the uphill part is really, really hard. and also worth it.

I’m not the biggest fan uphill. Even if it’s in a spectacularly gorgeous place, like Sequoia National Park, (which, thanks to my recent back country trip is my new favorite U.S. National Park) the “uphill” part of hiking isn’t my favorite.

Sequoia National Park was everything I wanted it to be: bursting to the brim with gargantuan trees and switchback hiking trails and boulder-strewn valleys and jagged horizons. I reflected on my Instagram feed about how quiet it was, noting: “There’s just something about being on trails where the only sounds are bird calls and insect conversations and rushing mountain streams. hiking boots crunch shale and the occasional breeze whistles through, but otherwise it’s just us and the trees standing proud, reverential and silent, surveying our descent into the valley below.”

And, let me tell you, the descent was steep. I know this, because I struggled with the weight of my backpack and a healthy dose of altitude sickness on the uphill part. )Of which, as previously mentioned, I’m not the biggest fan.) Mostly because of the short-of-breath-ness, and the fact that it usually looks impossible to walk to the top of the mountain pass from my vantage point, and also, it’s just plain hard work.

But, it is worth it. Because the views are insane. And there’s a power in rising to the challenge. And there’s a power in moving just one step beyond my perceived limitations. And there’s usually chocolate at the top.

One Mindfulness trick I use when I’m struggling to keep moving forward on a big uphill climb is the Counting Backwards method, courtesy of yoga teacher Erich Schiffman.

It works on a simple premise: When I’m in a place of mental discomfort, it’s nearly impossible to draw my attention inward and stay in the present moment. So my mental limitations and “freak-out thoughts” just get louder and louder and louder (and a little outlandish) and I experience a moment of anxiety. (You’ve probably experienced this sensation when you were stressed and couldn’t fall asleep at night. Ammiright?)

However, focusing on Counting Backwards anchors me in the present moment and allows me to practice pratyahara, the temporary withdrawing of the senses in Yoga Philosophy. In addition, letting the breath flow freely without the need to control it or change it helps me maintain mindful awareness. It’s a way of moving into the mindset of the “Observer” and regaining, well, a moment of perspective and sanity.

To practice Counting Backwards Meditation:

  1. Start by taking 3 Cleansing Inhales and 3 Cleansing Exhales, as big as possible.
  2. Remember that you are not going to change or control your breath, you are simply going to count it as it moves in and out of your body.
  3. Starting at 50, count backwards with each inhale and exhale until reaching the count of 1.
  4. The inhale is 50, the exhale is 49. The inhale is 48, the exhale is 47 and so on and so forth. If you lose count or become distracted, just start over at 50.
  5. When you reach 1, pause for a few moments and notice any positive changes and shifts in your body, mind and Spirit.

I use this technique often: to slow down the turning vrttis of my mind, to get me up a steep hiking trail, to help me fall asleep and to drop me into meditation mode.

Try my Free Audio Guided Meditation “Counting Backwards” 

Let me know when you use it and how it helps you. Happy Counting,

-lisa

p.s. please for the love, promote our National Parks System! Protect some of the most stunning places on Earth.

a yogi’s guide to hiking a 14er.

My Ironman insists on celebrating his birthday on top of a 14er in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Literally, on the summit. And I always, always, always forget how difficult it actually is to hike one of those things, so I say, “YES! Let’s totally hike that mountain that requires ten straight hours of hiking and a 4 am wake-up call on vacation!” and then I start hiking and remember: Holy freaking cow, this is really, really difficult. 

Worth it? Yes, because the spaciousness of the summit and the silence of the trail are unforgettable. But still difficult. 

So, readers, in the (likely) circumstance that you never marry a former Trail Guide who expertly guides you to the top of a 14er summit (or two) every summer, I humbly present to you my Yogi’s Guide to Hiking a 14er.

  1. Tell yourself it’s easy. Literally, start every sentence with: “It’s easy for me to…” And fill in the blank. In challenging and strenuous situations (for instance, climbing to the top of a pile of rocks 14 thousand feet in the air or getting your work done before deadline or talking to the most annoying co-worker in the history annoying co-workers) your thoughts (in Sanskrit vrtti-s) can spin wildly out-of-control. Hiking to the top of a 14er mirrors life in that it is mind-game. Gaining control over the 70,000 daily thoughts in our mind alters the spinning trajectory of our vrtti-s to be helpful instead of harmful. Our mind LOVES to distract us from achieving goals such as ‘being present’ and ‘being content’ and ‘not dying while walking these last 7 miles’ with negative vrtti-s. Negative or harmful thoughts are usually caused by deep emotional triggers (in Sanskrit: kleshas) and they turn over and over and over again in our subconscious until we believe them. Starting a sentence with, “It’s easy for me to…” re-sets the turning/tumbling/ridiculous cycle of self-judgmental thoughts and helps you focus on what you CAN DO. Like, for instance, take one more step. In fact, “It’s easy for me to hike this whole trail, even though my lungs are exploding.”
  2. Wear gloves. It’s cold. And numb fingers make everyone crabby.
  3. Listen to silence. I believe it’s ultra important to understand that the core of our being is always quiet and still. It is our Inner Light, our Inner Wisdom, which is connected to Spirit. A little bit of the Atman lives in each person’s heart and offers an Infinite wellspring of grace, joy, love and wisdom. The vrtti-s spin like wheels, distracting us with outer definitions of who we think we are and how we aren’t good enough, but the inner light of awareness (purusha), is a hub stillness. Listening to silence means learning to listen to the still small voice of awareness that shines through all the vrtti-s. Sit yourself down on a rock and listen. It’s incredibly quiet on the mountain. It’s intoxicating and beautiful and freeing.
  4. Get an alpine start. If you don’t get it done in the morning, it’s not going to happen. This is true of your yoga practice and your meditation practice. Set your alarm and get up in the dark if you need to. Be diligent in your personal resolve to consecrate your day toward Love and set your intention. Do it first thing in the morning or the day will get away from you. Remember: you have time.
  5. Take frequent rests. I recently learned that resting is a spiritual practice. And that taking naps is an important part of staying healthy and whole. When climbing that GD mountain of day, set aside a specific time of the day for an 8 minute savasana, legs-up-the-wall-pose or guided meditation. Resting is necessary for your body, mind and spirit to re-align. Rest at every mile mark, take a drink, eat a snack and enjoy the view.
  6. Be creative in your route. There is no ‘one right way’ to get to the top. In fact, there may not even be ‘a top’ in life. Everyone measures success differently. Give yourself permission to be bit creative with your route and your end goal. Stay safe, but let your dreams run wild and free. Seriously. Do the things that most inspire you and do them with passion. You may not have a 9-5 job, you may not wear a suit to work, you may not have a giant house or even a giant ego; be creative and courageous find what really makes you come alive. The view from ‘the top’ will be priceless.
  7. It’s about the journey. Sometimes, things are worth doing simply because they are beautiful and interesting. The spiritual journey of yoga is one of those things. The poses themselves are fun, but the inner journey of discipline, strength, flexibility and being willing to travel light is what matters most. Every step forward on the spiritual journey of healing the mind from addictions, cravings, compulsions and falsity is worthwhile. Every step forward into the Light is worth it—difficult and sometimes scary and sometimes hard as heck—but worth it. Keep walking. Try to enjoy the journey, because you’ll really never get this day, this trail, this hike ever again.
  8. Don’t be annoyed when a 3-year-old summits faster than you do. Refer to Number 7.
  9. Pack a chocolate bar. There is nothing sweeter in life than taking a moment to savor your hard work and delight in all your senses. When you achieve even a minor life goal (like putting all the clean dishes away?), enjoy the sweet moment to its FULLEST. Open a Cadbury, snap a few yoga photos from the summit, gobble up that Freaking Fresh mountain air and then start walking back down the trail. It’s waiting for you.