Mind, Soul and Body – Yoga in Yosemite

What could I offer, of that feeling in the park, in this writing? Everyone must have a unique experience of its grandeur. Whether connecting to its history, its sensationalism, or its entertainment, are there still remaining insights into its magic? Obviously I think so, or this piece wouldn’t be written. I wanted to write about something simple: yoga in Yosemite. How it reminded me that yoga isn’t about just going to the studio or exercising, but finding effervescent self-expression in any place while taking the time to laugh.

Downward-facing dog to relax after a steep hike to the top of Yosemite Falls

It started spontaneously at the summit of our first hike, after some easy stretching. One of my best friends, Rebecca, had done intense squats at the gym before our trip and was sore. It was my first trip to the park and gazing out across the vista below us, joining her in a hip stretch, I was in awe. At the top of Yosemite Falls after a 3.5 mile ascent, I gazed into a deep, vibrant rainbow stretching against the cold water gushing off the mountainside. In the distance, Half Dome arced against blue sky, and across the valley, steep granite walls reflected the afternoon sun with peaks of evergreens washing down their sides. As two of my best friends and I all eased into down dog, like ducks in a row, I saw an upside down panorama glaring against the sky, and I smiled.

Tree pose taking in a magnificent view off of Mist Trail

The down dogs in-a-row made me laugh so hard I had to take a picture. So I put my camera on auto and the three of us posed, inverted, on the mountaintop. I couldn’t stop laughing. In this outdoor studio, the beauty of yoga unfolded spontaneously. It was sporadic, excessive, dangerous, expressive. It was yoga the way I yearned for yoga to be – not hype and glam, but deep connection to life. Unraveling before me was a practice I had known but not truly discovered, and it was the free yoga that fits into every moment of life, even a hiking trip to Yosemite.

Airplane pose with a granite cliff rising in the background; Warrior 2 on a behemoth slab of rock; Side Crow on precarious boulders overlooking the valley – I felt the flow of Yosemite invite us. It said, “Come here! Look at this! Jump across this stream and play!” I felt our yoga was an homage to the space, to the beauty, and to the sacredness of the land. Without effort, the raddest and most badass pictures appeared on my camera. Jumping from rock to rock under the trees, our yoga practice bloomed in sync with the exact place that we found ourselves, whether tree or cliff, trail or waterfall.

Dancer pose on the Yosemite Falls hike

I can imagine taking this spirit anywhere in life – and I have. I’ve done handstands at my office and it turned my day brighter. Forward Fold at the airport to wake-up and reconnect with the people consumed in the hustle and bustle, to relocate compassion and perspective. But imagine, every moment being yoga, every second an opportunity to engage with life, to be present and let everything go just to play with this miracle and uncover our truest selves. That’s what yoga really is. And it can happen anywhere – the forest, mountains, highway, office, subway…anywhere we decide to turn our awareness on and engage with life. To relax, to love, to give, to breathe. That’s yoga.

Handstands and excitement in the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias at the South Entrance

Silly photographs from this trip are some of my fondest memories. Allowing the interplay between nature and human, not separate at all, dissolves the final boundaries we’ve erected against ourselves. Yoga enhances this surrender, anywhere. In poses on the trail all the trappings of propriety fell loose from my body and I was free to express me, as I am, just this way, in this moment. Sometimes I was a warrior, sometimes a crow, sometimes a child, sometimes a dancer.

It was, in fact, by risking losing the person I thought I was, by surrendering to the transformation of yoga in this magical, gorgeous valley, that I found a more authentic and meaningful self. And for me knowing that yoga is a practice that I can return to, anywhere, ensures that this was not just a lost moment in the wilderness, but the growth of something lasting and wonderful.

So, if you can’t go out and do some yoga today, then I hope everyone reading this at least takes a moment to play.

SarahClarkBy Sarah Clark, Contributing Author. Sarah graduated with a BA in Environmental Studies from Brown University in 2008 and received her Master of Environmental Science and Management degree from the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara in 2012. She currently works at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). An avid nature-lover since childhood, Sarah shares an equal passion for the great outdoors and writing.

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