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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.
0613_nirvana_yoga_illo_schweitzer_445Illustration by Morgan Schweitzer

The first yoga session took place in Yosemite’s Tuolomne Meadows, at dusk in mid-July. We were camping near the trailhead the night before the four-day trek started. There were 15 of us, ranging in age from 29 to 61, with 12 women and two men besides me. Everyone practiced yoga with some seriousness—except me (I had tried for a month, a few years earlier).
We sat in a circle underneath pink and sherbet-colored clouds. One of the trek leaders, Heather Sullivan, 38, suggested that we relax and become aware of our surroundings. So I became aware of the mountain hemlock and lodgepole pine-scented air, the mule deer gazing at us from a quarter mile away, the burbling streams nearby.
Heather suggested that we were here to “unplug, unwind, and slow down,” and I became aware that Heather was slim and beautiful and that if I looked hard, I could see calm and joy in her soft and wise hazel eyes. I also became aware of my authentic self. Authentic Steve thought this return to balance thing might not turn out so bad. Heather suggested we get comfortable and take off our shoes so that we might feel more at one with the earth. After I did so, I became aware that the grass up here at 8,600 feet was spiky and it hurt and that there were ants crawling on my feet. As I became aware of those things, Brieann Powell Roberts, 32, co-leader of the group, told us that “the high country is so special. I’m into teaching you how to take care of your body.” At about that moment I became aware that Brieann was also quite fetching. The support staffer for the trip was a slim, handsome man named Jon-Paul Salonen, 33, who could do splits and run up mountains and who said, after he told us to call him “J.P.,” that “I’m your Hanuman. My Seva is to help you.” Authentic Steve became aware that he had some trust issues with J.P.
Heather told us to breathe deeply. She told us to put our hands on the ground in front of us and our heels on the ground behind us and to stick our butts in the air. Everyone but me knew this was called Downward Facing Dog. She told us to breathe deeply some more. She told us to put one foot on the opposite calf. After 30 minutes of breathing deeply and bending and stretching, she told us that we would then practice Savasana, which I think means inner visualization or prayer or coma, because I peeked at everyone while we all laid on our backs, and they looked very serious, with their eyes closed. I became aware that my back, remarkably, already felt a little better. But I also wondered how a night spent on a sleeping pad would affect it.
On the walk back to dinner, I sidled up alongside Heather and made backcountry/yoga conversation. Would there be bears? Did she have any special yogic suggestions for a guy with a bad back? How cold would it be at the lake to which we were hiking? Did she grow up around here? Does she like movies?
Heather paused, gazed deep into my eyes, and patted my arm. She told me that I should try to relax, that “the air up here is good for Pranayama,” which I’m pretty sure means “healthy bowel movements,” which I had been having some trouble with the past few years. I suspected it was exacerbating my back pain.

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