It’s 4:30 AM – the last bits of the full moon are bouncing of the canyon walls casting enough light to make getting out of my sleeping bag a real option. It’s already warm out and my travel yoga mat is unrolled on the hard sand by the murmuring river. Everyone else is asleep and I have a precious hour before the propane jets are fired up for coffee. It’s carpe diem or bust. I crawl out of my bag and amble over to pee in the mighty Colorado.
I’ve done this thousands of times before: Unroll my mat, smooth out the corners, line up the mat’s edge with some imaginary grid, stand with palms at heart center and chant the opening invocation. Once I utter the first count and take “ekam inhale” my muscle memory takes over and I don’t stop the flow until I am on my back in a sweet savasana pose. Yes, thousands of times, but none to a full moon in the middle of the Grand Canyon.
Yoga, by definition, is the union of body and breath, but what if you throw in some wilderness? Without realizing it, I am in the midst of a dance with the Grand Canyon. With every upward inhale I find a star and with every exhale I feel the sand. My breath is in synch with the sounds of the nearby rapids. There is nothing else. Inhale, exhale and gaze. My yoga routine stills my mind and provides a glimpse of the canyon’s magic that otherwise would be hidden by a veil of distractions.
I feel like an ancient warrior in the throne room of the canyon gods, performing a purification ritual for safe passage, which is a prudent measure after flipping our raft on House Rock rapid some days back. But that’s a story for another time.
Yoga technology was invented to prepare the practitioner to sit and meditate with ease. Maybe wilderness yoga is intended to prepare the traveler to navigate the wilds with attunement and grace, constantly moving to become still.
Just as meditation allows me to witness my own thoughts, canyon yoga takes me to places a raft just can’t go. Sure, when you are holding a little paddle and heading into a 15-foot standing wave in the middle of the Colorado you are undoubtedly connected directly to your adrenal gland. And like in orgasm, for a brief minute you are truly present. But a moving meditation in the moonlit canyon is something else entirely. It’s slow, and subtle, and deep.
The practice is over and my body is coated with a sweaty sheen, I take padmasana (lotus pose) and whatever energy lock I can access in a desperate attempt to hold onto every bit of prana the river and the towering red cliffs released. They have been here for gazillion years constantly changing and evolving and I merely have taken a few measured breaths, re-arranged my limbs and stared at them in a vague attempt to understand the forces that shape this place and maybe even me.
Next summer (8/17) I’ll be doing this yoga dance with the wilderness again. This time I’m co-leading a rafting trip in the Middle Fork and Salmon Rivers in Idaho. Come and practice with me and discover the magic of yoga in the wild. I’m serious. Click here for more info.