New books by Nicole Tsong will help you make the most of your hiking and climbing ventures.
Editor’s note:The following is excerpted from the books “Yoga for Climbers: How to stretch, strengthen and climb higher,” and “Yoga for Hikers: How to stretch, strengthen and hike farther,” by Nicole Tsong, photography by Erika Schultz. (Mountaineers Books, $16.95 each)
WHEN I STARTED practicing yoga, I saw little connection between my yoga mat and the woods. I had recently moved from Anchorage, Alaska, to Seattle. It was summer, and I chose yoga to cope with the new obstacles of traffic and living at a latitude where the sun faded away at 9 p.m. rather than at midnight.
About the author and photographer
Nicole Tsong writes Fit for Life, a column that appears weekly in Pacific NW magazine. She teaches yoga in Seattle and has taught kids yoga at the White House Easter Egg Roll. “Yoga for Hikers” and “Yoga for Climbers” are her first books. Learn more at nicoletsong.com.
Erika Schultz is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
Until that time, I was active, but I lacked endurance. I spent nearly four years in Alaska’s outdoor playgrounds. I built strength during the summer hiking and in the winter skiing several times a week, but the first ski or hike of each season was always agony.
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In Seattle I became irritable without much-needed time outdoors to decompress from traffic and work. I needed something to sustain me. I dabbled in yoga in Alaska, but only practiced once a week — at most. After I moved, I decided to take yoga more seriously.
I dived head first into a heated power practice; I had never sweated so much in my life. I loved feeling my legs burn while holding poses, even as I mentally begged the teacher to let us release out of the pose. I adored the little snooze I sneaked in during the final rest at the end of each class. Each time, I felt rinsed out, and I had let go of stress from work. I was exhausted in the best way.
That winter, on my first trip to the cross-country ski trails outside Seattle, instead of pausing halfway up every hill, I made it all the way to the top. On every single hill. I was astonished. Until that point, I knew only a world where I had to stop during the first climb of the season, gasping for air to fuel my burning legs.
During that spring, waiting for the snow to melt, I worried hiking was going to be painful. But on the first hike of the season, my legs felt strong. My breathing was heavy, but steady, even during the steepest elevation gain. More than once, I announced to my friends how good I felt. I wondered aloud if people (me) needed to give yoga more credit for building strength and endurance. My answer is yes.
Through regular yoga practice, I’ve become even stronger. I can bear my own body weight and more: I have core strength and a deeper body awareness. My endurance for long hikes and skis has increased — and I recover faster. The experience also made me excited to try new physical activities, from kickboxing and learning to row a single scull, to swing dancing.
My new books “Yoga for Hikers” and “Yoga for Climbers” share more about the ways you, too, can practice yoga to increase your endurance, recover faster and hike farther or climb higher.
Nicole Tsong has an online Yoga for Hikers video series on Cody. Learn more at codyapp.com/yogaforhikers. If you’re interested in hosting Tsong for a book event, she will do a Puget Sound book tour in the summer. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steph Davis, of Moab, Utah, is one of the most famous climbers in the world. She spoke with Nicole Tsong for this piece that appears in “Yoga for Climbers.”
Steph Davis started doing yoga out of necessity. Her back had seized up from climbing and trail running, and she had pulled a tight hamstring on a heel hook. When her hamstring healed, she knew she had to change something. “Dammit, I’ll have to stretch,” she remembers thinking. “It will be terrible.”
It was the mid-1990s. She picked up “Light on Yoga,” a foundational text by master teacher B.K.S. Iyengar that outlines the essential elements of the practice and poses.
She did yoga at home, holding poses to see what would happen. She noticed the poses often felt difficult at first, but if she held one long enough, her muscles would release. She could translate that directly to climbing: As her body relaxed in uncomfortable yoga poses, it would do the same in a resting stance on the wall. Her back stopped hurting.
Her muscles are now used to relaxing in the middle of an awkward resting stance. “Like anything, if you train something, it just happens,” she says.
One day, she read the introduction to “Light on Yoga.” She realized yoga poses were a pathway and training to meditation. The philosophy resonated with her approach to climbing, and her search for a feeling of flow and expansion. Yoga helped her find her direction, she says.
Davis has been climbing for more than 20 years, and climber culture can feel focused on the hardest possible route. But that is not why Davis climbs, despite the fact she is one of the most famous names in climbing, as the first woman to free climb the Salathe Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and the second woman to free climb El Capitan in fewer than 24 hours.
“I couldn’t really care less what I ‘achieve,’ ” she says. “It’s more I want to be experiencing these ideas in a physical way that I have.”
Like other climbers, she has given in to thinking she doesn’t have enough time to do yoga. Early on, her practice sometimes lasted one minute. Now, she might practice for six minutes, or 30.
Some days, she is motivated to practice to keep her lower back healthy. Other times, she meditates.
“The fact you’re going through physical motion, your brain is going to go into a more meditative state — really the idea of yoga,” she says. “It’s not just exercise.”
Tami Asars lives in North Bend and has written “Hiking the Wonderland Trail” and “Day Hiking: Mount Adams and Goat Rocks.” This is an interview conducted by Nicole Tsong for “Yoga for Hikers.”
Q: Why did you start doing yoga?
A: I was doing a lot of hiking and backpacking and doing long days, 20- to 30-mile days. Just the way my body, especially my knees and hips, was aligning, was causing a lot of pain. I thought if I did more stretching, it would help.
Q: What’s changed in your body since you started?
A: One of the things I found was that when I climbed [a trail], my knee was tending to go inward. Doing Warrior pose, you pull your knee back out more. I realized on the trails, if I pushed my knee back out more than letting it naturally flop in, I was able to feel better. I didn’t have as much exhaustion.
Q: Has yoga affected your hiking?
A: Carrying a heavy pack long distances, my back would bother me in the morning. Now I hop into the tent and do a couple of Downward Dogs. The other thing is focusing on breathing through the pain. Sometimes that gets you on the hills when you’re bonking or not feeling well, you realize you’re not listening to your body and just powering through it. Yoga does get you to be aware of your breath and aware of your body so much more.
Q: What poses speak to you the most?
A: The Warriors. When I hike uphill and downhill, my calf muscles are always tight. Stretching my calves, strengthening my quads and focusing on alignment helps me stay focused during the day. I do them on my sleeping pad before I get going in the morning. Often by myself, I find a little spot and work it out. It’s a nice peaceful thing to do, especially when I’m tired.