Yoga Trails among the Trees

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Yoga grabs at me in mid run. I cut across a field, kick off my shoes, and stand in eagle pose for as long as I want. At first, I teeter when trying to focus on a leaf in the river. I blame the river for flowing. For moving. How can I become still in a posture if I can’t focus on an inert wall in a house or yoga studio? I focus on the tree, and the leaves rustle, so I topple over.
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Everything is moving, trembling under the surface, even if it holds a stagnant appearance. Tiny vibrations and changes are happening all the time. I plant my foot in the soil and feel the slight tremble. I don’t tell my foot to be still. I work with my body’s subtle, natural movements. My toes anchor to the soil, and I slightly, oh so slightly, waver constantly in the pose and breathe and forget I am moving and the river is flowing and the trees shake. I realize that there’s no way to stop the motion that’s constantly inside of living things, myself included. Sitting still most certainly feels bad to many people. Cells rattle.

I notice the turkey tracks in the dirt around me. The deer imprints her motion in the mud. She brings her babies, and I see the hoof prints all around me as I sun salutation and balance in half moon pose. I look up–the tree is growing and changing all the time, shifting, adjusting to the sun and soil and water. We only think the trees are still, but they aren’t. Life is moving in them, through them, not just around them, all the time.

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I began a new practice with old habits in order to free myself. Trail running has been part of my routine for almost seven years. Yoga has been in my life, on the side, since I was in eighth grade. I would pick it up enough to learn a little more each time and then toss it aside without complete devotion. I didn’t stick it out, but it has never gone away, and I know more than the basics to the practice and way of life. Until last year, there were days when my practice was only a sun salutation. Most days, I tried crow until I popped my nose on the floor. I learned new ways to stand in tree pose. I became brave with a headstand and handstands against a wall.

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Yoga and trail running give me glimpses of nature I would otherwise miss. Both of them allow me to enjoy movement and change. Not sticking with a specific program but truly flowing through my daily life offers the most creative freedom.

"Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them." --Antoine de Saint-Exupery, from The Little Prince

“Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery, from The Little Prince

Going into the forest, into nature, has been fun for my family, especially my children. I learn more about stretching, meditating, breathing, laughing, and being from the children, when I follow along with their natural play, which includes all of those things. They choose their own places in the forest that seem even more enchanted once we finish. We look for shapes in the trees, the shadows, the filtering sunlight, the riverbank, and we try to imitate those forms with our yoga poses. My husband takes our photos on the trails he clears. Sometimes, the results are beautiful.

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Other times, we simply have fun and fall over and laugh and enjoy being together.

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Our changes opened a new way–like the trails we have been blazing this summer.

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Some days, I see the turkey stretch and know it’s time for me to bend and flex. In the afternoons, the young deer race one another out of the trail heads and sprint across the fields. We share.

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I go out every day to imprint the paths and pack down the new ones. At first, my line was soft and barely noticeable, but my daily devotion to the trails and my practice reveals the deep meaning of my intention. One step at a time. Back in the spring, my oldest daughter took the first steps by planting some seeds about a young adult book centered on nature and yoga. I’ll be sharing more details with you soon about the new projects evolving out of our new practice.

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In my observations, the turkey have taught me a lot about yoga, too:

"Why they always make serious face in yoga? You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver. Practice tonight in hotel. Not to hurry, not to try too hard. Too serious, you make you sick. You can calling the good energy with a smile." --Ketut Liyer, Balinese healer from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Smiling when I practice close to the wild turkeys in my backyard--they stretch & sun salutation too.

“Why they always make serious face in yoga? You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver. Practice tonight in hotel. Not to hurry, not to try too hard. Too serious, you make you sick. You can calling the good energy with a smile.” –Ketut Liyer, Balinese healer from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Smiling when I practice close to the wild turkeys in my backyard–they stretch & sun salutation too.

Reverse warrior

Reverse warrior

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Playfulness is Mindfulness is Enchantment

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I play every day. I like unstructured play–no particular rules or strategies, nothing to win or lose, no set goal except to play and see what happens and allow my playfulness to evolve. Play = motion + discovery, for me. Summer always reminds me again & offers a chance to regain any playfulness I’ve lost or forgotten.

The forest is an essential playmate since it’s always changing, yet always there. Not only does it change for the seasonal shifts, but changes happen every day in the forest to offer a different type of play. As if a hot blanket were thrown over me during humid days, I stumble and fall and wrestle with the trails until I’m a puddle of sweat. I’m reminded of wrestling with my brother as a child, of trying to slip away and falling in spite of thinking I had the advantage.
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Slipping on shiny stones and splashing up the mud, I dance out a rhythm and partner perfectly with the bird song and drumming of the branches. I’m reminded of dancing in the yard in the sunshine with wild abandon as my mother’s radio blared the Rolling Stones or Huey Lewis & the News from the windows of the house.
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The rain splashes down through the tree canopy and running is like swimming and flying and freeing all at once, like when an aunt or grandmother or some relative we begged would drive us to the pool or the lake in the summer and we lost track of time and dove and floated in the water until it felt like we swam in our sleep.

As I was running last week, two young brothers (maybe 8 and 6 years old) began following me on the trails after I passed their family. They laughed and ran behind me. They giggled and bounded, and I felt a pang of nostalgia for the trails from my childhood.

When I run in the forest, on trails, I play the most. It doesn’t feel difficult to my body when I approach it as play–jumping over roots, slowing when necessary, gaining momentum downhill and bounding through the creek, across a bridge, sometimes leaping and other times tip toeing. I get lost in this playfulness. I start writing stories in my head, making up scenarios, laughing aloud as the story plays like a movie for me. When a character does something I don’t like, I rewrite it, try another scene, another lover, give her a different bicycle to ride to work.

For me, writing and running create the perfect mixture of playfulness. The summertime intensifies the combination with enchantment.