularly, be sure to alternate which leg is on top to avoid developing imbalance in the hips. Once you get settled in your seat, lengthen your spine, lower your chin slightly and become aware of everything that is touching the surface you are sitting on. I find that just a few minutes focusing on my physical connection to the earth is calming and helps me to feel present.
  3. EarthElementCobraCobra pose. It is difficult to get closer to earth energy than to have your belly on the earth in Bhujangasana. Lie face down and stretch your legs back, feet hip-width apart, and press the tops of your feet into the floor. Place your hands under your shoulders, fingers spread, and hug your elbows to your sides. Keeping your pelvis pressed into the floor and straightening your arms as you make space to do so, lift your heart. Relax your shoulder blades down your back, draw your lower belly slightly off the floor and lift the top of your sternum. Draw your ears away from your shoulders, lengthening your neck. Feel the tops of your feet, your thighs, your pelvis and your low belly on the earth. If you are in a time of transformation or change, add extra oomph by closing your eyes and imagining you are shedding your skin, slithering out of whatever you are letting go of in order for change to happen.

7 stones to heal and balance the Chakras

Stones and crystals have a long tradition of being used for healing. Each variety of stone has its own resonance which creates its healing abilities. Working with appropriate stones can help to restore stability and balance to the Chakra energy system, stimulating the physical body’s natural healing mechanisms. (For more on how healing crystals work, see this article by Benjamin Dean.)

My own interest in stones began when I was a child. I collected rocks everywhere, and was overjoyed when I found quartz or the beautiful red garnet which has been mined in the Adirondacks since the late 1800s. I’ve continued to learn about and work with crystals whenever there was an opportunity. Nowadays I carry a medicine bag with a variety of crystals, including one for each Chakra.

There are a number of stones that work well with each Chakra, and some are used for one Chakra by some folks and for a different Chakra by others. I chose the crystals which would best enhance the qualities of each Chakra that I most needed to heal, balance or support. Perhaps you will find others work better for you. I choose a stone by holding it in my hand and seeing how it makes me feel. You’ll know when you’ve got the right one.

Hematite

Hematite

1st Chakra: Roots

Hematite, or blood ore, powerfully roots you to the earth. It is used for grounding and for protection from negative forces. I work with hematite when I feel insecure or mentally scattered, to reconnect with the first Chakra’s stabilizing energy.

 

Citrine

Citrine

2nd Chakra: Emotions
A powerful stone for all the lower Chakras, citrine dissipates negative energy and invokes feelings of warmth, joy and hopefulness. It aids in physical and emotional healing and attracts abundance to your life. I chose citrine for the second Chakra because of its positive effects on the emotions.

 

Tiger Eye

Tiger Eye

3rd Chakra: Power
Tiger eye fires up vitality and personal power. This stone, which represents the sun, promotes optimism and aids with manifestation and the expression of will. I work with tiger eye when I’m ready to take action on an idea or to stand up for my beliefs.

 

Green Aventurine

Green Aventurine

4th Chakra: Balance
Like the 4th Chakra, green aventurine creates balance by evening out your masculine and feminine sides and the give and take of relationships. I use aventurine for work with love relationships, to get me through life changes (and there have been many), and to release anxiety.

 

Turquoise

Turquoise

5th Chakra: Truth
I have held a piece of turquoise to keep me calm and relaxed while speaking in public. Turquoise helps you communicate your truth and to empathize with others without loosing sight of your own values. It can help with any form of self-expression, as long as you are being honest with yourself and others.

 

Sodalite

Sodalite

6th Chakra: Intuition
Sodalite increases physic abilities and intuition, making it ideal for Third Eye work. It helps you recognize patterns in systems like astrology and the tarot, and can bring latent creative abilities to the surface. I bring out my sodalite whenever I’m stuck for a new idea or solution.

 

Amethyst

Amethyst

7th Chakra: Spirit
The perfect stone to accompany meditation, amethyst helps you quiet your mind and amplifies spiritual energy. Amethyst beads make wonderful malas. I use the uplifting energy of amethyst when life starts to feel heavy.

 

For a simple Chakra balancing practice, hold each stone, one at a time, in your hand and meditate on the look and feel of the stone, and how it makes you feel to hold it. Allow the energy of each stone to connect with yours and to enhance the energy of your Chakras.

* * *

I have put together sets of the crystals I use for my Chakra work, which are available in the True North Yoga studio and will soon be in our Etsy shop. If you would like to purchase one before they go on Etsy, contact me and I’ll happily send one your way.

 

A vinyasa flow yoga sequence with circles

If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred. (Walt Whitman)

If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred. (Walt Whitman)

I am a big fan of circles. If you visited the page about my spirit circles you’ll know just how powerful circles can be. A circle holds sacred space, and in that space amazing things can happen.

By incorporating circular movements into your yoga practice, you can create sacredness around you and within you. I love to create sequences that contain circles to offer you that sacredness.

This short and not-too-challenging vinyasa flow sequence incorporates a number of different circles. Unroll your yoga mat and create your own sacred circle with your practice.