Taking a break from my social work career to learn the skill of teaching yoga, 2016-2017 was my sabbatical year studying power yoga and settling into my new home state of Connecticut. For the last several years I’ve worked with children who have experienced abuse and neglect as a Court Appointed Special Advocate Supervisor with Dallas CASA. My role was to coach advocate volunteers in how to support children and their families in moving past this trauma. My Dallas CASA family taught me a lot and the Grit Fitness crew helped me grow in many ways to build up my confidence to move in this new direction from being a social worker to yoga teacher. But it was from my year of doing AmeriCorps Public Allies Connecticut, that I learned the value of spending time in reflection. The practice of stopping to reflect is one of the many skills that I took away from this incredible leadership-development program. I felt my intuition urging me to take an inventory of what life goals I had yet to accomplish.

At 30 revolutions around the sun it felt like the right time to tackle whatever fears or barriers were holding me back from achieving these goals. Honestly, a full-blown panic attack and mental health breakdown set me on this course with the stress of moving across the country and feeling consumed by so many unknowns. I’m still working on my ever evolving list of fears and anxiety triggers, but I am certain about two things:

The power of nature + yoga to transform the body and mind

In the words of John Muir, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” The same holds true for me when practicing yoga. Honestly, I wish I was quoting a Latinx individual or woman here, but there simply isn’t enough media coverage of those of us who work/spend time in outdoor sports so that’s a topic for another day. Back to yoga – spending time outdoors and on my mat are the two places I feel most at ease. Both are opportunities to connect to my body and the present moment. It only made sense to try and explore how I could merge my two happy spaces into a profession.

I look forward to sharing yoga hikes with anyone who is willing to give it a try. It was an incredible experience training alongside my new yoga teacher friends at West Hartford Yoga for the 200-hour Power Yoga Teacher Training. Words cannot capture the gratitude I feel for our teachers and fellow trainees for sharing your practice, your kindness, and your open hearts with me. Seven sharing circles later and you know me in more intimate ways than many. It’s been an honor to send and receive metta from each of you.

This blog will serve to share my rambling thoughts on yoga and hiking explorations across Nutmeg state parks and conservation centers. Some personal sprinkles of the hiking adventures my husband and I embark on across the globe since coming into a love of hiking together in the mid 2000s may also make an appearance. For instance, in lieu of an engagement ring I campaigned for an engagement hiking roadtrip to Yellowstone National Park — totally worth not having a rock on my left hand — as we went off the grid in search of better connection to wild spaces + one another before committing to the journey of marriage.


Constant Vigilance on Hikes

“Keep a sharp eye about-cha” — Professor Mad-Eye (Erm, or sage advice from Bartemius Crouch Junior?). Icicles on the Henry Buck Trail January 2017

Words of wisdom not just for the Wizarding World but also for the trails. Preparation is critical for a safe and successful hike. There’s a lot of planning that goes into what hike I do on a personal level and offer as a group hike.

  1. Is it safe and going to be awesome?
  2. What do I need to bring to stay safe?
  3. Who is my hiking accountabila-buddy?

Safety

A variety of conditions go into determining if a hike is safe and going to be awesome. For me these include trail conditions, time of year, time of day for the hike, weather, wildlife activity, hunting season, health and energy level. I never attempt a trail if I’m feeling sick or dehydrated. Just as in yoga practice, I want to be fully present when on a trail, constantly assessing trail conditions, scanning the area for dangerous wildlife/hunter activity, checking in with my body to make sure I’m drinking enough water, pausing when I notice I’ve lost connection to a steady breath and stopping to appreciate the beautiful surroundings of trees, brooks, and bird songs.

All trails are not created equal. Some trails are better suited to the intermediate hiker, while others are easily accessible to beginners and paved for street-shoes. During certain times of the year, a trail can be at it’s “awesome peak” and come alive with a snowy landscape, large icicles, rushing streams, Fall foliage, or blooming wildflowers. For winter hikes, I plan start and end time during the “warmest” section of the day. The antithesis of summer hikes, when I shoot for cooler times and shaded trails. I try to strategically plan both personal and group hikes to take place during the time frame that a trail is reported to be at its most awesome.

Last Fall, I hiked Cobble Mountain just as it was about to finish peak foliage and found it be more beautiful of a trek then than during the summer months (summer bugs – not fun). I haven’t attempted winter (yet) but it’s ranked as best hiked in Autumn. The Henry Buck Trail is reported to be a wildflower lover’s dreamscape in the first couple weeks of May when Dutchmen’s Breeches, Bead Lilies, and a variety of perennials emerge at the start of Spring. It’s a magical time that draws Botanical Society members from Boston down to New York for this Connecticut trail. While short, the Henry Buck is one of my favorite trail hikes that I’ve hiked in all 4 seasons. Even Bellatrix Lestrange, our Boston Terrier, loved the views.

I’ve led several winter group hikes now on trails that I vet during the previous winter and find it to be my favorite time of year for leading yoga hikes. It’s invigorating to spend time in a snowy or ice-covered landscape with a thermos of hot tea to enjoy when pausing to enjoy a spectacular view. While the trails will be winter awesome, it won’t feel that way if it’s not safe to get outside due to extreme wind chill/ice/thunder-snow so I make it a personal rule to let mother nature cancel a planned yoga hike for safety reasons. More often than not though, there is GREAT winter weather with appropriate clothing and gear. I know this from experience in 2016 and 2017 when my husband and I ventured outside for winter hikes on average of 3 times a week. We moved back to Connecticut from Texas in 2016 and resolved to fall in love with New England’s long winters by taking up winter activities like hiking and snow-shoeing on Connecticut trails. Winter 2018 was a dark period for me as I recovered from a meniscus tear and couldn’t be as active as I’m accustomed.

Packing for Success

What do I need to bring to stay safe? What do I need to bring to help the group stay safe? Are two critical questions I ask myself in the weeks leading up to a hike in order to make sure I have supplies on hand for the day of a planned hike. A seasonably-appropriate first aid-kid, including ankle/wrist/knee braces, are always in my pack along with a tripod to snap pictures of the moment since we can’t take anything from nature but memories. Love this light-weight, packable one: DIGIANT 50 Inch Aluminum Camera Phone Tripod+ Universal Tripod Smartphone Mount for Apple, iPhone Samsung and Other Brands Smartphones+Carrying Bag . I wear contacts when I hike but am completely blind if one were to pop out, so I always have an extra pair and glasses at the ready. I don’t assume everyone will come as prepared as they should be so I check-in with each hiker before starting a group hike to make sure they have enough water and weather-appropriate footwear. I haven’t had to turn anyone away yet, but wouldn’t hesitate to encourage someone to join us on another winter hike once they’ve obtained the proper winter footwear/clothing to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. It’s not worth risking their safety or group safety if a participant shows up in street shoes for a hike that will take place in snow and through sections of melting ice. Same goes for someone in flip-flops for a summer hike in strenuous terrain over slick rocks/tree roots — ankle roll/fall waiting to happen.

Every hiker’s list varies. Listen to the Hike podcast on the 11th essential for your backpack. Our yoga hikes include seva (service) and yoga ethics to leave the trails better than we found them by collecting litter.

Not quite related to packing, but goes along with preparedness. I don’t lead a group hike on a trail I’ve never done before. I also re-hike the route a few days before a planned hike to get a feel for current trail conditions. It’s important for me to have a back-up plan in place should things need to be re-worked for hiker or habitat safety. We never hike off trail so would have to change locations if there’s major storm damage of downed trees like happened at Sleeping Giant State Park in 2018 from a tornado. I’ve been trained in Wilderness First Aid and American Red Cross CPR should an emergency arise which puts my mind at ease to feel confident to assist a participant. Fun fact – Did you know the perfect patient position is also one of the hardest yoga poses? Savasana!  One of many things I learned at SOLO Wilderness Training School

Savasana = Perfect Patient Position

Accountabila-buddy

Hiking alone and without letting anyone know where you are going and for how long is dangerous and unnecessarily risky, not just for the solo-hiker but for emergency rescue teams. It’s imperative to leave your hiking plans with someone who isn’t joining. Just the way people have gym-buddies, have an accountabila-buddy. Someone who knows your plans and will follow up to make sure you’ve returned safely before they sound the alarm of your absence. Nobody thinks they’ll get lost or hurt while adventuring in the great outdoors, but the possibility is always there. Accidents can happen to the most prepared and experienced outdoor enthusiasts.

It’s best to prepare for the worst scenario – from gear that is ready to meet varying terrain and weather to having a first-aid kit on hand in the hopes of avoiding an accident all together. I’ve started on well-marked trails that several miles in no longer have visible trail markers and are criss-crossed with unsanctioned paths. In those moments I was thankful for having packed a compass, emergency whistle, flare, and head-lamp. While I have also been comforted in having a cell phone handy, reception can be spotty, and I tend to favor remote outdoor spaces. Back when my husband and I first started hiking, I used to say if there’s cell reception on the trail then we haven’t gotten far enough away.

Tag @NutmegYogaCT on Instagram or Facebook with your safety tips + hiking essentials.

Here are some great articles on hiker safety & preparedness (in no particular order of importance):

https://www.hiking-for-her.com/winter-hiking-tips.html

http://hikesafe.com/index.php?page=planning-your-hike

https://sectionhiker.com/winter-day-hiking-gear-list/

https://www.thehikinglife.com/skills/snow/


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