Blog Post Todd Christopher May 6, 2016

A Yogi’s Guide to the National Parks

Experiencing America’s natural wonders in 9 poses

If the Saturday morning cartoons of my childhood taught me anything, it was that a national park is a natural place for a yogi to be — even if the yogi in question was Yogi Bear, animated resident of the fictional Jellystone Park.

Today, however, I am one of the actual yogis — the more than 36 million Americans who are yoga practitioners — who take to the parks in unprecedented numbers to recharge both mind and body.

It’s an obvious connection. What better place to move, stretch and breathe than in our national parks? The magnificent settings inspire us, lifting our spirits as stress melts away. In a frenetic world, the parks remain havens for those seeking solitude, even as they bring people together — a variety of yoga retreats and excursions take participants to their most scenic destinations, and free yoga classes are offered by a growing number of the parks themselves.

All of which got me thinking about the similarities between several familiar yoga poses and special places in the park system, and how perfectly they seem to go together. Whether you’re a dedicated yogi or a regular park-goer, I hope this list inspires you to find your breath in these breathtaking places.


1. Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar)

Acadia National Park

This sequence of postures is meant to gently waken tired bodies and express gratitude for the rising sun and the new day it brings, making the summit of Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain the ideal location for practicing it. At 1,529 feet, Cadillac Mountain is not only the highest peak on the Eastern Seaboard — in fall and winter, it is the very first place in the continental U.S. to see the sunrise each morning. Good day, sunshine!


2. Tree Pose (Vrksasana)

Sequoia National Park / Redwood National Park / Great Basin National Park

For those of us who spend our lives on two feet, the one-legged balance and patience required by tree pose can be humbling — but that’s nothing compared to being humbled by the superlative specimens in our national parks. With a volume of 52,500 cubic feet, General Sherman, the renowned giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) in Sequoia National Park, is the world’s largest tree. Among the towering coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) in Redwood National Park stands Hyperion — at 379 feet, four inches, the world’s tallest tree. And in Great Basin National Park you can find and stand among several groves of bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva), the longest-living tree on Earth.


3. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Denali National Park and Preserve / Mount Rainier National Park

To the casual observer, this standing pose might appear deceptively simple. What the eye can’t see, however, is the quiet resolve and strength it requires — you are firmly grounded, even as your energy rises upward from within. For a little inspiration — or perspective — you might try this posture in the shadow of giants: Denali, at 20,310 feet, is the highest peak in all of North America; the snow-capped Mount Rainier, at 14,410 feet, is one of the tallest and most impressive peaks in the Lower 48.


4. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

Natural Bridges National Monument

This back-bending posture creates a gently curving arch between heels and shoulders that remain anchored to the ground — a shape mirrored by the three graceful formations that are the park’s namesake. The names of the natural bridges, themselves, however, trace their origins to the Hopi language: Sipapu, Kachina and Owachoma.


5. Wind-Relieving Pose (Pavanamuktasana)

Wind Cave National Park

Not every pose can have a splendid name. Meaning just what you think it does, this posture consists of lying supine and drawing your knees up toward your shoulders in a bear hug of sorts. A very different kind of windy phenomenon, however, can be experienced at Wind Cave National Park, where the cave itself is known to “breathe” with an audible whistling sound. The cause? Differences in atmospheric pressure between the cave and the surface, which result in barometric winds that can change direction as equilibrium is restored.


6. Eagle Pose (Garudasana)

Kenai Fjords National Park / Voyageurs National Park

Although it requires balancing on one leg, this posture resembles the regal form of a perched eagle — and there are several places in the park system where you can view the bird that inspired it. Among them: Kenai Fjords National Park, where bald eagles are among the most commonly seen wildlife species, and Voyageurs National Park, home to an ongoing eagle banding and research project for the last quarter-century.


7. Tortoise Pose (Kurmasana)

Saguaro National Park / Mojave National Preserve / Joshua Tree National Park

This challenging posture may not grant you its longevity or reputed wisdom, but it will fold you into a rounded-back shape that allows you to see the world from the perspective of a desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) — although those less flexible might opt for the less challenging Half-Tortoise Pose (Ardha Kurmasana). You can catch a glimpse of this threatened species, an icon of Southwestern desert landscapes, at Saguaro National Park, Mojave National Preserve or Joshua Tree National Park.


8. Firefly Pose (Tittibhasana)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Best left to experienced yogis, this demanding posture requires — and reveals — a strong light shining from within. And there’s no better light show to be found anywhere than the one that occurs each spring in Great Smoky National Park, during the brief mating season of synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) who light up the Appalachian night with a coordinated display of bioluminescence unlike any other.


9. Corpse Pose (Savasana)

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve / Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore / Big Bend National Park

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The beauty of this posture, which traditionally closes a yoga practice, is that you can do it anywhere that allows you to lie comfortably and peacefully on your back. That said, you can’t go wrong with these suggestions: basking under the blue sky above Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, melting into the warm sands of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore or gazing at the Milky Way in Big Bend National Park, whose name alone should be enough to inspire nature lovers and aspiring yogis alike.

About the author

  • Todd Christopher Senior Managing Director, Digital & Editorial Strategy

    Todd guides NPCA's content strategy and leads the team that produces our website, magazine and podcast. He is also the author of The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids.