Sweat and Serenity

Originally published by Inside Jersey

On a platform suspended over Buttermilk Falls in Sussex County’s Walpack Township, a group of hikers sits in a circle. With the sound of the rushing water below them to guide their breathing, they close their eyes and chant in unison: “Om.”

The intonation — a traditional yoga mantra — rings across the falls.

Jessica Klein has brought the group together. A yoga instructor and hiking enthusiast, the Morristown resident combines the two activities in outings offered through Sunshine Yoga Life, her home-based company.

Yoga hiking helps participants build strength and cardiovascular endurance, while allowing them to stretch (literally) and calm their minds.

For Klein, the benefits are obvious: “You can challenge yourself with terrain and exercise, calm and focus the mind with breathing practices and connect the body with the breath for optimal wellness.”

Joe Bruno, 57, is a regular on these outings.

“One of the things yoga does is bring stillness,” says Bruno, a computer technician from Springfield. “So bringing yoga to nature, to wilderness, just makes sense. This is where the stillness is, where you can really find it.”

For Dave Woolworth, yoga and hiking have been integral to a recent mind-body transformation. The Bloomfield resident lost more than 80 pounds in the past year, and credits regular hikes and weekly yoga practices for much of his success.

When Woolworth, 28, heard about Klein’s yoga hikes, he was excited by the prospect of combining the two. “I go hiking every weekend,” he says. “Winter, spring, fall — it doesn’t matter. … Where better to be when you’re centering yourself?”

Joseph Vulpis, who owns Northeast Mountain Guiding in Holmdel, says his company began offering yoga hiking as part of its guided tours last year. “We had a couple people asking about doing yoga outdoors and I thought it would be nice to incorporate,” he says.

Since hikers have varying skill levels, Vulpis says the yoga teachers who lead his tours also are certified in mountaineering and can modify activities to fit the levels at which their participants are comfortable.

The three-hour hikes begin with a yoga/stretching session. “Then they hike for about an hour and a half, 3 to 6 miles depending on the speed of the group and the fitness level,” Vulpis says. “We go to parks with varying kinds of terrain and trails, and every teacher has their own style.”

While independent business owners such as Klein and Vulpis are offering yoga hiking outings of their own design, one company — Hiking Yoga — aims to bring a unified approach to the activity and share it with interested yoga teachers.

In 2009, Eric Kipp founded Hiking Yoga in California’s Bay Area. The company offers 90-minute interval training classes that incorporate cardiovascular fitness and yoga. Locally, classes are offered in Manhattan’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. In addition, Hiking Yoga has an online teacher certification course for certified yoga teachers who want to offer hiking to their students.

“Our vision is to really bring more hiking yoga to our communities,” says Carina Miguez, Kipp’s wife and business partner. In addition to the health and fitness benefits, Miguez says the social benefits are also substantial.

“I think all the aspects of yoga that we normally get in a studio class, you can attain those with hiking yoga, but, in addition to that, you have the community involvement,” says Miguez.

While hiking, the group passes through Tillman Ravine in Stokes State Forest, Sussex County.

Klein, who organizes camping outings and yoga at Verona Park in Verona, in addition to hikes and studio classes, believes the hybrid activity appeals to people who might not consider taking a traditional yoga studio class. “I feel that this reaches a market that wouldn’t necessarily go into a studio,” she says. “It has that draw for those who are coming at this from a fitness perspective.”

Klein also believes the hikes are socially engaging. “We celebrated a birthday on a hike at Watchung Reservation,” she says, “and, spontaneously, I stopped everyone to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ It was very memorable.”

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