I have been an avid outdoorsman and multi-sport athlete for nearly my whole life; however, I am still new to yoga and the mindful lifestyle that inevitably follows its adoption. My yoga practice began three years ago like I would image it did for many twenty-something males. My girlfriend dragged me to a crowded, sweaty studio where I struggled my way through a 90-minute class with a classic ‘eccentric’ instructor. It simply didn’t work for me. It was not until I took my yoga practice outdoors that it would really ‘click.’ As a competitive person, the outdoors always meant pushing myself as hard as possible. I found enjoyment in nature, but I was not allowing myself to slow down enough to fully understand the immense effect it had on me. Outdoor yoga, specifically in nature, forced me to do just that – slow down, breathe and move.
Hiking in New England can be far more strenuous than most people envision. Our trails are unrelenting, rocky, uneven, root filled and sometimes nearly vertical. In short, leading hikes in New England is as challenging as it is rewarding, but the end goal is always to offer a real hiking experience with no frills and no gimmicks. As a co-leader of what are predominately female trips, I am often asked the question “is it weird being the only guy?" I usually smile and just shake my head no.
One of the many trips we led this summer was a five-hour vigorous hike to a hut in a pristine alpine notch surrounded by two mountain lakes, a massive natural boulder field and a valley vista. We ate and slept in wooden huts as 50+ mile per hour mountain winds rattled our windows. We summited two mountains, and practiced yoga and meditation amongst beautiful views, chirping birds and buzzing insects. By the end of the trip, we had hiked for two full days across a difficult 13-mile loop, sharing laughs, stories and memories without the many distractions of our modern world. I helped and watched eight women push themselves to thrive in the outdoors and become fast friends. Many of these women dealt head-on with feelings of self-doubt, insecurities large and small, and overcame fear and anxiety. So, is it weird to be the only guy? Well…no. It’s actually pretty incredible!
I just only wish more men would join us on our trips because they need this experience, too. You see our trips are about people connecting with each other, connecting with the outdoors, being yourself, and most importantly, allowing yourself to be vulnerable. The trail has a way of breaking down barriers as your everyday vices are stripped from your immediate access. Small talk quickly becomes deep meaningful conversations with people you have only known for hours. Before long, people are encouraging one another and literally picking each other up. This sort of camaraderie and compassion empowers us to accomplish things we never thought we were capable of.
It is a widely known fact that yoga and the outdoors can help reduce stress and improve our mental health. My hope is that, as a society, we will eventually see past the various stigmas that prevent many men from trying yoga and connecting with one another in a deep, vulnerable fashion. Society often tells us that it is unmasculine to be in touch what we feel and want or to express our needs and desires. Suppressing these types of feelings will only lead to loneliness, depression or worse. Hiking in a group and practicing yoga cultivate a supportive community that enables you to face and communicate these emotions. In the 'everything now' world we live in, it is more important than ever to slow down, be present, feel and be vulnerable. It is also easy to forget that small adventures, such as taking a hike or doing yoga can be woven into our busy lives and how truly therapeutic they are for us.