Outdoor enthusiasts who love the huff and puff of hiking aren’t the ideal audience for yoga’s meditative moves, or so I thought. That is until I followed instructor Cheryl Ramsey briskly up a rocky trail near Boone for a trek with Appalachian Hiking Yoga.
Before our first step on the trail, we limbered up with forward fold poses called uttanasana and breathing exercises called pranayama. Then our group of three fell in line behind Ramsey, climbing through the forest to emerge on a rocky outcrop with an awe-inspiring view of ridges rippling into the distance. Here, as she guided our moves and minds, our heavy breathing gave way to a feeling of inner peace. I sensed every breeze stirring against my skin. Every birdcall carried me out over the expanse that lay in front of us.
I’ve always felt most in tune with the inner me in the out-of-doors, so mat-strewn yoga studios never tempted me. What a difference the right setting makes. My first encounter with this ancient Indian technique brought a connection with the natural world that I hadn’t yet experienced.
“Indoors or out, yoga calms, quiets, and connects you with your higher self,” Ramsey says. “But I really love being outdoors, truly listening to the environment, which we don’t slow down to do often enough.”
Ramsey, who is a registered nurse and lifestyle coach in addition to a qualified instructor, is in her fourth season of leading these trips that alternate between trekking and pauses for poses that wind you down into true outdoor appreciation mode. Her 90-minute sessions tackle looping trails, and the pace is adjusted for participants’ comfort and skill levels.
“I wish I’d been able to be outside when I started training,” says Ramsey of her yoga education. “My program is aimed at people who long for something more—especially those who see yoga as too sedentary. We add a cardio component that turns yoga into a complete outdoor exercise experience.”
Ramsey’s outings mainly follow the Beacon Heights Trail, a path off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain, and loops along the Mountains-to-Sea circuit. “It’s a moderate trail, but it can be a heart-thumper if you hike it fast,” she says. “The views are absolutely awesome, and there are great locations for the yoga stations.”
In addition to the warm-up, we made two other yoga stops. With vistas and forests as our backdrops, we tackled standing warrior poses, or virabhadrasana, and I immediately gained a sense of how much I can improve in the areas of balance and flexibility. After another energetic exploration along the path, we settled onto mats for meditative poses and zeroed in on pure calm.
“For me, yoga always comes back to a focus on yourself,” Ramsey says. “Some people find that as difficult as focusing on nature. We just don’t take enough time to revel in how wonderful we are, to experience a sense of our best selves.”
Hikes set out on Wednesday
and Saturday mornings,
or book a private session.
$15, $60 private session