Winter is an interesting time for me — well, more specifically, an interesting time for my feet. I love summer because of the ease of slipping my toes into a pair of flip-flops and floppin’ around unencumbered by shoes. In fact, during cold months I wear winter’s flip-flop equivalent, moccasins; a shoe that is as close to a non-shoe as it gets.
In fact, one of the main reasons that I love teaching yoga as a profession is because I get to be barefoot for a living! There is something so freeing when my toes are unbound from the claustrophobic nature of high heels, tennis shoes, boots, mary janes … you name it! When my toes feel the freedom to roam, I find that my spirit has that same permission. The sense of adventure that I feel when I am liberated from the shackles of my shoes is only matched by the abundant bliss that I feel when I am out in nature, spontaneously and effortlessly awakened by the wild untamed natural world.
There is one exception to this no-shoe strategy I tend to live by: my hiking boots. When my feet inhabit these shoes, my sprit soars straight to its inherent wildness. Of course, it isn’t the shoes, per se, that illicit this magnificent response, it is what the shoes represent: trees, trails, birds, bees, sunrises, sunsets, mountains, moose, rivers, rocks … you get the idea. This wildness is as much as state of being as it is a location, in the wild, animate world. When I’m not on my yoga mat, this is certainly where you will find me — winding my way through the wide-open woods.
Simply being outside is a spiritual practice of mine. I devote at least two hours every day to being outdoors. I inherited this from my father, who also said being in nature was his life’s spiritual adventure. Being human, we are all faced with similar worries and woes. I find that the wrinkles in my mind about this or that are always soothed when listening to my footprints break tracks on fresh snow. Or when I am consumed by indecision and I get to smell the trees as their bark becomes wet by the summer’s rain, everything gets effortlessly clear and I am able to discern life with conviction and passion.
John Muir says it best: “Keep close to nature’s heart and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
Time out in nature is just that, a purification, a baptism, a rebirth to my true state of being. Nature has this magical way of kneading us, like bread, and after a small walk in the woods I find that I am usually a different, far better human than when I first went out. Things are put into perspective and the pace of life slows. A small walkabout has the capacity to shift all sorts of complex inner workings that are bent and out of shape. It seems that a little wandering away from of our lives — normally composed of stale inside air, fluorescent lights and mechanical sounds — and into the crisp mountain air and natural lighting might be just the medicine our hearts, bodies and minds are really thirsty for.
The nature of yoga
Cultivating a nature-based practice is a perfect pairing with yoga. All of my summer teachings are devoted to this exquisite coupling. It is far easier to practice in the comforts of a yoga studio atop a squishy rubber yoga mat, but a yoga practice really becomes alive and in service to the untamed/unpredictable nature of real life when you attempt to find breath and peace of mind in poses done on rocks or in rivers, or when seeking stability in a balancing pose in the howling wind. The simplest yoga poses, when done out of doors, become intensely difficult and require the presence of mind we are trying to teach in a yoga classroom. I lead hiking and yoga workshops specifically for the purpose of getting people out, so that they can really dive in.
Being in the outside world invites a tuning into our inner world. In that connection there can be a reclaiming of your own boundless existence, akin to that of the natural world. There is a retrieval of wildness; a freedom of being that is our birthright. If you feel that this might be lost in your life because you are cooped up in an office or your home (or your shoes) and you crave freedom like the red-tail hawk that soars unabashedly through the open sky, then you are in luck. An unbridled, unleashed version of you is pulsing through your veins, waiting to awakened.
There is always opportunity to re-wild yourself and reclaim what is lost. Get outside and let nature have her way with you! Take a walk, take a hike, go exploring. Peer into the vastness that is this creative and vibrant world and you might just remember your own endless creativity and ability to manifest the most divine landscapes of your own existence.
My advice for you in taking that first step to salvaging the wild one in you is: go barefoot. You never know what kind of inspiration the rest of your being will get from free, happy and untamed toes.