Water ripples slowly, leaves flow in the breeze and the view of the Texas Hill Country is breathtaking as a group of yogis completes a mindfulness exercise on the rocky terrain—welcome to Yoga Hike.
“The mission of Yoga Hike, one, is to get people connected to that source to let them know that they’re perfect, they’re whole and they’re complete,” says Christopher Howell, Yoga Hike founder.
Yoga Hike is a 2.5- to 4-hour experience set on hiking trails ranging from two to five miles round trip throughout Central Texas. Howell began this mix of hiking and yoga in 2015 after taking his first yoga class at 51 years old and feeling what he describes as “at home” in the practice.
“I came out of class—I didn’t think anybody would want to go to hashtag-old-guy yoga,” Howell says. “So, I started inviting people that I trusted to hike with me, and then I would sneak in a little yoga to just practice teaching.”
Yoga Hike typically has a group of 12 to 25 people and increases to 30 to 35 at its full moon events. During a full moon hike last year, poet Victoria Erickson came along and read her pieces. Kristen Ude, a participant of that particular hike, described it as very peaceful.
A couple popular locations for Yoga Hike include McKinney Falls State Park, Pedernales Falls State Park and Reimers Ranch Park. It begins with a meet-and-greet followed by grounding exercises. Howell says these get the participants to open up and connect their bodies to nature. From there, they hike to the destination and begin their yoga practice, which is always gentle beginner’s yoga consisting of various asana poses.
Allison Flores, a yoga instructor from Laredo, Texas, was visiting Austin last year for a concert and came across Yoga Hike on Facebook. Flores decided to try out the hike and ended up having a very special experience that day, because the beautiful weather allowed her to connect to nature.
“He started class with a mindfulness activity for us to connect to each other and connect to the space around us,” Flores says. “When we finished the mindfulness exercise, he talked about bringing energy from the outside into us, and it started to rain—it was so pretty. It was perfect timing.”
Each hike focuses on fostering that intimate connection between person and nature. Whether it’s a regular, full moon, sunrise or sunset hike, the emphasis is always on the surroundings.
“At McKinney Falls—there’s this amazing tree there,” Howell says. “We’ll stop and do a tree pose around that [and] do some hippy exercises that are fun and then climb the tree.”
Near the end of the hike, the group will typically find a swimming hole or another scenic destination where a final meditation takes place.
“Most of the hikes were near some sort of water source, so there’s nothing like meditating with your feet in the water or, after a nice hike and yoga practice, jumping off into the water somewhere, if that’s available,” says Sara Roane, former Yoga Hike instructor. “Those would be my favorite experiences.”
Yoga Hike instructors, such as Roane, all started off as enthusiasts. After going on Yoga Hikes and finding it to be thoroughly enjoyable, they reached out to Howell to become a teacher.
“I started by just going to a few of the events,” Roane says. “Really, the first time that I went, I was drawn to it because I’m already a yogi and an outdoor enthusiast, so it was a really great way to just connect with some other people.”
Roane was new to Austin when she first started and found Yoga Hike to be a great way to meet people while doing what she enjoyed on the trail.
“What really kept me coming back was the community and space for curiosity that Christopher Howell really demonstrates and allows; he creates a space for that on the trail,” Roane says. “That was really refreshing to me. I also really connect with mindfulness practices and yoga outside. I think doing that outside brings a whole new dimension to the practice.”
One of the things that Howell noticed before he began Yoga Hike is that his yoga practice reached a deeper level whenever he practiced in an outdoor setting.
“What I’ve noticed is that, if we practice outdoors, we get fresh, organic prana,” Howell says, “instead of being indoors, where all that lifeforce has been kind of manufactured out to make walls. So, what I found is that the more connected people are to nature, then the better they treat each other and the better we treat nature.”
Roane, a yoga teacher and adventure facilitator, felt it was rewarding when she was able to offer that transformational experience on the hikes she led.
“At first, people aren’t really sure what to think, maybe are a little more reserved, and by the end, it’s like a whole new community has been formed,” Roane says.
Flores says she had fun going on the hike with Howell, because he was comfortable, relaxed and cracked jokes with the group.
“Before we knew it, we had already hiked a whole bunch without knowing that we were working so hard, because he was very entertaining,” Flores says.
Howell has not been able to go on a Yoga Hike since December, as he was back in school to help with a revamp of the company. Then, COVID-19 came soon after, prolonging his inability to take groups out.
“Once COVID lifts, we’re branching out into corporate events,” Howell says. “That really became popular just before COVID hit, so we’ll be doing private parties, bachelorette parties, bachelor parties.”
There are currently not any hikes being offered due to COVID-19, but once they resume, Yoga Hike’s website will provide a calendar of events and locations. The first Yoga Hike is only $15, and after that single class, passes are $25. However, there is a three-class pass for $60 or a six-class pass for $108, all of which can be purchased directly from the website as well.
For 30 years, Howell has been helping people find their own unique contribution to the world after discovering that corporate life was not for him. With his background in relationship courses, breathwork and massage therapy, he wants to continue making freedom available to as many people as possible on Yoga Hike adventures.
“If you’re doing what you really love, then it’s easier to love the world and to love other people,” Howell says. “So, after acting that way for a while, we start to recognize our oneness. I’m hoping that future generations will be able to make their decisions based on our oneness instead of our separateness.”