By Sawyer Smith
When asked how long she’d been teaching yoga, trip facilitator Jennifer Gilmore told me she discovered the practice seventeen years ago and it just ‘felt right.’ At the time, she was working as a fitness instructor. And to use her word, she decided to try yoga based on sheer curiosity. Now—it’s not only her work, it’s her passion.
“I get to be strong yet soft, and flow with my breath,” she said. Capturing the beautiful balance that draws many people to the practice, and following it up by proudly admitting to prompting everyone in her life to try yoga. “It can change your physical life, mental life, emotional, spiritual… on and on. It can be life-changing.”
The Health Benefits of Yoga . . .
Studies have shown that Gilmore is right. Yoga is a form of exercise that focuses on building physical strength, while also developing a connection between the mind and the body. And—it’s the perfect companion for river rafting trips, hiking adventures, and camping. Johns Hopkins School of Medicine reports that the top five benefits of regular yogic practice are an increase in strength and flexibility, an easing of back pain, alleviation of arthritis symptoms, lowering of stress leading to less inflammation and healthier hearts, and lastly it has been proven to improve sleep.
Anyone who has ever slept on a thin ground pad, gone for a long hike without good boots, or rowed their way through rough waters, will tell you that anything proven to help with aches and pains and give you a better night’s sleep is a camping trip necessity.
But fear not if you’re new to the practice, because Jennifer, known to her friends affectionately as Fur, enjoys nothing more than helping newbies get their footing. “My absolute favorite thing in teaching is watching someone light up when they ‘get it,’ or it ‘gets them’!” And by ‘it’, Jennifer doesn’t just mean nailing the pose or holding one’s balance. She means the “Body/mind connection.” A connection found by “stepping away from the world and its demands, coming back to your true self, getting both stronger and suppler.”
Yoga in the Wild . . .
Signing on to be a trip facilitator with Holiday River Expeditions, however, poses a whole new set of potential benefits, as well as challenges, to Jennifer and those who practice with her. Practicing yoga indoors allows for instructors to have quite a bit of control over their classroom settings. Practicing outdoors, on the other hand, means subjecting yourself to the whims of an often fickle mother nature.
“Wind, chill, sand, heat, rain, snow…” to name a few of the potential challenges to practicing outdoors. “But!” Jennifer is quick to qualify, “Openness to the elemental forces can grow your practice on or off the mat. While also creating more focus, patience, presence, humor. And let’s not forget the connection to your surroundings: the trees, river water, sun, heat, sand, rock—it’s elemental. The usual barriers—walls, cars, streets; no longer separate you from the planet.”
What stands out to me from what Jennifer is describing, is the opportunity outdoor yoga provides to connect to oneself more deeply, while simultaneously connecting with the world around them. “You can practice yoga on the beach and feel the eons of erosive energy that created the sand. And you feel the dissipating heat as the sun drops and as the air cools, the sand cools. One patient energy, the other less so. You can become mindful of your connection to the earth and its forces.”
Yoga with Holiday . . .
There are so many ways in which exploring these connections, to one’s surroundings and to one’s own body, might improve people’s overall experience on a Holiday River Expedition. Loosening up the muscles in your neck and back might help you stargaze in the Cataract Canyon. Stretching your legs will likely help you push through that last mile of your biking trip on the White Rim Trail. Not to mention, one of the most important lessons taught in yoga, and something we all need to do, all the time, and yet sometimes even still we forget—remembering to breathe.
Always breathe, filling your nose with the scent of desert sagebrush and then breathing out, and letting go of anything that doesn’t fit in your pack (literally and metaphorically).
But in case you can’t imagine what this might be like, Jennifer paints a wonderful picture.
“I love starting the day with loosening up physically, and a meditative moment to focus the day. And then, after a day of biking, paddling a kayak, paddle boarding, or hiking—to stand on the beach, in the shadow of the cliff, watching the sun color the opposite wall. Then I flow through some centering, re-energizing poses to wrap up another gorgeous day with friends, facing challenges, and laughing and connecting to the flow.”
This description, while wonderful, is perhaps as much detail as Jen is willing to get into. I say this because when I asked her what her favorite places to visit were in Southern Utah, she said she couldn’t just pick one, “and the ones I really treasure I am selfish about.”
I don’t blame her. Everyone needs a treasure of their own, a spot in the red rocks or along the river where they can connect with nature, connect with themselves, and maybe do a few sun salutations.
So book a trip with Holiday River Expeditions and come find yours!
Sawyer Smith is a Utah native currently residing in St. Louis, Missouri. When she isn’t working as a freelance writer or hiking through sections of the Mark Twain National Forest, she is planning trips in her head back to her beloved state to once again climb on the red rocks and ski down the snowy mountains.