#findyourpark - The Grand Canyon

Having grown up in Northern California, I knew without a shred of doubt that the best National Park was right in my backyard.  My dad always told me that the most beautiful mountain range in the world was but a few short hours from San Francisco, and we were some of the luckiest people on earth to be so close.  Considering he spent much of his life backpacking and traveling a large chunk of the Western United States, his opinion on all things ‘mountain’ was as good as fact in my eyes.  Nobody can refute that California holds a special place in God’s creation, and folks from all over the world make the pilgrimage to catch a glimpse of her majesty .

Even with my geographic contentment, something deep down in me knew that I needed to broaden my horizons.  Afterall, America is a big place, and California is just one state.  And while the Golden State is pretty rad to wander around, it does the spirit good to get out and move around the country.  When my mom asked me to come along on a family backpacking trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I hopped on the opportunity.  The reservations were already made, and all I needed to do was show up in Las Vegas ready to trek over 20 miles while navigating 10,000 ft. of elevation gain and loss.  

While the Grand Canyon intrigued me, it wasn’t really on my travel radar.  It was on my bucket list for sure, but just not toward the top.  I’d been thinking of making a trek to Glacier National Park in Montana for years, but the logistics of traveling from San Francisco to Northern Montana on a personal trainer’s budget proved too challenging.  Maybe it was a simple case of laziness, but it didn’t take rocket science to know that this was my chance to go out there and really shake things up.

No, a trip to the Grand Canyon does not hold the exotic allure of traveling to remote, sacred spots in Northern India or Bhutan.  But rest assured, it is exotic and sacred.  After a flight from SFO to LAS, an entertaining Cirque du Soleil show, a few margaritas, and a five hour drive in the family RV from Sin City to the South Rim of the Canyon, I rest my eyes upon a landscape I will not soon forget.  

It was sundown as the RV approached Grand Canyon Village, and while pitch black sweeps the canyon after Helios makes his daily descent, I was mesmerized as I caught the sun’s final drenching of golden light upon the ancient red rocks.  I gazed upon time immemorial.  To be awestruck is an understatement, and words will never do the place justice.  Vast. Silent. Remote. Brilliant. Splendor.  It gives off a palpable vibe, and you see it in the smiles of the other travelers staring out upon this most magic monument.

My loop through the Canyon lasted four days and three nights.  With 40 lbs on my back, I traveled over staircases, through craggy rock formations, past waterfalls, and over the Colorado River.  I trekked not only over muddy and icy trails, but through vast stretches of time and solitude.  You can’t help but think about the ancient tribes who called this land their home, whose civilizations were forged by its canyon walls and rushing river.  Their spirits live in this land, and they enchant you as you travel through.  

My family overnighted three nights at the famous Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Canyon floor.  I met folks from near and far, all converging on this one spot to marvel at at a landscape that no better encapsulates the spirit of the Wild West.  The camp itself is a collection of rustic cabins dotted around the confluence of the Bright Angel Creek and the Colorado River, with the camp’s Canteen acting as the main social gathering place.  You can buy beer and wine, play games, trade stories, and learn about the best day hikes close to camp.  The place is the classic American summer camp . . . just we were there in winter.

I was pretty tired on my second day, but I rallied the strength to set out for Ribbon Falls.  To get there from camp entails a 12-mile round trip trek on a fairly moderate trail with little elevation gain or loss.  One of the camp attendees who hailed from the Basque region of Spain explained that Ribbon Falls is considered the most sacred site to the Zuni tribe.  He said it’s part of their creation story; it’s the place where they believe they enter this world from.  He went further to share that the Canyon is considered to be the most sacred place in all of Native America.  Hearing that, the history buff and spiritualist inside me shrugged off the lingering exhaustion from the day before to experience just a little more of this most special place.

Walking through the canyon is a meditative practice.  Even when you hike with someone, you feel as though you’re alone with yourself.  Sure, you check in with your hiking partner from time to time and trade notes, but the sheer beauty of the landscape lends itself more to quiet moments of pilgrimage.  We reached Ribbon Falls a little after midday, and felt like our need for a day hike was complete.  After paying our respects to this sacred site, we set out back for camp to close out our second day.

Our time on the canyon floor came and went, and before we knew it, we were awake bright and early on our last day ready to climb back up to the rim.  10 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation awaited.  As we climbed out, I felt inspired to see my parents in their mid-sixties able to make such a strenuous trek.  I felt humbled and lucky knowing that few men in their mid-thirties get the privilege to undertake such a journey with their family.  No matter what the future brings, I will always smile when I think of my mom, dad, and sister making that trek together.

It took 7 hours for us to reach the top, though we budgeted for 10.  As we made our final climb on Christmas Eve, old Chris Kringle swept past the rim and dusted the red rocks with the purest snow.  The color contrast with the white and the red must be seen to be believed.  I had been told by my barber in San Francisco that the best time to see the Canyon is when it’s just been blanketed in snow.  I couldn’t agree anymore.

After reaching the top, we overnighted at the rim before departing back to Vegas in the RV on Christmas morning.  Before we left, we splurged on a Christmas breakfast at the historic El Tovar hotel, which is perched directly along the edge of the rim.  As I ate my eggs while looking out the hotel window and onto the white Christmas morning, I felt a sense of peace in this timeless place.  I felt at home.  A part of me lives there in the Canyon, along with the other timeless spirits who experienced it’s magic.  

I returned to San Francisco, and as I made my way from the airport back to my apartment, I couldn’t get the red rock spires or the call of the condors out of my mind.  San Francisco is a gorgeous city, but in the end, it’s still a city.   And after you experience a place as unique and jaw-dropping like the Grand Canyon, it’s as though nothing can ever quite compare.  So while I still consider Yosemite my “home” park, I’d like to think that during this centennial year of the National Park Service that I truly #foundmypark.  

The Grand Canyon: Mind Officially Blown

It didn’t take dropping acid.  Nor did it take traveling to the mouth of the Ganges River high in the Himalayas to enter into deep meditation with a loin-clothed yogi in a candlelit cave while seated on a tiger-hide rug.  But rest assured, I did get my lid flipped.  I’d heard about it for years.  “You must go,” is what my dad told me.  Being his adult son, though, I felt like I’d heard that one murmur from his mouth more than a few times.  It’s not that I don’t respect what my father says, but he’s my dad . . . and sons are naturally sceptical by nature.  Regardless, the man has backpacked a great deal of the Western United States in his lifetime, and I always look for his opinion when I ponder a backpacking adventure of my own.

When we arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it hit me right then and there.  All I could think was, “Wow!  Holy Crap!  It’s even radder than what I’d seen in the pictures!”  I was left speechless when I first looked out at the Grand Canyon as the sun began to set on that frigid December night.  I’d never seen a landscape like this my entire life . . . and I immediately felt both energized, and in love.  This comes from a guy who has lived in some of the most stunning California settings for most of his life.   But If you’ve never taken a trip to the Grand Canyon, take it from this former GC-virgin . . . you must see it to believe it.

For Christmas this past year (2016), my family decided to channel the spirit of a National Lampoon’s family vacation.  We ditched Wally World and and made a Grand Canyon backpacking adventure our prefered bonding experience.  Maybe we’re a strange clan, but the luxuries of hiking boots, muddy trails, freezing weather, and potential blisters sounded more appealing than a trip to a sunny Southern California amusement park.  With good reason, though.  The landscapes I took in over the course of our 4-day trekking adventure well made up for any of the creature comforts a stay at the Disneyland Hotel could ever conjure.

The desert in winter is pure magic.  During my 32-miles worth of trekking, I saw ancient Indian ruins, a cornucopia of wildlife, sacred sites, waterfalls, and rock formations beyond imagination.  While traveling along the 10-mile long Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim of The Canyon to the Phantom Ranch at the bottom, you lose 5,000 ft. worth of elevation, and journey through seven epochs of Earth’s geologic time.  Clearly, this is no ordinary walk in the park.  Along these lines, I learned that only 1% of park visitors actually make it to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Considering the millions that glance over its edges, this is an astonishingly small number.  

The Grand Canyon is a land beyond language.  It’s quiet and still, yet teeming with life.  To call it colorful is an understatement.  It would take an extraordinarily numb person to leave its rock walls and not feel somehow changed or humbled.  Personally, I never thought of myself as a “desert person.”  After my adventure, I can’t wait to go back.  I invite you to click here and check out my video blog to see just why the Grand Canyon is such a sacred place.   Take it from me: you need to make the Grand Canyon your next adventure destination.

Suspension Training For Killer Abs

Everyone wants one . . . and we’re not talking about an old-fashioned tool to clean your clothes. We’re talking about the perfect set of washboard abs!  You can crunch, plank, slam, and rotate your way to a six-pack till your heart’s content, but if you are not adding Suspension Training into your ab-shredding plan, then you’re working harder than you really should.  What does Suspension Training do that simple crunches don’t?  Simply put, Suspension Training introduces a level of instability that causes all your core-stabilizing muscles to engage.

By recruiting your core-stabilizing muscles, and consequently strengthening them through a methodical training plan focusing on core-strength, you will see greater results than you would through the common prescription of three reps of 20 crunches, or any other variation thereof. While your body-fat percentage ultimately determines whether or not you will “see” your six-pack, the kind of training you put your abs through will determine how strong and how well-defined your core is.

- See more at: https://www.trxtraining.com/train/suspension-training-for-killer-abs#sthash.29nnIk5f.dpuf

So What Is It With Men And Yoga, Anyways?

Men and yoga can be a bit like oil and water, at least in the United States.  While a strong men’s yoga community certainly exists in America, in the popular mind, yoga is a feminine activity grouped together with dance classes, girl’s weekends, and the popular “chick flick.”  I teach fitness and yoga classes in San Francisco, and my point was further proved when I walked through Union Square after a class and strolled past the women’s lingerie store “Victoria’s Secret.” Victoria’s Secret happened to be marketing a “sexy yoga slip.” While sex sells, and yoga’s not been immune to this, what kind of motivation does a red-blooded American guy have in order to take a leap and join a truly life transforming practice?

I’m certainly not the first to write on this topic.  However, as a male teacher coming from both an athletic and working class background, I deeply understand how avoiding certain activities in order to appear “more manly,” or in many instances “less gay,” guides the choices men make.  For the super mainstream, this is probably one of the biggest impediments to even trying a class out.  Other factors may influence the decision, such as the very popular snap judgement, “Well . . .I’m just not flexible.”  None of these are great excuses, but they are ones teachers and those in the community encounter regularly when approaching men about integrating a practice.

The good news is that this is a very fixable problem.  The solution is to use reason and always have a good argument in your back pocket.  For men I encounter that waffle about taking a class because of issues surrounding masculinity, I point out that yoga’s beginnings had its roots with male practitioners.  I also mention the good number of inspiring male instructors in the United States.  If that’s not enough, then I pivot to the physical benefits.  It’s here that the cross with athletic men occurs.  

For the less athletic man, I mention weight loss, increase tone, less depression, and an improved sex drive.  For the more athletic man, I appeal to their sense of needing to “increase performance,” “improve physicality,” and “optimize living.” We need more men to join the ranks.  As a community, we should not be ambivalent about the lack of men in yoga.

American men need a place to practice that takes the focus inward, that grows a deeper sense of inner and outer peace, that has non-violence as a core tenet, and maintains a community of healthy individuals seeking to improve themselves and the world we all inhabit.  I urge you to invite a dude to practice, and create a virtuous cycle in their lives and the lives of those they touch.  In this way, and in my own interpretation of the Buddhist tradition, we can create ripples effecting 10,000 waves of peace.

See the original piece by visiting the Hyde Yoga blog.