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Ohm on the Range

Yoga lovers take their mats into the mountains


Boise yogis can head for the hills--or canyons, actually--when the Boise State outdoor program leads a yoga backpacking trip to Red Rock Canyons. Yoga's emphasis on all things natural will pair nicely with great gulps of fresh Idaho air to clear the mind as well as the lungs. Because the meals, transportation, equipment and instruction all come neatly packaged in the two-day trip, anyone wondering what it might feel like to try holding a tree pose next to an actual tree may want to grab his or her yoga mat and get out of town.

Jackie Baer teaches yoga at the Boise State Recreation Center and will lead the yoga practice during the trip. A coordinated effort between the fitness program and the outdoor rec center at Boise State, the trip aims to fuse yoga with nature for a weekend by providing participants with the backpacks, the destination and the instructor.

"Being out there and being surrounded by [nature], you feel it more," says Baer. She hopes that this trip will be the start of a good thing for Boise yoga lovers. If the two-day trip proves to be popular, the outdoor center may be able to host longer trips on a regular basis.

First popularized in the West by B.K.S. Iyengar, yoga is a practice that incorporates asanas (poses) and pranayama (breath) to attain a state of "yoga," defined as a joining of the individual and universal souls. Yoga teachers will be quick to point out that yoga is a study and observation of one's spirituality, not a religion.

Boise Yoga Center has been open in Boise for 13 years and is run by Vickie Aldridge, who has been teaching yoga in Boise for almost 18 years. She is one of six Idaho-based Iyengar-certified instructors recognized by the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States (INYAUS).

Because Iyengar was the first to popularize yoga in the West, Iyengar yoga is the foundation out of which many forms of yoga have sprouted, and Iyengar-certified instructors are a sure bet that one's personal yoga practice has a strong foundation.

"When I started yoga, I said, 'Wow. Now I've found something,'" Aldridge explains. "Yoga tells you the how, why and what if." Yoga is a way to balance the mind, body and spirit.

Attending yoga classes at a gym makes yoga seem like stretching, not something spiritual. When yoga gets out of the gym, though, and the distractions of everyday life are left behind, being on a yoga mat can stop being an hour of exercise crammed in between meetings.

For one weekend, there are no meetings. Time spent focusing on the self could lead to the dissipation of what Baer believes to be a dominating problem we face as busy people.

"We've become human doings, and we've ceased to be human beings," she says.

A Yoga Fit-certified instructor, Baer has been teaching yoga in Boise for eight years and has led one other outdoor yoga trip to the base of Castle Peak in the White Cloud Mountains. Yoga outside can't help but improve on studio practice. The style of yoga that can be found in every gym in Boise focuses on only one aspect of the ancient practice.

"I call it 'club yoga,'" Baer says. Accessible, fast-paced and power-centered, club yoga is the new yoga for many Boiseans. It focuses on the movement, strength, flexibility and toning aspects of yoga. Baer teaches at Idaho Athletic Club, Total Woman Fitness and the Boise State rec center, all of which offer yoga as part of their fitness schedule. Even Gold's Gym, the original strong-man's gym, has revamped its profile to include yoga as part of its program.

Club yoga has conformed to the American need for speed.

"It's hard for people to slow down," Baer laments. "They get bored. They want to move on. They want to go to their luncheons."

But what has evolved out of blending busy American culture with meditative yoga is something generally called power yoga. Baer struggles to help students find the meditative soul of yoga during their daily hour of power.

"Americans are so driven," Baer says. "It's hard for them to think that they're doing something just by relaxing and breathing." If spending a weekend in the wilderness away from their Blackberries helps people to connect with the contemplative side of yoga, Baer is ready to help them put on their backpacks.

Mark McClenahan has been teaching yoga at the YMCA since 1996. He agrees that people feel like they aren't doing anything when they sit still. Eyes wide, he says, "Maybe they're not [doing anything]." Maybe, he says, that's the point. It's hard not to get philosophical when talking with local yogis, and McClenahan puts the purpose of yoga practice into perspective.

"Most people's experience [with yoga] is the physical side," he explains, "but if they hang with it, they become more accepting of the other aspects."

The other aspects are the other seven out of eight limbs of yoga, which basically act as a guideline for how to live a life of worth. The limbs act as a handbook to living morally, becoming self-disciplined, observing one's health and recognizing that we are spiritual beings.

A tradition passed from generation to generation in India, yoga was handed from teacher to student for over 5,000 years.

In America, yoga has only taken about a century to filter through the gurus, hippies and Californians to your grandma here in Boise.

"I teach senior yoga. They're all in chairs," says Baer. In addition to senior yoga there is prenatal yoga, mommy and me yoga, yoga for kids, teen yoga, hot yoga, power yoga ... praise yoga? Even Christians who are otherwise wary of the philosophy behind yoga can find benefits in getting all pretzeled up.

"Yoga should be for everybody," Baer says. The fact that yoga is everywhere may be an indicator of its popularity with or without those other seven limbs.

For local yogis, whether a weekend in the wilderness will be enough to guide them toward enlightenment will be tested when they don their backpacks in a few weeks. There is no doubt that a weekend spent outside during one of Idaho's perfect springs will have some effect on the soul. If that effect comes from making like a tree on a yoga mat, then go on and get out of town.

Yoga backpacking trip, April 21-22, $80 members/$120 non-members. Registration includes group camping equipment, food, transportation and yoga instruction. Deadline to register is April 16. Pre-trip meeting April 18, 7 p.m., Student Recreation Center classroom, 1515 University Dr. For more information, call 208-426-1592.