Mindful, Meditative Hiking

People have a hard time stopping. Usually, we start a new activity just as we wrap up a different one. You may be thinking, “Yea right, I can easily hang out on the couch and Netflix my day away.” But the truth is, this is still a form of engagement. Just because it’s sedentary doesn’t mean you’re not constantly processing imagery, perceiving emotions, and your mind is flaying with brain activity!

When we start new activities back to back in our normal, busy, day-to-day lives, we forget to take a few moments to simply stop. When we don’t stop, we don’t decompress. And, if something bad happened early on, it puts a real damper on the rest of the day. Ever heard the phrase,tomorrow is a new day” …anyone? We’re constantly seeking the “what’s next?”, and we find ourselves losing touch with our own personality.

When we lose touch with ourselves, we carry the stress and anxiety of the previous activities into the new one that we’re about to embark on without even realizing it. Our brains are constantly storing memories and the bad memories will affect everything else, if you let them! Unless you actively change those thought patterns, you may find yourself dwelling and replaying scenarios over and over to catch a glimpse of the “what-ifs”. “What if I would have said this?”, or, “What if I never even bothered going to visit?”. What if I just did the work myself instead of relying on others?”

The truth is that these “what-ifs” have now robbed you of the enjoyment you were seeking in whatever it is you’re doing (hopefully hiking). So, how do you regain your sense of self? How do you reconnect with the fun in life? How do you rediscover that positive aura you want to surround yourself with?

If you practice the following techniques, you can train yourself to see the silver lining in even the worst of times. Give them a try on your next hike and feel the negative energy dissolve from around you. Report back here, on HykLyt, in the comments section, if any of these exercises seem to work for you. And, if you like the blog, please think about subscribing. It’s free and will keep you up to date on everything HykLyt!

How-To Meditate While Hiking

1) Focus On The Steps: While you’re hiking, begin to train your mind to fully acknowledge each step. What do you feel around the soles of your boots? How does gravel give way underneath you? What about sand? Think about the dampened and matted grass underneath you as morning dew wets the trail. Staying grounded is simply that, live in the moment, and experiencing your surroundings.

2) Breathe In Your Nose & Out Your Mouth: It may seem silly, but this is a very calming exercise. I used this in the army. In fact, I used this technique to stay calm while treating casualties in a combat environment. It steadies your breathes and soothes the mind. Paying attention to involuntary breathing mechanisms can relax you and relieve stress even under the most extreme circumstances. Side note: This simple exercise actually helps with headaches and migraines, as well!

3) Find The Wildlife: As you focus on your steps, and you concentrate on your breathing, your next goal is to find the critters. We can learn so much from the wildlife that we cross paths with along the trails. Learning something new about any animal is a great exercise that will provide a friendly challenge to yourself while you hike. It’s a blast to discover new things and personally I have been surprised by wildlife plenty of times!

4) Bring A Sketchbook: Look, I’m far from a great artist (or even being called an artist), but there’s something special about art. As you hike, take a pit stop at a scenic overlook and stay awhile. Sketch the landscape or your close surroundings. Jot down the trail and date to look back on it in the future. Ever hear that “putting it on paper” makes it easier to remember? Well, I figure I might as well put my happy memories on paper in some form.

5) Move With Each Breathe: So, you’ve already been mindfully breathing while meditation hiking. Now, let’s add an element of fluidity. Feel your fingers by wiggling them at your sides. This breaks the outside distractions. Upon inhale, take a step, and on exhale, another. This will make you move slower, but deliberately. Concentrated.

6) Listen And Respond To Your Thoughts: I won’t call you crazy for talking to yourself when you’re out on your own in the wilds. This is a good time to really hear yourself out and work through anything that you feel may have been holding you back lately. Many times, our problems are only our problems because we continue to ignore them. They want to be validated, just the same as individuals. Everyone wants their place in life. Your problems do to. Address them. Work on solutions.

7) Practice Physical And Emotional Awareness: This could look different for each person, but as an adventure guide, I would recommend to hikers to feel out their surroundings and listen to themselves. This step is essentially putting all of the previous 6 steps into one. And once you’re able to do all of these things, you’ve found your way into mindful and meditative hiking.

Let Me Know What Works For You

This practice of mindful hiking is not the only way to expressly meditate while on the trails. I plan to write more articles on this subject but I’m curious to know what others have discovered that works for them. If you have grounding techniques that you practice often and it seems to help relax you, let me know in the comments or email me at hyklyt@hyklyt.com

Thanks for reading, hiker!

This post was written by Evan

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Walk A Little Slower With Morning Hike Poetry

If you know me, you’d know that for awhile I studied literature in college (amongst many other majors before ultimately deciding on sociology). I found some of the most interesting reads during that time of growth.

I remember reading Dracula, and telling my instructor that it was too cliche and that I’d like to switch my study book. So, I changed it to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”. That book introduced me to the revolutionary era of literature during the worlds industrialization phase.

The romantic period they (scholars) call it. It was during the time that books became novels and characters in the books showed feelings and thoughts of their own, instead of what the royalty in society would expect the characters to think.

It was a monstrous time in the eyes of the kingdom, but an exciting breakthrough in the eyes of the lower and middle class.

Before novels, we had poetry. Everything was written in a poetic format. The news was introduced through poetry. Messages between one another; poetry. Promises written in ink; poetry.

I try to imagine what a world full of poetry would be like, but it escapes me as I am so used to today’s forms of literature.

You may have noticed in many of my other blog posts that I’ve referenced poetry by K. Tolnoe (you’ll find her short poems at the end of most of my posts). The reason for that, is I connect so deeply with many of those one liners. It is difficult to explain but it’s almost like those single sentence or two sentence poems were written for me to discover. It has a grounding effect for me and resonates deep within.

I liked her poems so much, I supported her by buying her book, “The Wolf”. It didn’t take long for me to finish cover to cover and from time to time I revisit those pages.

I have found a sense of peace through poetry and I have learned that something I really like to do is take that poetry with me on backpacking trips and day-hikes. The reason for it? It explores thoughts and perspectives that are not my own.

I want to share some of my favorite nature poems with you here, on HykLyt. Hopefully, you’ll find a small part of yourself that you didn’t know you had.

William Wordsworth; The Most Famous Nature Poet

K. Tolnoe; My Favorite Poet

Disclaimer: There is a typo in the poem. Kamilla is from Denmark and the language barrier may be the culprit.

Walt Whitman; The America Poet

Sara Teasdale; Wartime Poet

Tupac Shakur; Legendary Hip-Hop Artist

This post was written by Evan.

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How Hiking Can Impact Your Mental Health

I love to hike.

There’s something special about the feeling of pebbles under your boots. Or, the way dampened grass mats down beneath you as you cut through a meadow. The sense of touch.

The sounds of the bridge’s planks creaking while you crossover a rushing river, and the babbling stream against the sandstone riverbed. Birds will call out above you and the cicadas make music for their day to day dance. The sense of sound.

The visuals cannot be matched, as you gain elevation you will literally watch as the clouds form around you. Cities will become small, and treetops will become your new carpeting. The sense of sight.

You can taste the fresh air. Your breaths get shorter and more frequent as the oxygen thins around you, yet somehow, you are encapsulated in the truest form of freedom. The sense of taste.

The air smells of pines, wildflowers and rain. the raindrops flee past you as they race their way to the ground, though sometimes they take the long route and travel sideways with the wind. They carry all of the wonderful scents that nature has to offer, neatly packed into tiny water molecules. The sense of smell.

Hiking Appeals To All Of The Senses

Recently, I watched a “Ted Talk” about an experiment to create a new type of clock that was conducted by two researchers.

One man created a clock that would read time based off of shadow positioning, similar to a sundial. This clock only appealed to the sense of sight.

The other man created a clock that had multiple magnifying glasses. As the sun would rise and set throughout the day it would reach a point where it hit each magnifying glass. Those magnifying glasses would then beam the sunlight into a shot glass containing essential oils that would heat up and release a scent. People would be able to tell time based on the sense of smell, and also based on looking at which magnifying glass the sun was currently lighting. This clock appealed to two different senses; smell and sight.

What made the second clock so much better than the first? The stimuli. Also, what does that have to do with hiking?

Luckily for us, hiking appeals to all of the senses, providing a multitude of stimuli to respond to, which has been proven to effect the brain’s healthy chemicals. Serotonin, especially.

Smell – Pleasing smells reduce stress.

Taste – Eating natural foods such as trail mix (without added sugars) increases well-being and mindfulness.

Touch – Sometimes, you just need to feel some sunlight on your skin to boost your mood.

Sound – The acoustics of the great outdoors are what people evolved to hear. They are usually more subtle and less dramatic than sounds from inside the city. The decibel range is quite low. Many of today’s auditory disasters, are man-made.

Sight – Without mentioning the obvious views, let’s talk about something else that acts as an energy booster. The hiking community is genuine. Many times, it’s full of friendly people you may come across. As people seek peace in the outdoors, they generally respond to others in a peaceful light to match their surroundings. You may come across something as small as a hiker smiling as you trek past. This elevates your mood.

Engaging Mindfulness While Hiking

If you use your five senses to respond to stimuli around you with mindfulness, you’ll find that you’re happier. To engage in mindfulness you’ll want to practice grounding techniques.

As an example:

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – This exercise requires you to name five things you can see, four things you can physically feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This exercise helps you to shift the focus of your anxious mind away from the thoughts that may be causing you to feel anxious. Repeated use of this exercise can help you to reframe negative or harmful thought patterns.

With hiking, you’re able to practice techniques such as the one above without even realizing it. Because no two hikes will ever be the same you’re constantly shifting your thought patterns, problem-solving, and allowing your creative juices to flow.

You can also participate in fun ways to learn, another great grounding technique.

Things like plant identification can make the hike more enjoyable and adventurous, you can read about some of the common ones you may see in the United States, here:

Botany For Hikers

Releasing Serotonin

Immediately after you begin your hike, your brain will release serotonin, also know as the happiness hormone. This chemical is even more effective because you’re senses are stimulated. Think of it as “keeping your body in as healthy a state as possible”, because your mind doesn’t know what to expect next, it preserves your health in preparation, including your mental health.

It’s been proven in studies that moderate exercise results in a happier lifestyle, and hiking provides that exercise without feeling like a chore. After all, you’re simply going for a walk to get a good view, right?

Stanford University released a statement that, “being in the great outdoors reduces anxiety and leads to lower risk of depression.”

This study also noted that hiking helps to calm the portion of your brain that dwells on bad thoughts.

“Outdoor exercise has a direct correlation to greater feelings of positivity and energy and fewer feelings of tension, anger and depression.” -Environmental Science and Technology Journal.

Burning Calories For Your Mental Well-Being

Let’s face it, when we’re out of shape, we don’t feel good. We don’t feel good about ourselves and we don’t feel good about our lifestyle.

I know.

I’ve lived it.

For a long time I sold myself on the idea that I was happy with my way of life. It involved very little exercise, if any at all, and sedentary hobbies. In hindsight, I was nowhere near as happy as I am now that I’ve become active. I learned what the outdoors had to offer and it changed my life for the better.

This has helped my general thought processes greatly. I think in a much more positive, silver-linings way, and I really appreciate that I was able to discover this at a young age.

What Are The Top Benefits Of Hiking For Your Mental Health?

To wrap this post up I want to summarize some of the benefits acquired by hiking. If you have others that you’d like to see make the list next time, let me know by commenting below; or, send an email to hyklyt@hyklyt.com

Happy trails!

1: It Reduces Stress

2: It Makes You Happier

3: It Will Boost Your Self-Esteem

4: It Strengthens The Brain

5: It Decreases Negative Thoughts

6: It Increases Your Endurance

7: It Delivers A Creative Outlet

8: It Harbors A Friendly Community

9: It Presents The Most Memorable Views

10: It Challenges You

This post was written by Evan

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Thanks for reading, hiker!

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