Like a little hiking with your yoga? Try YogaHike

Christopher Howell leads weekend sessions at area parks.


Yoga mats slung over their shoulders, hikers head down a trail at McKinney Falls State Park.

Their mission? A brisk walk to get their hearts pumping, followed by an hourlong yoga session in the woods, where the occasional butterfly flaps past and an ant marches up an arm or two. Afterward, a leap into Onion Creek to cool off.

Christopher Howell started YogaHike as a way to combine two of his favorite things — yoga and hiking. He leads a YogaHike nearly every weekend at different locations around Central Texas.

About 20 people have gathered for today’s donation-based class, which begins with introductions and a 30-minute warmup. Some arrive by bike; everyone brings a yoga mat or towel and water.

Howell, 54, spent 15 years as a massage therapist and self-improvement class instructor. After a bout with testicular cancer, he slipped into what he calls a slow depression. He gained weight and started smoking. One glance at photos of himself at his 50th birthday party convinced him he needed to get back in shape.

He dropped 60 pounds by doing P90X, but got injured doing the yoga part of the home-exercise regimen. He signed up for beginner yoga classes at YogaYoga, and liked what he discovered.

“I really felt like I was home,” he says.

Inspired, he earned his own certification from Sundara Yoga Therapy and began inviting friends to practice yoga on the hillside above the Pennybacker Bridge at Lake Austin. “During that process I said if I found my way back, I’d take as many people with me as I could,” he says.

Because he always loved to hike, he tied a 2- or 3-mile walk into each of his sessions, and began holding them at various parks. In January he started posting the schedule on Facebook, and asked for a $10 to $20 donation per class.

The idea took off. Today, groups of up to 30 regularly join Howell for his weekend YogaHikes. He’s added a few destination events to the lineup, too, including a YogaHike trip to Yosemite National Park and another to Inks Lake State Park. Eventually he hopes to expand, teaming with guest instructors to offer a choice of locations each weekend.

Howell is quick to confess that his yoga technique may not be perfect, but says he’s good at bringing people into the present and helping them get in tune with their breathing.

“I love hiking. I love yoga. That’s why we’re here,” he tells the group gathered today.

Unlike most yoga classes in Austin, held indoors in air conditioning and under fluorescent lights, being outside connects participants to nature. “The trail does all the work,” he says. “You’re getting your prana from the earth, the trees and the sun.”

The group makes a 3-mile loop on the park’s Onion Creek Trail. Some chat along the way, others walk in silence. A cottontail rabbit skips past, and some students linger, admiring plants.

“No rules,” Howell says. “It’s your experience.”

About a mile and a half down the mostly shaded trail, the group pauses in front of a sprawling old oak tree, its branches stretching upward like arms. It’s time for some balance work. Howell guides the class into tree pose, mimicking those gnarled branches.

“Root yourself to the earth,” he says. “Reach to the sky.”

The group rambles on, then gathers again in the shade along Onion Creek for an hour-long yoga class complete with sun salutations, down dogs, and a series of cat-cow, chair and waterfall poses. Birds chirp, and the faded conversation of a pair of fishermen drifts overhead. Sun beams sparkle through the leaves.

“To me it’s like a 4-D experience,” says Kim Steele, 50, who drove from Georgetown for the YogaHike. “With 3-D, it’s dimensional. With 4-D it’s mind, body and soul, too.”

The setting, especially at the sunrise class at the Pennybacker Bridge, adds a zap of energy, she says. “It’s the experience of doing the yoga, but then you have this beautiful, awe-inspiring view.”

Devon Sepeda, 24, of Austin, a manager at Play-Well TEKnologies, is already signed up for a YogaHike trip to Yosemite in September. “I’m new to yoga,” he says. “I’ve always loved hiking and being outside. Combining the two, why not?”

Jaclyn Howell, who isn’t related to Christopher but is also a yoga teacher, says she came to build community, get some exercise and commune with nature.

The yoga portion of the class wraps up, and the class spends another 10 minutes in meditation. But there’s one last step to this YogaHike experience, and it involves water.

Christopher Howell leads the group to the limestone ledge above the Upper Falls at the park. He scans the green-blue pool below, smiles serenely, and executes a perfect swan dive.

Namaste.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Lifestyle

Dear Abby - Sunday, February 18

Dear Abby: My daughter and her boyfriend have been together for four years. Despite being almost 30, he is very immature and constantly distracted by either his phone or his video games. Abby, he travels with his PlayStation everywhere he goes. When he comes into our house, he sets up his console in the living room, puts on headphones and plays games...
Today’s horoscopes - Sunday, February 18

ARIES (March 21-April 19). Same dollars, different slant. Put money into something that disappears and it’s called a liability. Put money into something that pays you back and it’s called an investment. TAURUS (April 20-May 20). To succeed at something, focus on the process much more than the results. The results will come from many small...
Today’s birthdays - Sunday, February 18
Today’s birthdays - Sunday, February 18

Today’s Birthdays: Former Sen. John Warner, R-Va., is 91. Author Toni Morrison is 87. Movie director Milos Forman is 86. Singer Yoko Ono is 85. Singer-songwriter Bobby Hart is 79. Singer Irma Thomas is 77. Singer Herman Santiago (Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers) is 77. Actress Jess Walton is 72. Singer Dennis DeYoung is 71. Actress Sinead Cusack...
Honor a Texas legend, explore science and more family fun, Feb. 18-24
Honor a Texas legend, explore science and more family fun, Feb. 18-24

Events Family Science Days. Meet an astronaut, learn about ants and raptors, dinosaurs and space. The public portion of the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Austin Convention Center. Free. aaas.org Paint It Forward. Art auction of art from preschoolers to benefit Make a Wish, plus an open...
Why car horns, planes and sirens might be bad for your heart
Why car horns, planes and sirens might be bad for your heart

The roar of a jet plane, the rumble of a big rig, that shrill scream from the siren of a speeding emergency vehicle: The common but loud noises that keep you awake at night and agitate you throughout the day may have a notable effect on your cardiovascular health, experts say. Researchers say noise pollution may increase the risk of heart disease,...
More Stories