The best thing about traveling someplace new is the sensory stimulation of new and unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells and tastes. And yet, it’s easy to miss so much of a destination’s beauty and wonder when your mind is preoccupied with thoughts about what’s going on back home or anticipating the logistics of where you’re traveling next; any place but the here and now.

As we at Run Wild Retreats have learned from 14 years of leading women-only small group retreats around the world, it’s one thing to be physically present some place and another to be mentally present.

That’s why our newest retreat in Iceland, the Iceland Hiking with Viking Women Retreat taking place this July 30 – August 5, 2024, is centered around daily mindful hikes led by our expert retreat leader and local hiking guides. We developed this retreat specifically for women who wanted to see more of Iceland’s stunning volcanic landscapes on foot, without needing a high level of running endurance to enjoy the trails.

As with our mindful running retreats, at the Iceland Hiking with Viking Women retreat, our highly trained retreat leaders offer on-trail mindful hiking instructions about how to using intention setting, posture, attention and breath work to truly see what happens when you hike mindfully.

Here's a preview of what mindful hiking is all about:

How Mindful Hiking Reduces Stress

While hiking in nature is always great way to de-stress and explore a new destination like Iceland, hiking mindfully takes this experience a step further. Mindful hiking takes into account not only how you’re moving your body and dealing with the conditions and physical challenge, but also what’s happening in your mind.

  • Is your attention on the scenery around you or ruminating on things back home?
  • Are you noticing the natural environment around you or huffing and puffing so hard you don’t see the flowers beside the trail?
  • Are you relaxed and moving at a comfortable pace or pushing yourself so hard you have to stop frequently to catch your breath?
  • Are you curious about what’s around the next bend or overcome with self-doubt about your ability?
  • Are you engaged with your fellow hikers or comparing your fitness level and pace to theirs?

Hiking mindfully allays the mental habits that prevent you from fully engaging in the moment and experiencing all the power that your body is physically capable of doing and all the beauty a destination has to offer.

Studies have shown that mindful movement including hiking, relieve stress by giving the mind a single point of focus that is rooted in the present moment, such as where to safely place your foot with each step, and naturally synchronize the rhythm of your breath with the cadence of your footsteps.

Hiking mindfully supports your health not only for the cardiovascular fitness gains, but also from slow, steady deep breathing, a focused mind and moments of awe, when you appreciate the natural beauty surrounding you.

mindful hiking in Iceland's Kerlingarfjoll Mountains

Set an Intention for your Mindful Hike

Unlike a goal, which may be to hike five miles, an intention aligns your values with how you want those five miles to feel.

For example, say you know that today’s hike includes a rather steep uphill section to the top of a peak that promises spectacular views of the valley below. You really hope to make it to the top of that hill late in the hike, but you’re tired and jetlagged and fear you may be the slowest one in the group. What if you don’t have the drive to make it up the mountain?

If you were embark on a hike without an intention, you overexert yourself to overcompensate for your fatigue and run out of energy before making it to the top, sweating, puffing and discouraged.

But say you had set an intention to listen to your body and take it one mile at a time, giving yourself permission to skip the uphill portion if you’re not feeling up for it.

So by the time you begin the uphill section, you check in with yourself and notice that you actually feel pretty good. Taking it one step at a time, and before you know it, you’ve reached the peak, feeling a great sense of achievement. This was something you couldn’t have imagined doing earlier that morning!

Remove Digital Distractions

As with all of our mindfulness retreats, removing digital distractions is one of the first things you can do to start being more present. If you’re in the habit of using a GPS watch or app or track off your physical activities, hiking mindfully is your opportunity to try something different.

Since miles, pace and steps don’t reflect the true experience you’re after, turn those devices off (or better yet, leave them at the lodge) so that you’re less distracted from the internal experience of being in a totally new environments such as Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Range and Þingvellir National Park.

Highland Base – Kerlingarfjöll lodge inside

We’ve seen just how powerful this can be so much that we call it the “Presence Policy” which we recommend to all of our retreat participants, many of whom later remark that they had no idea just how much mental space their digital devices took up until taking this advice and as a result, report feeling lighter and freer.

Get out of Your Mind and Into Your Body

If you’re the kind of person who thrives on the satisfaction that comes with pursuing big goals and isn’t afraid to push yourself to extremes to get things done, then mindful hiking can give you a break from constantly striving.

This matters because unrelenting pressure to do more pushes your nervous system into overdrive and leads to burnout. Giving your body a chance to get into “rest and relax” mode is essential for healing and growth. But if sitting on a meditation cushion or the idea of sitting around “relaxing” fills you with anxiety, then mindful hiking allows you satisfy your urge to move your body while letting your mind rest and heal.

While hiking mindfully, give yourself permission to not solve any problems and make decisions about your future. Your only task is to be in the moment, noticing all the richness of this place through your senses.

The easiest way to make this shift is to place your attention on your posture, noticing the power of your legs when you lean slightly forward to engage the glutes, your most powerful walking muscles.

Then notice how much easier it is to breathe deeply when you stand up tall so you can feel your chest expand with each breath inhalation. Observe the flow you feel when your footsteps and breath synchronize, making your pace feel sustainable and relaxed.

With each mindful step, you’re more present, relaxed and open to the expansiveness of the place and all the wonder that this moment has to offer.  

Join us for the Iceland Hiking with Viking Women Retreat

July 30 – August 5, 2024

Daily hikes will vary in distance from 4 to 6 miles, with most of it on trails of various surfaces. This means we will be hiking--with breaks to take pictures, eat and drink-- for 2 to 5 hours a day. There is no running offered on this retreat, though you do have free time to run on your own.
Registration closes May 3!

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