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Hello again Friends! Training for our thru-hike has integrated itself into the lives of both Paul and myself. This journey is not just about miles or one single achievement. It is an intentional and illuminating experience that is already enhancing our perceptions.
Let’s talk about what can be described as physical practices that I feel tie in well to training for the Appalachian Trail. I intend on utilizing these practices on trail to the degree that it makes sense.
These practices are not limited to preparing for thru-hikes. I am an instructor of yoga, qigong and tai chi and it is absolutely my goal introduce these them to anyone with interest. I’ve included several links to YouTube and articles throughout to encourage you on your journey. Take what is helpful and leave the rest behind.
Perception of health.
Health cannot be limited to an ideal of youth and beauty, physical strength or even the absence of disease. I consider health and well-being as expanding self-awareness, cultivating balance and seeking to function as optimally as possible.
Many years ago when I indulged in the work of the corporate world, I was sending an “important” email around 10pm and I noticed my breath. Rather, that I felt as though I couldn’t take a full inhale. My chest was very tight and I momentarily became frightened. The mind is good at changing course and as I quickly shifted my focus back to my email my breath returned to its autonomic state and was no longer upsetting. But that moment stood out as a shift in my perception.
Our breath takes on the character of how we feel. There are many different breathing practices but in my experience simply bringing awareness to the breath occasionally, without manipulating or trying to accomplish anything elicits transformation. Especially when we also offer ourselves kindness and compassion.
Try it if you like.
Sit up tall and allow your shoulders to release away from your ears. Let your jaw relax. Bring your awareness to your breath. You don’t have to change anything about it, but it will likely change under your observation. You might place your hands on your body and notice their warmth and gentle pressure. Smile into your breath and your being. Offer yourself kindness. The moment you release awareness your breath returns to its automatic rhythm, but a physiological shift has taken place.
Yoga is for anyone.
Asana is a Sanskrit word that describes a comfortable sitting position. In our culture asana describes the physical postures that people tend to associate with “doing yoga”. Incidentally, this turns many people off from giving it a try.
Developing proficiency in a posture isn’t the goal of yoga but physical movement does provide a variety of beneficial outcomes.
When we move our bodies mindfully we encourage the production of fluid in our joints, the circulation of blood and lymph, the regulation of hormones, the functioning of organs, toning of muscles and connective tissue and the strengthening of bones. These are just some of the benefits.
My physical practice and what I teach includes gentle stretches, some “conventional” postures with modifications and restorative postures utilized to release deeply held tension in the tissue of the body.
Qigong, tai chi and the rhythms of nature.
Qigong can be translated to working with the body’s energy. It is a practice similar to yoga but lesser known in the west and includes self-massage, acupressure, tapping and patting the body, gentle stretches and movements, visualization and breath awareness.
The goal of this practice is to encourage the flow of energy, releasing areas of stagnation and embracing our experience alongside the rhythms of nature. Here is a short qigong practice for you.
Tai chi is a moving meditation, descendant of qigong. In learning a specific sequence of movements it encourages the development of stability, kinesthetic awareness (how we move our body in space), and quiet awareness. It teaches listening and yielding, learning to absorb an incoming force and combining it with our own energy to deliver a thoughtful response.
When we force our hand or work too hard we forfeit our energy by riding against the current. True strength is an annealing process that comes though yielding to nature. Learning how to soften and experiencing vulnerability encourages the development of inner strength.
Walking is glorious exercise.
On a hiking website I’m preaching to the choir by describing the benefits of walking.
Walking improves the flow of blood and lymph which is important for circulation and our body’s immune function. Horizontal eye movements while walking are thought to improve mental clarity and encourage the processing of trauma.
Committing to a 15 minute walk each day can create a world of change in your body and mind.
Pittsburgh and the surrounding area has no shortage of hills, trees, trails and staircase walkways. In fact, Pittsburgh leads the nation in providing and maintaining neighborhood staircases that are heavily relied on by the public. We prioritize daily neighborhood walks of varying lengths.
As we haven’t backpacked since November, weekends and days off of work include day hikes at nearby state parks. We plan to enjoy a few short backpacking trips in March leading up to our thru-hike and I will post about how we feel and incorporate other practices during those as well.
Knee strengthening exercises.
Paul discovered Chase Mountains on YouTube a while back and most recently we have added a mixture of the following exercises a few times per week. I have noticed a pronounced reduction in some dull knee pain that has been a part of my life for the past few years.
Relax, everything is exactly as it needs to be.
To function optimally, we require a balance of the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous responses. Stimulation is good, it gets us going, but too much intensity is a problem in a culture that places a high value on doing, succeeding and producing.
Over-stimulation of the sympathetic nervous response over time creates the environment for anxiety, depression, poor digestion, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Lie down in the afternoon for a short nap, sit without a screen in front of you and notice your breath, take a leisurely stroll outdoors. Whatever you like to do that gives you a sense of ease and peace, give yourself that gift. Breath, stretch, calm your mind and notice that you meet with less resistance.
The most important thing we can do to improve the world around us is to care well for ourselves.
As always, I encourage your comments and questions. How do you like to train for life? What practices do you enjoy that offer you a feeling of balance?
Next time I’ll share our plan for eating vegetarian on the trail while maintaining the necessary caloric intake.
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