mental health benefits of hiking

The mental health benefits of hiking are plentiful. Like yoga, it is an also an incredible opportunity for mindfulness.

I just went out to one of my favorite hiking trails in Anchorage for my annual “reality check.” This what I call my first foray into the mountains after summer comes to the flatlands. It’s still shades of white and brown up there. We live at sea level in Anchorage and are blessed by the backdrop of the Chugach mountains. On hikes in the mountains we can enjoy epic ocean views in one direction and an expanse of rugged wilderness in the other. That is, if we can get to the top. It’s humbling.

Hiking is one of my favorite activities and it’s no wonder. The mental health benefits of hiking are astounding! Refer back to our last blog post on mental health awareness month to learn more about what we need for mental health. Today, I hiked alone and managed to accomplish all three of the necessary components.

The process wasn’t necessarily easy… I asked a couple of friends to join me but they couldn’t, I found 2 feet of snow 5 minutes from the trail head and along the way there was more snow, mud, little rivers of flowing water, and then, rain. There were also a few glorious patches of dry trail and a few breaks in the clouds that helped me remember that chances of seeing a rainbow increase when you hike in partly or even mostly cloudy conditions.

SOLITUDE for mental health when hiking
Hiking alone filled my need for solitude. We all have it. Even the most extroverted extroverts need some time to digest. This is time without any additional input from anyone else, live, in person, pre-recorded, on-line, written, spoken, or sung. A lot of us have gotten so used to frequent or even constant input that we might mistake being in the car alone with the radio, or listening to an audiobook, or watching TV as alone time. I’d like to encourage you to consider the difference between simply being alone (not with another person with whom you’re directly engaged) and TRULY being alone with your own thoughts. I know this can be uncomfortable, even unbearable and so I encourage you to be very gentle with the process. Slowly, increase the amount of time that you spend alone, without anybody else’s thoughts, words, or voice.

This kind of persistent and committed practice of paying attention will serve you well, especially when things get more difficult. The practice of being alone gives you the opportunity to digest, to synthesize, and to extract what wisdom is available from your past experience. It also is where new ideas often arise. Insights sometimes seem like they come out of nowhere when we’re alone. This is the brilliance of the mind left alone to realize its power and potential. This is how we learn to see more clearly.

CONNECTION for mental health when hiking
Hiking in the wilderness also gives me the opportunity to connect. When hiking alone it is with my own thoughts, when with friends, them too, and importantly, with the natural world. This connection with the elements has a way of putting us in our place, right here in the midst of it all. This day it is the rain. It started as a drop here or there and progressed to a sprinkle. Then it was soaked my clothes and made me laugh. There’s the gravel, snow, dirt, birds, spruce trees, new growth just popping through the recently thawed earth, all here with me. It’s all part of my inner experience too… there’s a little iciness sometimes, freshness at others, new potential recently realized, some clouds, some clarity… some dry patches, quagmires to slog through, some birdsong…

birdsong video

In the midst of it all we invite you to join us at Yoga for Mental Health for a series of adventures together this summer! We will be meeting at a different trail head in Anchorage every week to walk and talk, to speed up to slow down, to listen, to watch, and to realize more and more confidently what beauty and strength we carry with us. You can register for our summer series by clicking on the link here:

We’ll share the list of locations and schedule with you after registration. Meet at the trailhead at 6 pm.

See you there!


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