Hiking in of itself is a great exercise, but other exercises can also help strengthen not only your body and mind, but they can help you improve your hiking and balance. Yoga is my favorite “other exercise.” I practice yoga two to five times a week in addition to hiking as much as I can.
Rebecca Cutright is a yoga instructor, friend and fellow Rachel Carson Trail Challenge hiker. I asked Becca how yoga helps hikers.
OTHH: How does yoga help with other activities such as hiking and running?
Becca: I am no exercise scientist; however, I do believe there are benefits and personally experience the benefits of yoga in my daily life as well as my athletic activities such as hiking.
It seems to help in a myriad of ways including, but not limited to: flexibility that provides ease in climbing over obstacles or squatting low for steep, muddy downhills; balance when traversing uneven or muddy terrain; strength and stability to make it long distances without serious injury or muscle fatigue; general body awareness to help find ease in how I move and exert energy; practice can be rehabilitative after longer hikes to reduce soreness and stiffness; and one of my favorite benefits is being able to breathe fully and deeply even while climbing the steepest of the Rachel Carson Trail hills.
OTHH: Is there a particular type of yoga that helps with hiking/running more than others?
Becca: Possibly…. But the safe assumption would be that most styles provide some sort of benefit, even though the benefits may be different or achieved differently.
A style of yoga that incorporates core strength (that’s the whole body from the pelvic floor to the head and on all sides, not just the abs), leg strength, flexibility in the legs and pelvis, balance, and a strong focus on deep breathing are going to help walking long distances over uneven, muddy terrain that includes difficult climbs or descents that get your heart pumping. I prefer a slow-paced yoga where there is time to focus on all of this, feel my breath, and build body awareness. For me, this was and is Forrest Yoga. Maybe it is for you, too! And please remember… you do not have to be flexible or strong to do Forrest Yoga (or any other style for that matter).
OTHH: Are there certain postures that are useful?
Becca: This is a tricky question because each person’s body is different, so different poses will be more or less useful to different people. Plus, in my experience, yoga postures are meant to be done in a sequence to affect the whole body, not done individually to work or stretch only parts of the body. I think this is where the benefit comes from; you get a well-balanced body that is mobile, strong, and stable, plus awareness and the ability to breathe more deeply.
So, I guess I would say no. There are not certain postures that are useful to everybody. All of the postures done in a variety of ways with a focus on breathing is what’s useful.
OTHH: How long have you been practicing yoga – and hiking? How do you think it helps your performance on the trail?
I have been practicing yoga since January 2012 and hiking since summer of 2010.
Yoga has definitely improved my physical abilities on the trail as I mentioned before – stability in my movements, body awareness of how I use my body, strength, endurance, and breathing.
Over the years, my practice of yoga has also helped my mental performance during the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge. I still have the ups and downs, the defeatist attitudes, the thoughts of ‘why’ and ‘never again’. However, I was extremely aware in this most recent Challenge of my high at the beginning, my absolute bottom and doubts somewhere before I even hit the midpoint, and my comeback high through the last couple sections. It made me realize exactly why I end up coming back to the Rachel. It’s absolutely amazing to experience this huge range of mental, physical, and emotional change in one single day, and this year I got the chance to be aware of it, to experience it while it was happening. It really was a treat, and I owe it to my yoga practice.
OTHH: How many times have you done the Rachel? Just the full or also Homestead?
Becca: I have participated in the Full Rachel Carson Trail Challenge seven times, and finished five.
OTHH: Do you do any other long distance hikes/runs?
Becca: No. The Rachel is my exercise for the year. I get it all done in one day! But, seriously, it is the only long-distance challenge I do. I plan to do a long-distance bike ride this year – Pittsburgh to DC. It is a trip that takes multiple days and involves camping. It will be challenging, but it is not an organized challenge.