The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time


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Saying Yes to My Heart, Saying Yes to the Trail

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Poplar Stream Falls, summer

 

I wanted to share with you a little bit about what’s been going on in my life over the last few months. My husband and I have decided to quit our jobs, and spend the summer thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Then we will relocate to the Pacific Northwest, looking for jobs that better suit us.

So how did we come upon this crazy idea of ours? When we finally realized it was crazy not to.

A little before Christmas, we headed out into the woods to get away from the world, as we often do. We were heading to the falls we got married at. We hadn’t done this trail since that day, when we hiked in as boyfriend and girlfriend, and out as husband and wife. On this winter day, we reminisced about the wedding, and talked of how much had changed in the surroundings. The trail and falls looked completely different, covered in snow and ice, than they did five short months ago on that sunny summer day. Everything was different.

PCT blog

We began to talk about what we wanted our life to look like, which often begins with wild and crazy ideas, then narrows to more realistic (and boring) ones. We’d been talking about moving, either back to Portland (Maine) or to the west coast. My husband, Jason joked that we should walk to wherever we move instead of drive, and we got caught up in this fantasy of walking across the country. This has been our go-to fantasy when our jobs are feeling really tough, and we want an escape. At some point on our way back on the groomed snow trail, I asked aloud, “Well, if this is something we really want to do, why can’t we do it?” (This may have been more of a revelation to me than Jason, who was quicker to jump on board.)

Back home, the fantasy got a little more concrete as we began throwing around ideas of walking for a cause, and researching others who have walked across the country. We discovered it would take a little longer than we maybe wanted to be walking, and the routes weren’t always that scenic.

Then we began to throw around the idea of hiking a long trail. Jason had already hiked the Appalachian Trail, so that was out. It would have to be something new to both of us that we could experience together. I had just read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and threw out the idea of the Pacific Crest Trail. We also looked at other trails like the Continental Divide Trail (a little more than I was ready for), or the Pacific Northwest Trail (a little less than we were looking for).

From that night on, our fantasy revolved around the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT, for short). We didn’t commit to any more than just toying around with the idea, but the more we both thought and talked about it, the more excited we became. In an attempt to shake a real answer out of me, Jason began telling me tales of how hard thru hiking is, what it is really like. I think he did this because he really wanted me to say yes to this, but wanted to really make sure I meant it, and wanted it.

I wanted it. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. And when I say sense, I mean I felt it. It felt so right. During all of the previous thinking and planning out our next steps, ideas of places to move, jobs to apply to, I was riddled with indecision and anxiety. But with this plan, there was none of that. It settled into my brain so snugly, and then stretched out and relaxed there, until we both finally admitted this is what we had to do. We would quit our jobs, spend the summer hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, then stay out west at the end of it and see what will happen next.

I truly believe that one right decision leads to another. All my previous anxiety fell away, because those previous plans were not the right plans. I so strongly believe that if we continue saying yes to what our hearts want out of life, we’ll continue to be led to doors, and more doors we hadn’t even thought of will open up. So far, this has been true. Things are falling into place quite magically.

We also dropped the idea of doing this for some kind of cause –doing this because it is something we want to do in our life is the cause. This is another reason our plan feels so right. Jason and I are both coming to realize, for both separate and similar reasons, that neither of us are that suited for a “normal” life. (Let’s just admit it, neither one of us is that normal.) And I am finally completely ok with that.

This hike, then, is not an escape from “the real world.” This is the real world, lived out how we want to live it, not how convention dictates we should. We are both finally actively figuring out how we fit into the life that we make, rather than trying to fit into lives that society makes for us.

Since this decision, I have settled into feeling like myself in a way I haven’t felt for quite some time now. (It feels so good to be true to yourself.)

I’d like to leave you with one last thought –this lovely piece I came across while making the decision.

So, in the next six months I will be taking a break from The Approximate Yogi (unless inspiration moves me), and spending my writing time at my new blog (where a version of this post first appeared), documenting our new adventure. I know my yoga practice will be one of the things that supports me through this journey.

If you’d like to follow along, join me at http://goingwhereveritleads.com/

I hope to keep in touch with many of you there!

Here’s to saying yes!

~Catie

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Object

Hello friends, and happy weekend! It has been a long week for me with my silly knee injury –finding that balance of not pushing myself too much, which I have a tendency to do, leaving me quite exhausted most nights. I even forgot to do my daily meditation one day, and I was on day 20-something! I didn’t have time in the morning and I was so tired that night that after my leg exercises I crawled into bed and just forgot. I awoke at 2 a.m. and remembered. I have forgotten once before during another meditation, remembered in the middle of the night, and gotten up to do it. It felt right then. This night, it did not feel right. Feeling right this week is being gentle with myself, allowing myself time to heal, giving myself a break. Now, what feels right, and what is easy to do are sometimes two different things, but I am working towards giving myself that break.

What does that have to do with this week’s weekly photo challenge? Nothing, but I felt like sharing a little 🙂 This is, after all, primarily a word blog, enhanced with, and sometimes inspired by images.

But onto the images. Object. I often find objects in nature that stick out to me, I suppose most of these fit in with last week’s word –juxtaposition, because I am drawn to the juxtaposition of man-made objects found in nature, or how we re-purpose nature into objects, or even objectify nature. I’m reading a lovely book right now, Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. The book is a chronicle of his time spent in Arch’s National Park (when it was still only a national monument, and not yet built-up into a big tourist attraction). When he first arrives, his thoughts are often on trying to see nature for nature, for what it really is, without anthropomorphizing it, or (my words here) objectifying it. He writes:

The personification of the natural is exactly the tendency I wish to suppress in myself, to eliminate for good. I am here not only to evade for a while the clamor and filth and confusion of the cultural apparatus but also to confront, immediately and directly if it’s possible, the bare bones of existence, the elemental and fundamental, the bedrock which sustains us. I want to be able to look at and into a juniper tree, a piece of quartz, a vulture, a spider, and see it as it is in itself, devoid of all humanly ascribed qualitities, even the categories of scientific description. To meet God or Medusa face to face, even if it means risking everything human in myself, I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with a nonhuman world and yet somehow survives still intact, individual, separate. Paradox and bedrock.

What a brilliantly monumental task! Is it even possible? I think, sometimes, that is exactly what draws us into nature. I also want to be able to look at and into a juniper tree –how fantastic! The following photos are perhaps the opposite of this, or perhaps the beginning. What do you think?

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man making nature into object, Bell Rock, Sedona

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such a symbolic object for man, in the middle of natural beauty, Sedona, AZ

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nature as object: dead fish in Great Salt Lake, UT

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nature as object: seaweed, Hampton Beach, NH

Here are some other lovely nature as object photos from the challenge:

http://architar.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/a-view-with-a-flower/

http://purpledukk.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/weekly-photo-challenge-object/

http://chrisbreebaart.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/weekly-photo-challenge-b4-retouch-object-swan/

http://luthersjournal.com/2014/02/01/weekly-photo-challenge-object/

http://caughtbytheeyeofmankind.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/weekly-photo-challenge-object/


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Thoughts on Autumn: Part 2

Part 1 of my Thoughts on Autumn is over at Rebelle Society, where I ponder the winds of change that fall brings, and if I am addicted to change.

Read it here, so the rest of this post will have context.

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Good. mt (3)

So, what does this mean for a fall yoga practice? Which was my initial point when I started the post, which somehow got lost in the leaves.

Vata. Vata is what we feel full of when we are restless, when we are spacy, when we have our head in the clouds (perhaps it was vata that carried me away in this post). It was certainly vata that woke me up at 3 a.m. the other morning with the whipping wind to begin writing it.

According to Ayurveda, a system of natural healing associated with yoga, (and something I am exploring myself and still just beginning to touch the surface of, so please don’t consider this expert advice), vata, or the air element is highest in the fall. Think windy days, blowing leaves, air is up, energy is up. In Ayurveda it is recommended we balance the doshas (the other two being kapha and pitta), so if one is high, we want to calm it. Just as I want to calm my nostalgic mind that’s running away from me with new ideas, with change-cravings.

We can do this with yoga and our lifestyle choices. For example, the foods we eat –in the fall we often move to the heartier, warm meals like soups and stews, root vegetables, and whole grains (that filling bowl of oatmeal I start to crave this time of year). This is a good move for balancing vata.

With your yoga practice, think grounding. This often means first chakra work, so Kriya for Healthy Bowels is a nice one. Also poses and sequences that are slowing down the body. Simply standing in mountain pose to ground. Relaxation as nourishment to counterbalance vata’s tendency to push us with the wind, faster, harder, more, more, more.

So now, in the fall, calming vata’s surge, think less is more.

Here are a couple nice articles from Yoga Journal. The first talks a little more about vata, and lifestyle practices to calm it; the second is a nice hatha sequence to sooth vata:

Gotta Lotta Vata?

Back in Balance

And maybe most importantly, slow down to take the time to enjoy this blissfully beautiful season!

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Hiking Life

So, I wanted to share with you my weekend adventures. I went on my first backpacking trip. Twenty-four of some of the hardest miles I’ve ever hiked, on one of the toughest sections of the Appalachian Trail, over three days, and two nights. And most of it was pure bliss! I say most, because some of it was hard as hell!

me at the start, all clean, bug-bite and bruise free, ready for an adventure!

me at the start, all clean, bug-bite and bruise free, ready for an adventure!

But even that, in the end, I love. I love seeing how far I can push myself, seeing where my limits lie. I always learn a lot. And just like in yoga, pushing my limits with hiking allows me to see just how far I can go in life. It gives me a well of strength to draw from when the going gets rough in “my regular life.” 006

Of course I always tend to over-philosophize my experiences, and look for that deeper meaning, those life analogies. I can’t help it, it’s who I am. But before I go into all that, I do want to acknowledge the most important reason for going on these adventures – they are fun! So much fun! I love getting outside, being totally immersed in the trees. If it wasn’t a whole lotta fun I wouldn’t do it.

going under the first big boulder of Mahoosuc Notch --so exciting!

going under the first big boulder of Mahoosuc Notch –so exciting!

With that said, here are a few things I get out of hiking, on that deeper level, those parallels I can’t help but draw:

Slowing down will actually get you there faster.

I learned this lesson from my fiancée, a much more experienced hiker than myself, watching him hike and set the pace for us. In fact, I think that’s when I first started falling in love with him –watching his feet in front of me, continuing that steady measured pace over whatever obstacle was in front of him. Just taking it all in stride –and that’s his personality off the trails as well. (i.e. what takes me hours of yoga and meditation to get to, he has already inherently got.) 063

However, it wasn’t until this trip, that I actually internalized this lesson, and my body figured it out for itself. I always love watching his feet in front of me. He has much longer legs than I do, yet he still takes fairly short strides, sometimes taking a step that even looks like backtracking. It is a way to conserve energy, he explained. Using only as much effort as you need, sometimes finding that step that is angled just right on a slant to actually give you a little boost, even if it looks like a step back.

By day three, my legs were so tired, that I started doing this naturally. My eyes scanned the rocks in front of me for those nice short steps that would get me there with the least amount of effort. Why work harder than you need to?

my steady pacer guiding me on

my steady pacer guiding me on

You can always take just one more step.

With the focus right in front of you, that one more step is always possible. Pacing yourself, focusing on that next ridge right in front of you, instead of worrying about the whole mountain (or several) left in the distance. I found my gaze shifting back and forth from a few feet to a few inches in front of me, just focusing on that next move or two. Not gonna look up to see that whole daunting mountain. But…

Always stop to look at the view.

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The White Mountains

Look at that vibrant life all around you. When I started feeling the monotony, I just looked from side to side at all the beauty surrounding me. I looked in back of me and saw some stunning views, and the place I had just been. Taking a moment to breathe and look around, there is always beauty to be found – it keeps you going. You realize it’s why you’re still going.  018 (2)

Breath of fire may just get you out of any jam.

Ok, there was this one point in the trail, on the last day, where all of the above just didn’t work. I was feeling so tired, just as I’d completed one technically difficult downhill, there in front of me was another one exactly like it. I kinda wanted to cry.

was wishing there were more of these bars in many other places

was wishing there were more of these bars in many other places

I just sat down. Sometimes stopping is just what you need. All my positive thinking just wasn’t working. So I closed my eyes and just started breathing. I did breath of fire, because, for me, it is not only an energizing breath, but one that helps me focus, gives me perspective. I don’t know how long I did it, but it was just enough. Just enough to get me down that next slope, and then down the next one, and up the next accent. My muscles still felt tired, but I had the focus and perspective I needed to continue. When you can no longer draw on your own energy to get you through, you can always tap into that universal energy. It’s yours for the taking.

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a rainbow after a little shower on our first night, over Speck Pond

So, I just hope I remember these little trail tid-bits when I need them off the trail. 066


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Facing Fear in the Snow (Meditation of Change)

So often just getting out of town, away from home, even if it’s not that far, gives me the distance to find perspective in my life. And more often than not it takes place outdoors. A few weekends ago (my birthday weekend –the perfect time to be confronted with my fears), my boyfriend and I set out on a light-snowy day to have an adventure in the woods. I’d actually agreed to go camping in the snow, in a snow fort even, a quinzhee, to be precise.

Just getting som021e fresh air in my lungs and my mind to focus on nothing more than my footsteps in the snow was a good start. But it was during a break in shoveling our snow pile, Jason’s turn, that my mind started softening and opening up to what it needed to learn. I realized what this adventure was, it wasn’t about me feeling old, and needing more excitement in my life, it was about me facing my fears.

Fear is always there. We don’t actually like to think about our fears or acknowledge them, but here I was with some of our most basic fears staring me in the face –the cold, and the dark. And sometimes simply being with the fear, or in it, is all it needs to melt away.

Out there in the woods, meeting others on the trail I didn’t realize how many of the things that I loved I could still do in winter too. Out here, it was hoppin’. People didn’t let the weather stop them. They still hiked mountains, went camping; it was just a completely different experience in the snow and cold, but no less enjoyable. You really do just need to prepare – put on enough layers and even the coldest day is do-able. I spent the whole afternoon quite comfortable. When I found myself cooling down a little, I just moved around some more, walking further down the trail, finding the most beautiful part of it just a little beyond, where it hugs closer to the snow-covered river, pockets of running water and icicles peeking out.

We finished our snow fort and began the hike back to our car to treat ourselves to a nice meal out or, rather, in. Hiking to the car in twilight allowed me to confront the dark gradually, being with the dark as it slowly crept over the day, the forest closing in on us at times on the trail, then opening up to the last bits of daylight.  It wa007s never too dark to see, but if I were inside I would have already turned on the lamp. Twilight brought a stillness to everything around us and we walked on steadily and quietly, the now gradual decline of the path making for a quick and pleasant walk.

The walk back up the trail, with full bellies and tired legs was a bit more challenging, but no less beautiful. The soft yellow glow of our lamps was enough light for comfort and instead of feeling vulnerable and scared of the unknown darkness ahead, I felt open and free, every now and again peering up at the snow-covered spruce branches and hazy crescent moon.

It was those moments in the woods, standing perfectly still, not feeling coldness creeping over me, not feeling uneasy in the dark, just feeling, that it seemed so simple –anything could be faced with the right equipment.036

I think something opened me up in that cold snow woods that weekend, cracked through the shell of fear I’d built around my heart. And often when entering new stages in my life I build up this wall of fear, cocoon myself in what little familiarity is left in my life, protection from the new, the unknown. I’m ready to keep that shell cracked, to really open up to the new, and to even greater possibilities than I first imagined.

Here is a meditation I have been taking out of my toolbox lately, that a wonderful Kundalini teacher suggested for dealing with times of change: Meditation of Change. I’m only beginning to understand how my ego’s fears are hindering my acceptance of change and only beginning to learn how to crack through the shell to access that higher self that is always at peace with the rhythms of life’s changes.

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