We Alaskans

Author's voice makes pair of yoga books for climbers, hikers worthwhile

Yoga for Climbers: How to Stretch, Strengthen and Climb Higher and Yoga for Hikers

By Nicole Tsong; Mountaineers Books; each 238 pages; $16.95 each

When former Alaskan Nicole Tsong moved to Seattle, she found herself stressed by the traffic, the demands of a larger and busier city, and shorter summer days. Without easy access to mountains or wild spaces, she turned to yoga to unwind.

That choice changed her life.

Tsong, a former journalist for the Anchorage Daily News and the Seattle Times, is now a certified yoga instructor who leads retreats, writes a weekly fitness column and taught yoga at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

She's also the author of two recently published books: "Yoga for Climbers" and "Yoga for Hikers."

The books, published by Mountaineers Books, are compact enough to fit into a backpack yet sturdy enough to withstand mud, light rain and overnight camping trips (trust me, I tested them on all three).

The best part, however, is Tsong's voice, which is authoritative and yet homey, informative but never preachy. Reading through the introduction, where Tsong explains how and why yoga came into her life, it's impossible not to like her, not to want to call her up and ask her out on a hike or climbing trip.

I dove headfirst into a heated power flow practice; I had never sweated so much in my life. I loved feeling my legs burn while holding poses, even as I mentally begged the teacher to let us release out of the pose. I adored the little snooze I snuck in during the final rest at the end of each class.

The books, while strikingly similar, are geared to each sport. In "Yoga for Climbers," Tsong emphasizes flexibility and balance, along with core strength and mental endurance, while in "Yoga for Hikers" she concentrates more on cardiovascular endurance and lower-body and trunk strength.

In each, Tsong deftly leads readers through everything from basic to increasingly complex moves, followed by detailed yet easily understandable instructions. All of the familiar poses are included, such as downward-facing dog, planks, crow and child's pose — plus others that might not be as well known: ear pressure pose, pyramid, twisted chair and gorilla.

Beyond the physical, the books are a visual treat, complete with colorful photographs and shaded sidebars offering additional tidbits such as the meaning of proprioception (the brain's understanding of where the body is in space) and how to maintain healthy and happy knees.

Short interviews with other yoga enthusiasts are sprinkled through the pages. Among them are ultra-runner Buzz Burrell, outdoors author Tami Asars plus a short but fascinating segment on professional climber Rannveig Aamodt. After falling 50 feet, Aamodt broke her back, pelvis, elbow and both ankles, but resumed climbing upon recovery. It's a shame that Tsong didn't include more of these sections. They add a nice flavor while contributing a wider focus.

The last chapter, a brief foray into mindful eating, adds little to the books and feels forced and unnecessary. In a world already saturated with diets, food plans and master cleanses, it would be nice to simply read a book on yoga and leave the diet/food agenda to someone else.

Still, Tsong's books are worth a read, especially by climbers, hikers, runners and all those who spend active time outdoors. Each is informative, easy to read and supportive.

But be forewarned: It's almost impossible to browse through the pages without sinking down to the floor and popping out a few side planks or warrior poses.

However, the best parts of the books are when Tsong pushes her writing beyond the instructor mode and opens up to readers on why she practices yoga in the first place and why, perhaps, any of us should. She recaptures that glorious, awed and almost-sacred feeling we experience each time we hike in the mountains or climb a difficult ridge.

Sometimes the peak of a hike is a snowcapped, craggy mountaintop that stuns you into awed silence. Sometimes the "peak" is an alpine lake so deeply blue you never imagined such a color existed, or it is the depths of a canyon down to a river or lake, even though you know that a climb awaits you on your return to the trailhead. The pinnacle of a hike could more aptly be titled the halfway point — the time when you sit down, contemplate a space and place bigger than your body, and eat the best lunch of your life.

Cinthia Ritchie is a freelance writer and author. She blogs about writing, books and Alaska life at www.cinthiaritchie.com.

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