Thursday, 5 July 2007

'The Benefits of Hiking and Climbing - Becoming a Human Animal

This article was written in a guest article for
'Before' 1987 first week at Pilgrims aged 9
When I first went off to the wilderness I was with a small group of kids who all had asthma/eczema, diabetes, epilepsy, cystic fibrosis or some such ailment. I attended a special boarding school for kids who suffered from different illnessess to the point that they would usually be permanently hospitalised. Our first 'wilderness' camping trip took all of these ten and eleven year olds out to a field in the south east of england. It was surrounded by ancient woodland, huge lakes and nothing but countryside. We had to get our water from a natural spring and cook over a fire and sleep in tents. 'After' Summer 1988 aged 10
The benefits of this trip for children who may never have been into the countryside let alone to stay in it for a weekend; were innumerable. A lot us hadn't been able to go to school; were more used to looking at a ceiling from a hospital bed and hearing the sound of traffic rather than bird song.
I remember sitting in a canoe in the middle of a thunder storm with the rain drenching me. I was watching a heron as it caught an eel and then took it's meal to the shore not five feet from my boat. I felt vibrantly alive, the contrast was so great. Not a year before my mother had been convinced I was going to die. I had severe eczema that had worsened to the point of germ warfare carrying itself out energetically between the layers of my skin and driving me literally mad with pain. My Mum had fought to get me a place in this special school and it had saved my life. (Pilgrims School has sadly since closed due to government cuts). Now I was out paddling a canoe by myself, collecting my own water, running among giant trees, and waking up to the gentle sounds of the birds.
The health benefits of being in the outdoors aren't simply about the physical. Improved circulation, excellent cardiovascular fitness and normal elimination that combine to provide that natural 'glow' are the expected benefits of any constant exercise regime.
Hiking and climbing have particular qualities that will make you more flexible, have greater endurance and provide you with the ability to focus on whatever tasks you begin. But most of all, they are the ways you choose to make your life. 'We are what we repeatedly do' Aristotle said and exercise outdoors in nature makes us more than simply 'fit'. I would add to Aristotle's phrase that not only are we what we repeatedly do, but we are where we do it and how we go about doing it. In beautiful places you breathe in that beauty, you press pure oxygen into every part of your body and you experience the freedom of an unobstructed skyline.
In wilderness pursuits, some of that wildness passes into your bones. 'Ingwe, one of the founders of the Wilderness Awareness School born M. Norman Powell in 1914... spent his childhood running barefoot through the plains of Kenya with the young warriors of the neighboring Akamba tribe. Adopted into their tribe, Ingwe learned how to live close to the Earth.' one of his students said of him 'The first thing that you notice when you're in a room with him, it really and truly feels like you're in the presence of a Leopard. Honestly. His eye contact is difficult to meet and you feel like at any moment, if he chose to, he could leap across the room, kill you, and be back in his chair before anyone knew what had happened. The second thing I noticed was that he had better senses than anyone I have ever met. He can see, hear and smell things that I can only dream of. His senses, like his presence, are those of a hunting cat.' When this student asked Ingwe how he could do these things Ingwe answered simply 'Practice'.
So if your goal is to become fitter, you can go to the gym or the pool and become gym fit and pool fit and that is a great and good thing - it will help you to be healthy and have a happy life and it often fits in more easily with a work schedule. But if your goal is perhaps wider than this and you wish to make your muscle, and become what you do and you wish to influence the outcome of this decision to its utmost postitive result, then consider every aspect of your day (s). Think about what exercise you are doing and what kind of person you are becoming by repeatedly doing this type of exercise. If that's who and what you wish to become brilliant! If however your soul isn't inspired on the running machine, and the weights just aren't doing it for you; head for the rocks and the wild country.
Get some proper professional guidance, join a local Adventuring Club and get to know people who are already climbing/hiking on their weekends, take your holiday with a well known Adventure Sports School and kayak around a wild and remote coastline. Learn to work with horses, learn to ski and then travel cross country by your prefered method. An adventure sport is exactly that it means you reach within yourself for qualities you didn't know you had and you only find them because you're outdoors and the weather's closing in and you have to make decisions, or because you have to get a fire going and there's only wet wood available. They may very well be simple decisions like knowing when to put on extra layers and take them off or knowing when to call it quits and rest up, but they give you an edge; they give you a life.
Exercise is a funny thing, it's come about because our lifestyle has changed so drastically that it does not create the opportunities for us to be at our absolute fittest. We may think ourselves lucky as women that many of us don't have to do laundary or bake bread by hand anymore and that we don't have to walk to collect water and wood, but it was these simple things, done everyday that kept us superbly strong and fit and often delivering baby after baby and let's face it that's got to be like climbing Everest again and again!
There's a balance involved and it's one we have to give great care and attention to because everything we do has an effect. As well as making our own lives, we are impacting upon everyone elses and upon the collective future of the planet. This is what makes us so powerful. As women we have the ability to create within us - it is a natural power or energy that not enough of us connect with and the very reason that tribal societies had 'moon times or 'moon lodges', it's not superstition - but respect.
Part of getting in touch with the outdoors through hiking/climbing and other outdoor sports conditions us to be in touch with ourselves and with the energy's that move through all lives. Our ears are opened, our senses alerted and we are keenly switched on to everything around us and within us. In the city where we have to turn off our awarenes most of the time to stay sane amongst the noise and the onslaught of modern life, we have limited circumstances to be 100% alive. Our bodies truly become what we breathe, what we eat and drink and what we do, and our spirits are reflected in those things
Be your potential you, don't settle for second best, or third rate. Let the earth sing through your actions everyday and let the words of your unique song ring out to the people who are really in need of it. For only you can carry some of that fresh air from the wilderness back, in the lightness of your step, and only you can carry back some of that pure water in your blood and in your fresh complexion; back to the places where people have forgotten what it is to be a human animal, in sync with everything around us, between sky and stone.
These are the benefits of hiking and climbing and other outdoor pursuits.

Louise Brookes has set up The Positive Impact Living Life Skills Pages where you can freely learn the skills to live your Ultimate Life go to
Louise has travelled, climbed mountains, picked grapes, waitressed, worked in a store in central London, been an Apprentice of Tibetan Medicine for four years, been homeless with two full time jobs, gone round the S of England with a horse and cart, learnt about herbs and wilderness living from native people in Canada and generally been making an outstanding nuisance of herself during her time on this planet. She is currently living and making a nuisance of herself in France.

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tags - hiking, climbing, childhood illness, asthma, eczema, recovery, benefits outdoor sport, special school, Pilgrims School, Ashburnham

Some rights reserved Louise Brookes 29th June 2007

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