An Introduction to Outdoor Fitness
I remember distinctly the moment my approach to fitness was transformed. As both a former Alpine skier and competitive mountain biker, I had spent years of my life in a gym. Training and keeping fit was my job. Over time, I had been growing increasingly frustrated with training in the static indoor environment: those workout rooms full of stationary bikes and treadmills, weight machines and fluorescent lights. Working out day after day, I could feel my mind and body going numb in this dull, oxygen-deprived, monochromatic environment. It was also getting harder and harder to really test and challenge my body. My muscles had grown so used to repetitive exercises of the standard gym equipment, I had reached a plateau that was taking away from my performance.
One day, I found myself staring out the window in the middle of yet another boring indoor workout, gazing at the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains, feeling stifled and frustrated. It was fall, training season for skiing. Leaves covered the ground, and the air was crisp and cold. Like a kid stuck in a classroom, I pined for the freedom that lay outside my window. That day, I rebelled. I threw on extra layers of clothes and I took my workout outside. Soon I was running slalom through the pine trees, learning to keep my balance on the uneven footing, and stopping from time to time to do strengthening and stretching exercises against the tree trunks and boulders. Using the diverse terrain of the Sierras, that day I created an alternative gym with a thousand possibilities, and an exciting new way to exercise and train my body. It was a thrilling experience to use the natural surroundings to guide my workouts, and to discover that I didn’t need a lot of equipment to achieve muscular strength, agility and power. I knew instantly that this was the workout I’d been longing for: an intuitive, brand-new way to exercise and improve my performance, a way to keep my training continually fresh and challenging, a way to feed my mind and spirit as well as work my body.
Outdoor Fitness was born that day. After spending some time training in the outdoors, I began to notice some unexpected changes: a noticeable increase in my mental focus and sharpness, a sense of emotional strength, and greater well-being that infused me with a post-workout calm and centeredness I had never quite achieved before. I was getting great physical results, and I was also getting a whole lot more. I began to experience happiness and joy – it was if every cell in my body was overflowing with a new life force. I had reconnected with that place inside of me that loved being outside and near nature – that place where I was a “kid” again – a place that since that time, I cannot live without.
If I had to put my finger on what the “it” is, I’d say it’s the experience of connecting to the natural world around you. This process of connecting mentally and physically to nature is what I call Environmental Integration. Awareness of your environment keeps you safe on the trail; it also promotes a feeling of “oneness” with the natural world around you. Nature becomes both a guide and a companion.
In Outdoor Fitness, you learn to adopt the laws of nature to your workout and your mindset. You learn to “go with the flow.” You don’t conquer a mountain, battle a tricky path, or fight your way through tall grass. This approach puts you at odds with your environment, and leads to rigidity, tension and stress. Instead, you let go and relax. Like a bird in the wind or a fish in a stream, your body and mind flow freely with the forces of nature, the elements and terrain you encounter, gravity itself.
Environmental Integration and Sensory Awareness: The Core of Your Core
The practice of sensory awareness takes us to a place deep within ourselves. As you connect to everything that you see, hear, touch, smell, feel—even taste—you’ll go deeper and deeper into what I call the “core of your core.” You are so integrated with the environment that you become part of it, and it becomes part of you. It’s a place where your senses become so heightened that it feels almost surreal. It’s a mental and emotional high. It’s a place of hyper-consciousness. It’s very primal. And it’s very wonderful. When you get to the core of your core, you discover it’s a place where you feel deeply alive, deeply grateful and deeply connected to the world around you, and to your inner self.
Daily Practice: Environmental Integration
Just like good balance and agility, enhanced sensory awareness is an acquired skill. Use your warm up as an opportunity to connect with your surroundings and activate your senses:
- Tune into your surroundings
- Feel the terrain underfoot
- Relax and feel the pull of gravity
- Notice the colors and textures
- Take in the sounds around you
- Feel the breeze brush your skin
- Smell the aroma in the air
- Trust and listen to your internal voice
- Close your eyes during an exercise: this helps enhance your other senses