How Yoga Helped Me Summit Mount Fuji

Along with my hiking gear, I carried with me several yoga truths on the journey up Japan’s highest mountain

As I looked to my left, I saw a trail of monks in identical robes heading to the west side of the crater, a higher vantage point next to the weather station. I followed them and found a place among the throng of fellow climbers. I grabbed my camera from my bag, took some test shots to find the right exposure setting, and turned east just in time to see the sun rise above the horizon.

It was the day before I turned 37. I had completed one of my life goals: to see the sun rise from the top of Mount Fuji on—or at least close to—my birthday. When I was in elementary school, it frustrated me that I had a summer birthday and would never be taking treats to school. However, my birthday falls squarely in the short season for hiking up Mount Fuji—or “Fuji-san,” as the Japanese call it.

For the ascent, I brought a walking stick, proper boots, and layers of clothing, but I also carried with me five things that I learned through yoga. Each helped me reach Mount Fuji’s summit and check a major item off my life list.

1. Breathe. Breath is life, breath is pace, breath is centering. Getting in a rhythm helps you focus.

2. Do your own thing. You can try to keep up with other people or pass as many as you can whenever you can, but you’re still basing your journey on what others are doing. I didn’t need to worry about getting anyone else but myself to the top of the mountain, but a lot of people were counting on me making it back.

3. Live in the moment. Stay aware of your surroundings. If I kept my eyes on the top the whole time, I would undoubtedly have missed some of the hazards along the way, most of which involved loose rock, jagged volcanic rock, and rough, unworn, or narrow steps along a steep trail packed with switchbacks. That spelled great potential for injury if I didn’t take things one step at a time.

4. Eat and drink. You dehydrate more easily at higher altitudes and exertion makes the water loss more profound. And if you don’t start out having eaten a good meal and keep snacking along the way, your body won’t have the fuel it needs for the journey, no matter what your journey is.

5. Once you reach your destination, don’t be afraid to appreciate where you’ve been. The view behind you can be as beautiful as the one ahead. As I made my way up the path, I turned back at resting points and saw a growing line of headlamps as others emerged from their station lodgings and began the trek up the mountain.

Experience may be the lightest thing you will ever pack, no matter what the adventure.

Photo taken by the author from the west side of the crater on Mount Fuji, looking across to the east. 

Contributing writer Gregory Parks is a clown, improvisational actor, coach, and teacher living and thriving in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.