Published in Backcountry Journal Winter 2018 Issue. Subscribe by becoming a member here.
Photo Credit: Bill McDavid
It took me 16 days to tag a Dall sheep in Alaska last year. If it weren’t for my yoga practice, I don’t think I could have stayed mentally strong or returned home injury free. I’m 49 years old, so my yoga doesn’t look like sitting cross-legged under a tree and my goal is not to do a photo-worthy backbend. I practice a combination of meditation, yoga poses, balance poses, controlled breathing and mindfulness. My practice benefits me mentally and emotionally as much as it does physically.
We all hunt for different reasons but nobody hunts to come home emptyhanded or with a trophy of a sprained ankle. You want your body and mind dialed in when your hunt date arrives. If your boot gets caught behind a rock and you end up in the downhill splits, you want your hamstrings flexible and your core strong. If your partner says “breathe,” you must be able to calm down, focus and make a clean shot. An injury can cut your hunt short and impatience can lead to mistakes you may regret later.
A regular yoga practice incorporates physical challenges that require strength, flexibility and balance. It is also a practice in pursuing a particular state of mind. Yoga is slow paced. It allows time to pay attention to body mechanics, and it develops patience and precision of both thoughts and emotions – much like archery. It builds physical and mental endurance. This can help you develop the stamina to crouch for 30 minutes, waiting for a buck to present a shot, or dig deep to find the determination to keep glassing a promising mountainside all day. Success in the field depends on strength and agility, both physical and mental.
You might be surprised how a yoga practice affects your hunting. Not only will it help you prevent injuries but it will give you a keen appreciation for the entire experience. Consider these five benefits and add yoga to your training regimen to enhance time in the field.
Falls and unexpected quick movements result in sprains, strains and fractures. The more flexible a person is, the more shock they can absorb. Lengthening the soft tissues and improving pliability makes muscles and ligaments less prone to injury. It takes time, dedication and a certain amount of mental letting-go to hold uncomfortable positions. Going through a series of yoga poses may help the less flexible or busy-minded person take on a structured stretching program.
We anticipate heavy lifting and carrying but don’t want to throw out our backs. Weight lifting helps prepare for those big lifts but small muscles need attention too. Many yoga poses are held for long periods of time, thereby recruiting the smaller intrinsic muscles around joints to strengthen and protect them. Hiking, squatting, bending forward and carrying a pack are all activities related to sustained postures. Strength training should include endurance, not just max weight or repetitions.
Standing on one leg with eyes open and eyes closed for at least one minute each and every day is a good start to practicing balance. If you can’t do this don’t even think about crossing shale or jumping from one boulder to another. Good balance can save you from a bad fall and teach your body to correct more quickly when you find yourself off center. Practicing balance also increases postural awareness. Imagine the difference you would feel carrying a rifle for an eight-hour hike if you were slouching forward, leading with your head rather than holding your shoulders back and your neck up long and tall. Balance, posture and body awareness work together to keep you in the best positions possible with the lowest risk of injury.
4.) Breath Control
Controlled slowing of your breath when you are excited or worried calms the fight-or-flight chemistry to a state where you can act with clarity. Conscious breathing also improves awareness of your other senses. You more readily notice details like sitting posture, wind direction and what is present in your surroundings. More practically, breath control increases the chances that you will shoot straight and that you won’t get hit in the face by your scope.
5.) Focused Attention
A yoga practice focuses your physical and emotional energy. It improves and directs your desired intention. The ability to set an intention and focus your mind and skills towards that end broaden and deepen your entire hunting experience. It benefits the community and culture of hunting to be conscious. While body awareness prevents injury, intentional hunting practices secure future hunting opportunities. Collectively, the mindset to leave no trace, observe and respect property lines, take ethical shots, remove all possible meat, work together as a team and appreciate the opportunity and gift of hunting are the extended benefits of a yogic mind. There is no shame in training the mind and heart with the same dedication and precision with which you prepare your gear and practice shooting.
Erika is a chiropractic physician who recently relocated her practice from Nampa, Idaho to Whitefish, Montana to seek adventure and sanctity in the mountains and rivers. Erika is an avid outdoors enthusiast who teaches yoga, hunts big game and volunteers her time and expertise to non-profits like the Wild Sheep Foundation and BHA.