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Backpacker Magazine – June 2013

Nirvana Now!

Is hiking and yoga the ultimate path to rejuvenation? Our man takes his bad back and troubled soul to Yosemite to find out.

by: Steve Friedman

Illustration by Morgan Schweitzer
Illustration by Morgan Schweitzer

I worried that my love for Heather and my digestive issues might repel the group. That’s why, following a feast of pasta, salad, roasted vegetables, and salmon, prepared by Heather, Brieann, and J.P. at the Tuolomne campground, I remained silent during the why-we-came-here session.
Klara, a neuropsychologist from New York City, told us she loved yoga and was here to celebrate her birthday. Klara’s best friend, Yodi, visiting from Hungary, said something that sounded like “me no English, very very tired.” (Her name might have been Ogi; her accent threw me.)
Sarah, a hair stylist from Chicago, shared, “I turned 30 and I wanted to slow down and find myself.”
Petrina, a college counselor from San Francisco, mumbled something that sounded like “fresh air,” but I wasn’t sure. I was concentrating on grabbing a second serving of pasta.
There were two women from Ogden, Utah, Nikki and Angela, who were here because they wanted to get away and it sounded like fun. San Franciscans Jeff and Jennifer, who looked like they could have been J. Crew models or Olympic athletes, were here because they wanted to de-stress from their jobs (Jeff works in advertising; Jennifer is a litigator). Jennifer said, “I expected to reconnect with nature and reconnect with myself.”
Such earnest simplicity. What convincing lie could I come up with? I had tried meditation, medication, daily exercise, and regular bedtime. None had lasted. Being a New Yorker, I preferred faster, less labor-intensive solutions. What’s more, even the backpacking trips I did manage to take were too short to afford the deep relaxation—the what-day-is-it-anyway detachment—that a week or more on the trail delivers. That’s why combining a four-day backpacking trip with daily yoga sessions appealed to my shortcut-to-serenity sensibilities. When I had tried yoga, I couldn’t deny its benefits, even if I couldn’t make it regularly to class. I had backpacked most of my adult life and liked that, too. I derived what seemed like a richer perspective on the universe and a feeling of calm from each, but after a few days back in the city, the mellowness curdled. Would combining the two activities supercharge my soul, delivering the zen state more quickly and making it last longer? If I was unwilling or unable to adopt the lifestyle changes that seem to be in vogue among health professionals and spiritual leaders, might at least Authentic Steve chill out, and stay chilled out?
More to the point, might a few nights away from Netflix, Caribbean Coconut ice cream with hot fudge sauce, and my shoebox-size Manhattan apartment, where my toilet makes wounded yeti sounds approximately 14 times an hour, help me? How could I package all that in a way that wouldn’t make me a pariah?  
“Steve? Steve?”
It was Heather. I respected Heather, but I wasn’t sure she was ready to hear the reasons I had come here.
“I’m a seeker,” I said. That sounded authentic. Was it my imagination, or was the group staring at me with suspicion? I felt my stress levels spiking. Why were they judging me? “I seek! I seek balance!”



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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Anonymous
Jan 09, 2014

Haven't read a multi-page article all the way through in a while. Thanks for taking us along the journey with you; great writing.

Star Star Star Star Star
Anonymous
Jul 13, 2013

Fantastic story! This makes me want to take a similar journey; perhaps with a little less cynicism =P

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