Yoga helps develop hunting skills

Yoga for Hunters

5 Reasons a Chiropractor Recommends Yoga for Hunters

5 Reasons a Chiropractor Recommends Yoga for Hunters

By Dr. Erika Putnam

It took me 16 days to take a dall sheep in Alaska last year. If it wasn’t for my yoga practice I don’t think I could have stayed mentally determined or returned home injury free. Sixteen days is a lot of days of sleeping on the hard ground and climbing tall mountains. There is really no perfect training for the rigors of sheep hunting because there is no way to anticipate which elements you might encounter. You just have to step in and hope you’ve got what it takes.

As a chiropractor, I regularly recommend yoga to patients. I appreciate how it offers core engagement, strength building, flexibility and balance as a therapeutic activity to stabilize the spine. As a yoga teacher, I can bring together the physical components and other elements like breathing and a mind body connection. These combined benefits of yoga undoubtedly prepared me for pursuing sheep day after day.

Yoga leads to successful sheep hunt

My least favorite element of a sheep hunt is shale. We crossed so much of it in 16 days. The final day of the hunt we hit the shale early and after about 200 yards of uncertain footing I sat down and cried. I was tired of shale. I had hit my physical and emotional wall. I was physically tired and my spirit feared failing my team and going home empty handed. I knew I could physically do it but I wasn’t sure I wanted to anymore. I had to access even more trust and determination and find meaning in it again. A yoga practice has a way of making you take a deep breathe, regroup, and start again with your intention in mind. After an encouraging word from my guide and a few deep breaths I found myself traversing rocks and wiping away tears and snot. Within 10 minutes my guide was on a group of legal rams and we were in hot pursuit.

The rams were one ridge over, through the alders, across the river and 3 hours uphill. My yoga practice prepared me for this final push in ways I could not have anticipated. The alder patches themselves are like a yoga class. You twist around branches, duck under them, fall down between and over limbs all in the same square footage as a yoga mat. It probably looks like a sun salute, down dog and a lunge with a twist.

Not all hunts include a river crossing but mine did. I stripped down to my skivvies, wore my guides size 12 river sandals and crossed 30 feet of waist high rushing glacier water. Every step took complete concentration. My energy was focused on my guide on the other side. I remember holding my core tightly and fighting the current as it tried to push me down river. The balance poses I practiced in yoga surely kept me and my pack from being washed away.

The next 3 hours were straight uphill. Every down dog pose had prepared my calves to stretch and push me onward. When the time finally came to set up for a shot I got rattled. My guide looked at me and simply said “breathe”. She was speaking yoga to me. I slowed my breath, immediately relaxed and collected my wits. We had a long and successful stock and I got an amazing sheep. No hunt ends there. We had a few more hours of gutting and caping and a long hike back to camp and another river crossing with a full pack. Descending the mountain I caught my foot on a rock and was jerked into the downhill splits. That was when I knew for certain that my yoga practice was keeping me flexible. You might be surprised how a yoga practice improves your hunting. Not only will it help you prevent injuries but it will give you a keen appreciation for the entire experience. Consider these five benefits and add yoga to enhance your time in the field.

  • 1. Flexibility.
    Falls and unexpected quick movements result in sprains/strains and fractures. The more flexible a person is the more shock they can absorb. Lengthening the soft tissues and improving pliability makes muscles and ligaments less prone to injury. It takes time, dedication and a certain amount of mental letting go to hold uncomfortable positions. Going through a series of yoga poses may help the less flexible or busy minded person take on a structured stretching program.

  • 2. Strength.
    We anticipate heavy lifting and carrying and don’t want to throw our back out doing it. Weight lifting helps prepare for those big lifts but small muscles need attention too. Many yoga poses are held for long periods of time thereby recruiting the smaller intrinsic muscles around joints to strengthen and protect them. Hiking, squatting, bending forward and carrying a pack are all activities related to sustained postures or motions over time. Strength training should include endurance not just max weight or repetitions.

  • 3. Balance.
    Standing on one leg with eyes open and eyes closed for at least one minute every day is a good start to practicing balance. If you can’t do this don’t even think about crossing shale or jumping from one boulder to another. Good balance can save you from a bad fall and teach your body to auto correct more quickly when you find yourself off center. Practicing balance also increases postural awareness. Imagine the difference you would feel carrying a rifle for an 8 hour hike if you were slouching forward, leading with your head versus holding your shoulders back and your neck up long and tall. Balance, posture and body awareness work together to keep you in the best positions possible with the lowest risk of injury.

  • 4. Breathe Control.
    Controlled slowing of your breathe when you are excited or worried calms the fight or flight chemistry to a state where you can act without regret. Conscious breathing also improves your awareness to your other senses. You more readily notice details like how you are sitting, where the wind is coming from and what is present in your surroundings. More practically, breathe control increases the chances that you will shoot straight and that you won’t get hit in the face by your scope in a rush.

  • 5. Focused intention.
    A yoga practice focuses your physical and emotional energy. It improves and directs your desired intention. The ability to set an intention and focus your mind and skills towards that end broaden and deepen your whole hunting experience. Bagging your limit or a trophy is always personally rewarding but in the broader sense it benefits the community and culture of hunting to be conscious. While body awareness prevents injury, intentional hunting practices secure future hunting opportunities. Collectively the mindset to leave no trace, observe and respect property lines, take ethical shots, work together as a team, and appreciate the opportunity and gift of hunting are the extended benefits of a incorporating a yogic mind. There is no shame in training the mind and heart with the same dedication and precision with which you prepare your gear and practice shooting at targets.

About Dr. Putnam

Dr. Putnam has over 20 years of experience in the chiropractic field, a 500 hour yoga instructor certification and a true passion for wellness. She is a 1995 graduate of Western States Chiropractic College and uses a variety of chiropractic techniques. Outside of work Dr. Putnam enjoys road biking, hiking, outdoor sporting, snowshoeing, cooking, yoga, writing, babies and her new puppy, Zen.

Contact her through her website at: thebendatwhitefish.com

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