Mind Over Mileage: Breathing Techniques For Hiking

Feeling pooped at the end of the day? Try these relaxation and breathing techniques to put more pep in your step.
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Feeling pooped at the end of the day? Try these relaxation and breathing techniques to put more pep in your step.

Want to boost your energy on the trail and have a more relaxing, meaningful time? Want better balance and less soreness? Try meditating.

"The mind loses its busyness and more quickly comes to a relaxed and open state when you focus on your breathing or meditate," says Richard Miller, Ph.D., an avid backpacker and clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay area. In other words, the more you can rid your mind of life's everyday burdens and relax, the more energy you'll have to hike. Try these techniques.

Focused hiking. Imagine gliding along a steep, rocky trail as easily as you cross a flat meadow. Impossible? Not if you focus on your breathing and strides, says Dr. Miller. Synchronize breaths with your stride so your steps become smoother. Inhale as you step forward with one foot, then exhale with the next step of that same foot. As you relax, you can take fewer, longer breaths coordinated with more strides. "This settles the body and mind into a natural rhythm of walking," says Dr. Miller.

Meditative moments. Before you start your day, after you set up camp, or when you take a break, sit quietly and close your eyes. Listen to the sounds around you without focusing on them, Dr. Miller says. Breathe calmly and let your muscles relax so you'll feel focused and refreshed when you're done.

Mindful stretching. Stretching reduces muscle soreness, relaxes your whole body, and makes a good start or the perfect ending to a rigorous day on the trail. Inhale and exhale fully while you stretch.

Better balance. Balance is the key to navigating tricky terrain and keeping sprained ankles at bay. But balancing exercises also help you focus. See "Survival Of The Fittest," April 2001, for examples, or try a yoga tree posture: Stand on one leg and press the sole of your other foot against the knee, calf, or thigh of the standing leg. While you balance, raise your arms above your head.

To learn more, visit Dr. Miller's Web site at http://www.nondual.com