Yoga retreats are temporary breaks from the daily routine that typically last from the weekend to a week or more. The purpose of a retreat is to allow yogis to deepen their practice without the distractions of life. A yoga retreat is an amazing opportunity to meet others who are passionate about yoga.
Yoga and hiking retreat is a combination of yoga and physical activity outdoors. A retreat starts and ends on a certain date, which means that you will be with the same group of people every day. You go to the same classes, have meals together, and spend a day outdoors hiking together. This gives you the opportunity to actually get to know them and develop a friendship. Yoga and hiking retreat is not just another vacation, it is a powerful experience.
A yoga retreat will help you:
If you are a beginner or not so passionate about yoga, a yoga and hiking retreat will offer you the opportunity to start with regular practice and find out how yoga can help you find balance in your everyday life.
"Going back to nature is going back to the origin of life, to the origins of ourselves." This is what the philosopher Henry David Thoreau said about connecting to your inner self. There is plenty of time for self-reflection during the long hours of walking. We will encounter quite some obstacles, being far away from home and out of our comfort zone. But we might also realize what truly matters to us in our lives and what the purpose of our lives may be.
The question "Who am I?" is the ultimate question in yoga philosophy. This is exactly why connecting with nature and practicing yoga simultaneously form a perfect combination. Both will help you learn about your true self. The yoga and hiking retreat is a simple way to reconnect with your inner self and understand yourself better.
Walking the Camino de Santiago has been and still is on a bucket list for many people. Yoga and hiking retreat is like walking the Camino but it is a softer version of the Camino way. You know where you are going to sleep every night and you always have wi-fi when you need it. You will also prepare your body for a long day outdoors with morning yoga sessions, stretch and relax your tired muscles every evening and eat healthy and nutritious food during the journey.
However, yoga and hiking will give you many of the Camino walk benefits. Additionally, spending days in the fresh air will prevent you from becoming infected with viruses and will strengthen your immune system.
Camino de Santiago, known in English as the way of St. James, is a network of pilgrims' ways or pilgrimages leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in Spain.
Many pilgrims walk to connect and discover the deeper meaning of life, to spiritually connect with nature or themselves, or walk to find answers to deep questions.
Disconnect to reconnect
In a world of busyness with too many obligations and long workdays, many of us have become disconnected and disillusioned. We all say we would like to disconnect a bit but typical vacations are anything but answering e-mails at the pool and watching or reading the news after dinner, we seem never to have the opportunity to truly "get away from it all". At first, it may seem strange to not constantly think about what is going on in your country or not check your phone every 15 minutes but soon you find peace and silence in the journey. It takes a few days to adjust but the reward is clarity and a feeling of peace.
Exercise and well-being
The majority of people have little to no experience in walking long distances over many days. A popular saying is "your Camino begins when you sign up". You begin to research what shoes to bring, how to train and prepare your body, and what you should pack. Many people start training, to become healthier and more fit for the trip.
Estonian bogs have gone through a large-scale transformation from being seen as a horrific place to becoming one of the most loved landscapes. Our bogs are the top-of-the-list attraction for every tourist willing to discover the Estonian countryside and wildlife.
The bog is the oldest organic landscape in Estonia, reaching in some cases up to 10 000 years of age. The first bogs started to emerge here right after the last ice age. As the 1km, the thick glacier ice sheet was melting towards the North pole, the meltwater as a leftover was collected in depressions previously created by the glacier ice.
Over the next thousands of years, plants grew and died within those shallow and oxygen-deprived meltwater lakes. As a result, the dead plant material didn’t become decomposed but rather created ever-lasting peat/turf and turned the water acidic. Every year, one layer of partially decomposed organic material is accumulated underneath the mossy surface of the bog and this effect has taken place since the very beginning!
In Estonian bogs, the pace at which the peat accumulates is roughly 1mm annually. In most Estonian bogs, the peat layer is 5-7 meters on average, which equals about 5000-7000 years of age. Over the course of thousands of years, this landscape goes through a series of transformations. At the very beginning, this peat accumulation landscape does not have a significant effect on plants – the peat layer is just too thin and flora is able to reach the nutrient-rich groundwater. After millennia or two, the peat layer becomes thicker and filters out more demanding plants. The visual of the landscape is about to change. Birch trees will give up and pines will slowly start to take over. This middle stage is called transitional mire.
Later the peat layer gets just so thick that only the toughest plants will survive. The third stage is called bog or raised bog. Here you can see a lot of bog pools or lakes inside this huge organic sponge. The landscape is entirely independent, meaning that the plants don’t have access to nutrient-rich groundwater and all they have is rainwater stored in the ground. Bogs can be seen as huge sponges that can store huge amounts of water. Mainly because the sphagnum moss, also known as the “bog builder plant” is able to absorb almost 20x its body mass. So in some ways, bogs are also giant water reservoirs.
Bog operates as a carbon sink and therefore mitigates the effects of climate change. And as we know today, it’s a perfect place for aesthetic experiences.
Since the Estonian bogs were “rebranded” decades ago, their popularity has skyrocketed. The State Forestry Agency has built a lot of boardwalks and forest trails to provide easier access to all the people interested in enjoying the silence and minimalistic landscapes.
Suddenly, bogs have become the symbols of our country. 100 years ago it was unheard of to say, think or write anything pleasant about our swamps or bogs. Today, people still have some sort of unconscious “itch” inside them when they get off the trails and feel this spongy ground. But walking on boardwalks has become so popular, that on the weekends you could encounter more people in bog than in a shopping mall. So if interested in peace and silence, you have to choose your destinations carefully.
As you may guess, every season has its pros and cons. Although I see some benefits in visiting bogs in particular time periods, I still think everything depends on your goals. Is it to see wildlife? To swim in a bog lake? To pick berries? To skate on the frozen lakes?
Spring (March-May) is probably the best period to encounter birds and animals. For example, male black grouses are having battles in the bogs at the sunrise. Of course, it’s something that needs preparation and setting up a hide to witness those rare moments. The cranes are arriving from Africa and many birds are stopping by to continue their journey to polar regions. Many plants, including mystical labrador tea, bloom in May-June. I love spring because at that time we don’t have mosquitoes here.
I don’t suggest going to the bog on the hot summer days (nights are ok) – because of the dark ground, it gets really hot and there is nowhere to hide from the direct sunlight + you potentially have to deal with horseflies. In the summer, the best time to go to the bog is right before sunset or sunrise. You will then have the least problems with insects + the view is magical. Especially when the sky is clear. and you can enjoy the water that feels especially warm when the air temperature starts to drop.
August-September-October is perfect! Starry skies, misty mornings. Berries – blueberries, lingonberries, bilberries, cranberries, and cloudberries. Mushrooms! Chanterelles! In the autumn, the mosses covering the ground turn into colorful “carpet” + you’ll see the yellow-red colored trees on the horizon. Perfect time for camping and staying overnight as well.
With winter it can go both ways – you either have snow in Estonia or you don’t. When you do, you can go skating on bog lakes, hike with snowshoes over the frozen lakes, make a fire, camp either in a hammock or in a glamping tent. Catch fish on the ice. Fullmoon hike on glowing white snow? No mosquitoes, no crowded camping sites. Silence!
Read more about our Estonian retreat here.
"There is no bad weather, only bad clothing" - Swedish and Norwegian proverb
Here I will share some tips on how to choose good hiking clothes to keep you warm, dry, and happy during your adventures in Norway or Alaska. I will not recommend any specific brands because in different regions you can find similar products from different manufacturers.
Check out our yoga and hiking retreats in Norway and Alaska.
When I moved to Norway in 2013, I started hiking in my jeans, aerobic leggings and top, running shoes, and a light jacket. Although Norwegians thought it was strange (jeans are especially despised), I was not disturbed by it. My hikes were usually short and close to home. With time my hikes became longer and more complicated and I started to buy special hiking equipment. I discovered that the little improvements really made a difference! For example, my backpacks got bigger but lighter and I replaced all my pants and jackets with ones that have ventilation zippers.
You start to notice the importance of clothing when you hike for several days in a row, your hike lasts for the whole day, or the weather changes suddenly. When you hike uphill you always get hot and sweaty. The contrast becomes clear when you reach the top of the mountain which is usually windy and cool. If you want to sit down to eat, relax and enjoy the view, you instantly feel the cold creeping in. On the way down your legs are already tired so you must take extra care not to stumble and fall. That means hiking at a slow pace with sweaty clothes and rubbing shoes. Suddenly you may find that hiking is not so enjoyable anymore. Fortunately, all this is avoidable when you take advice from experienced hikers.
The most important thing about hiking clothes is layering. This tried-and-true strategy helps you to regulate temperature by slipping layers on and off as your activity level or the weather changes. You may not want to wear a lot of layers at the start of your hike but it’s a good idea to take them with you on every outing - you can peel off layers when you get hot but you can’t put on layers that you didn’t bring along.
I am not going to talk about underwear which should be comfortable every day, not only when hiking. But I want to talk about T-shirts. Wool is very popular in Norway: summer wool, merino wool, smart wool, old fashion wool, etc. If I'm honest, I don't go along with fashion trends easily, but buying myself a light, summer merino wool T-shirt was a very good idea.
When hiking with a backpack, your shirt must have sleeves. It is very uncomfortable to feel the backpack strap under a sweaty armpit on a warm summer day. A cotton T-shirt is not the best choice because it dries slowly. I recommend light wool or synthetic T-shirt for warm weather or a long-sleeved shirt for cooler weather. Choose materials that insulate, wick moisture, and dry quickly.
The same goes for socks. A hiking sock is crucial to prevent blisters. A hiking sock, unlike a cotton sock, provides significant protection against rubbing that your boot might cause. Low-cut socks are not a good choice for hiking, choose crew socks instead.
Of course, it all depends on the weather but you should always have a long-sleeved sweater or a fleece in your bag. I love fleece hoodies because I always forget my hat at home and they help to keep my head warm. I prefer light hoodies that breathe well. Pullover hoodies might be difficult to put on, so I prefer ones that have zippers.
Down insulated jackets are my favorites because they are highly compressible and easy to pack in your bag, also down offers more warmth for its weight than any other insulating material.
The outer layer (or shell layer) protects you from wind, rain, and snow. Shells range from pricey mountaineering jackets to simple wind-resistant jackets. Most allow at least some perspiration to escape; virtually all are treated with a durable water repellent finish to make water bead up and roll off the fabric.
Your outer shell is an important piece in stormy weather because if wind and water are allowed to penetrate to inner layers, you can get really cold. Pit zips under the armpit are again important. The ideal would be lightweight, wind, and waterproof material but usually, if you want significant protection against the rain and wind then you might need to make a trade-off on weight.
I think I would love hiking pants that can be turned into shorts by unzipping the long pant legs. Unfortunately, I do not have them yet. But I have several breathable, windproof hiking pants with ventilation zippers and I really love them. It is important for me that they also have pockets with zippers - the more the better. Otherwise, my keys, phone, and other things would disappear fast. The material of hiking pants is also crucial. Your pants should be lightweight, soft, stretchy, and windproof. I also have a pair for heavy rain. It is important that you do not have to take your boots off when you pull on your rain pants. That means a zipper on the side of the pants.
One of the most important things you wear on the trail is shoes. Low-cut models with flexible midsoles are excellent for hiking on a warm summer day. I prefer lightweight, flexible, mid or high-cut hiking boots with a good grip. My boots are not 100% waterproof but they are water-resistant. Always wear your new shoes at home or on short hikes before going out on longer hikes. After hiking removes the insoles of the shoes and cleans them properly. Remember to also reapply for a DWR treatment every once in a while.
The life of a freelance yoga instructor, self-defense teacher, and adventure sports writer involves a lot of free time. I used to devote an embarrassing amount of that free time to trawling the Yoga Trade website. The secret to using the site well is to know when to daydream about an opportunity, when to seize it, and to love what you find. So when I saw a listing looking for yoga teachers to assist hiking retreats in Norway, I knew it was time to pounce. I just didn’t know that pouncing would change my life.
I’ve always wanted to visit Norway but it’s notoriously expensive and I’ve never had the money to go. I’ve lived above the 60th-degree latitude so I knew what I was getting into. I’ve worked as a hiking guide, I’m a natural history nerd, I have wilderness first responder training, I’ve been teaching and practicing yoga for over 30 years. I knew I was perfect for the job. I just had to convince the woman running the retreats that I was perfect for the job.
I was at a yoga retreat in Bali when I saw the listing, so I had limited internet access and no cell reception. I crafted a carefully worded letter of introduction, gathered my CV and a few yoga photos, and tried to send them off. The message didn’t appear to land, so I bombarded this poor woman at every portal I could access: YogaTrade, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and her personal email. I don’t know if she was impressed or annoyed, but she called me within a day. After a week of communication, I was able to convince her to stop looking at other applications and bring me to Molde for the month of August.
I neglected to research my remarkable hostess. Pille Mitt was born in Estonia when it was part of the USSR. She grew up under an authoritarian regime that denied the most basic freedoms I often take for granted- the ability to choose where I want to live, travel, and pursue an education or career. With the collapse of the Soviet Union Pille was able to offer exercise classes and eventually open her own gym. Online dating brought her to Molde, Norway, where she lost the guy but found a new home. A yoga teacher training in Rishikesh opened new windows, and now she teaches at both yoga studios in town and offers yoga and hiking retreats in various locations throughout the year. “I have to stop having such a good life!” she jokes. “Time flies when you’re having fun, so my life is passing too quickly!”
I also neglected to research the hikes. The first day we warmed up with a casual stroll out of town which led to the ascent of a nearby peak. Then we hiked a mountain overlooking the next day’s destination, with the option of climbing a nearby twin summit. One day saw us ascend steep muddy slopes to the Troll’s Church, a limestone cavern with a 40 ft waterfall inside. We traveled by ferry and car, climbed mountains, crawled through caves, jumped in alpine lakes and swam in the frigid Atlantic. Each day brought stunning vistas, the option to picnic and relax or hike as hard as we could. One day was a glorious road trip up a series of hairpin turns to a precariously perched restaurant and café. We dispersed like a flock of birds and came back together to meditate on a quiet ridge.
The first group was all female, and we bonded like the loving family I never had. Two Lebanese women and an Israeli woman broke bread together every day; they are not allowed to travel to each other’s homes and would probably never have met otherwise. We pushed each other to hike harder and relax more deeply, comforted and inspired each other, learned from shared stories of triumph and failure. I’ve led groups from southeast Alaska to Southeast Asia and never experienced one with more authentic love or less bitchy drama.
Over the following month my life fell into a simple rhythm: wake up, meditate, plan yoga classes, do yoga, eat breakfast, hike all day, teach yoga, eat dinner, fall asleep, wake up and do it again. Rainy days invited a road trip, a philosophy discussion, an extended yoga class, a shorter hike. After the first group left, Pille and I had two half days free. We scheduled an outdoor community yoga class, shopped for food and went for a hike. When you’re doing what you love, you never want a day off.
Pille and I cried when I boarded the bus for Oslo. We are both intense athletic tomboy powerhouses and were afraid we wouldn’t meet another kindred spirit until our paths crossed again. Fortunately that won’t be long. We plan to lead yoga and hiking retreats together in Alaska, Norway and California in 2020. Guests from last August have already signed up, eager to hang out with us again. We are considering offering yoga teacher training together in 2021. The only bummer is I don’t have time to daydream about opportunities offered on Yoga Trade anymore. I’m too busy living them! Love what you find!