How Trekking Impacts Your Mind, Body And Spirit – A Full Script Of Indiahikes Founder’s TEDx Talk

O ur founder Arjun Majumdar, gave a TEDx talk at the venerable Laxmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara on June 10, 2018.  

Here is the official video of the TEDxTalk. 

How Trekking Impacts Your Mind, Body, And Spirit

Two years ago, I was on a Himalayan trek to Chandrashila.

I reached the summit early enough to catch a brilliant sunrise as it snaked through the mountains bringing an entire Himalayan range alive.

Chandrashila-Indiahikes- Rakesh Shetty - Sunrise from Chandrashila peak
The first rays of sunlight on Mt. Chaukambha- visible from the Chandrashila summit. Picture By: Rakesh Shetty

Behind me, one by one, trekkers made it to the summit.

On that day at Chandrashila when almost everyone had come up, I turned my attention to the mountain views around me. Here were the greatest mountains of our country at my eye level. It is one of those views that stay in your mind for a very long time.

It must have been a good ten minutes when I was shaken out of my stupor. I could hear someone coming up from below. I was somewhat surprised. Whoever I had expected was at the summit. I quickly went to the edge to look down.

To my surprise, Sushila, a trekker who I had instructed to turn around was making her way to the summit. There was a reason why I had asked her to turn around. Sushila was absolutely unprepared and unfit for the trek. Yet, there she was, hardly 15-20 feet below, laboriously making her way to the summit.

When Sushila got to the summit she walked past me and went straight to the little shrine at the top. She stood there with folded hands in a deep prayer of gratitude. As I watched her from a distance I noticed tears streaming down her face. Little by little the tears turned to sobs and within minutes she was weeping uncontrollably. It took a friend on the trek to embrace her in a warm hug to calm her down.

Deoriatalchandrashila trek-Indiahikes- Bharghavi N-The himalayan magic at chandrashila peak (1024 x 576)
The shrine atop Chandrashila peak. Picture by: Bharghavi N

Later that evening, back at camp, when we were reflecting on the trek, I brought up the topic with Sushila.

The emotions that Sushila had poured out at the summit had a deeper past.

Susheela was in her mid-thirties, almost getting to her forties. She worked in a German company and was recently promoted to a project manager.

Sushila did not think she was capable of being a project manager. She always thought of herself as someone who did routine jobs in the background. She was soft spoken, hardly drew attention to herself.

With her husband and kids, Sushila was the typical image of someone who was under confident with low self belief.

Climbing to the summit of Chandrashila had a profound effect on her.

Despite her unpreparedness, Sushila discovered that she had an inner resolve, an inner strength much beyond what she had imagined. The climb showed that she could overcome obstacles much larger than herself. And she could do it alone without anyone’s support.

The climb to Chandrashila changed her mind in an irreversible way. Sushila discovered a new person within her. The trek filled her mind with positivity that no amount of pep talk or counselling could. The positivity stayed for long. She returned to work a changed person.

Sushila’s story is not a stray incident. We see these stories unfolding before us everyday.

I can say this with some authority because we run Indiahikes, India’s largest trekking organisation. Around 20,000 people trek with us every year. This large number of people trekking gives us repeated confirmation of studies that scientists have been doing for quite some time.

Trekking impacts our mind, body and spirit. It does so far deeper than we imagine.

How treks impact the mind

On a trek, without the distractions of our regular world, the mind automatically starts to feel better. Even if we want to, there is nothing to distract us. It is just us and nature.

We are constantly looking at picture-perfect sceneries — mountains and hills, jungles and forests, flowers and birds, snow, clear streams, rivers and waterfalls, sunrises and sunsets, moon rises and stars.

Hampta Pass – Indiahikes- Ramshesha N – Quenching Thirst After Day Long Work @ Balu Ka Gera
A horse quenches its thirst at the magnificent Balu Ka Ghera campsite on Hampta Pass. Picture By: Ramshesha N.

Every hour on the trek these constant positive images are around us.

Over days, this constant immersion in positivity removes negative thoughts (actually any thoughts) from our minds. We even forget what day and time it is. It is almost miraculous what it does to our minds.

It has an immediate calming effect. The buzz that is in our heads begin to fade away. Our nerves start soothing. Laughter flows easily. There is a spring in our step.

There is a science behind these feelings. It is to do with hormones.

When we trek, our body releases large doses of endorphins, the hormone that makes us happy. Added to that there is a boost of serotonin that relaxes us. We get strong doses of Dopamine (which makes us feel accomplished, it triggers our reward centres). And there’s also a good amount of oxytocin (that gives us a sense of tranquility and love).

These hormones make us feel good, calm, connected, happy and energised.

Trekker in Snow-Indiahikes
A trekker finds happiness in tiny flakes of snow on the Kedarkantha Trek. Picture By: Komal Shivdasani

The idea that nature helps our mental state goes back hundreds of years if not thousands. Yet, in the modern world, we ignore this.

How treks impact the body

One hour of trekking in the Himalayas can burn between 450 and 550 calories from your body. Imagine what a six-hour trek can do – which is our usual trek duration. I have seen on a 5-day trek trekkers usually lose between 3-4 kgs of their body weight. Suddenly, they are looking leaner, fitter and better toned.

But there is more to trekking than weight loss.

Trekking uphill is a lot like stair climbing or doing lunges. You are working on your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. When you do this over and over again your muscles get strengthened.

Your abs and lower back muscles are constantly working. If you are carrying a backpack, then it is even better. It is weight resistance training. This workout is building your core.

It gets better when we are descending. Against the force of gravity, your glutes and quads have to do slow controlled work. It is heavy work but the benefits are enormous. The body toning that you get is terrific.

Trekking is never like walking on a road. You are constantly navigating the terrain, making micro adjustments every second and minute. No two steps are the same.

Scientists say that building your core strength is essential for a longer, fitter body. Core strength leads to better balance and stability. On a trek, you are constantly making conscious and unconscious movements to keep your body balanced and stable. Your core is getting stronger.

At the end of the trek, almost everyone feels stronger, yet nimble and light-footed.

I was on a trek to Devkyara in Uttarakhand in April this year. The terrain was rough, with lots of boulders, rocks and streams to hop over.

The boulder section that leads up to Devkyara. The trek tested my experience as a fit trekker. Picture By: Arjun Majumdar

Considering I have been trekking for decades, you would think me to be pretty experienced. But here is what I observed.

On the first two days of the trek, I was somewhat tentative with my footing. On a sharp descent, I would be extra careful.

However, on the fifth day of the trek, when I was returning, on sections where I was tentative earlier, I was more sure footed. My body knew unconsciously where to put the foot and for how long. My mind-body coordination was better.

Even over these 5 days my core had got stronger.

How treks impact the spirit

But more than anything else trekking has the biggest impact on the spirit of a person.

Spirit is the core of our human nature. It is the person that we are or the person we become.

A trek helps us to rediscover our relationships. We make strong friendships, we become better human beings.

Deoriatal-Indiahikes-Subhashis Pal-view from chopta campsite
Most trekkers make friends on the trek that last a lifetime. Seen here are trekkers on the Deoriatal-Chandrashila Trek.

It is not the shared interest of trekking that brings us together. It is something else that works here.

On a trek we talk uninterrupted with deep focus. Nothing disturbs us. There aren’t any electronic disturbances. We talk openly and frankly, because after a while, the mask of the city wears off.

In this modern world where acquaintances are fleeting, friendships fickle, the opportunity to bond so deeply on a trek is something that we cannot ignore.

Living together in tents, doing chores, solving problems, participating in a shared adventure only brings us closer.

We are able to reveal ourselves, we become vulnerable, the conversations are honest and frank.

In one week we talk more intimately with our trek mates than we do with friends who are with us for years.

Out of these conversations emerge a deep connection that we form with another human being. This connect stays intact and we make friendships that last for life.

But there is more to this.

Trekking helps people who are struggling, who are unable to get past their self-imposed boundaries. It makes us more resilient.

Getting to the mountains, trekking to a high point, overcoming difficulties, achieving success, makes us more tough and determined.

Goechala - Dhaval Jajal - Those words which the heart can't say - Sunrise at viewpoint 1 (1)
We see that trekking has a profound impact on the mind, body and spirit. And more and more women are experiencing this effect. Picture by Dhaval Jajal

It is almost like if I can do this trek, I can do anything. This is extremely empowering. It helps people fight odds and difficulties of everyday life easier.

We feel more confident. We have greater self belief.

We also begin to think creatively and clearly. What was limiting earlier becomes a possibility.

I remember, there was a time at Indiahikes when we ran out of money.

In our second year of running, when we were still very young, unseasonal rains wiped out our entire September/October season of trekking.

We had invested a lot in getting our team, gear, food and ration ready. But day after day, unseasonal rains did not allow us to conduct any trek.

We had to refund every trekker. Yet, staff had to be paid, and all the food and ration had to be given away.

At the end of this we had wiped out our bank balance.

We asked our staff if they were willing to work for half salary for sometime until things got better. Surprisingly, some of them agreed. We thought the upcoming winter camp that was coming up would help us tide over this crisis.

Yet, things did not get better. The response to our winter camp in the second year was very weak (though in the first year it had done very well).

September October turned to November and December. We would wait for days for new registrations to come, but they would not. The next big season was only in May/June next year.

One by one, even those who had agreed to work for half pay left, until one day there was only two of us left at Indiahikes. My partner Sandhya and I.

With no money left, with no staff, with very few registrations, we were in a very frayed state of mind.

We wondered if there was a future for Indiahikes.

In December that year, when we were at our lowest, my partner and I went on a winter trek that we had decided to explore.

Kedarkantha - Indiahikes- Sanyam - Passing a beautiful bridge on Day-Summit day
The beautiful exploratory trek was made to Kedarkantha- one of the most beautiful winter treks in the country. Picture By: Sanyam

Along with us were 18 other trekkers who had registered much earlier for the exploration.

On the trek, my partner and I thought over our situation and we realised we were so worried about our existence that we had forgotten the basic reason why we had started Indiahikes.

On our return, we went back to the core of Indiahikes – to build a website where you found credible, golden information about trekking in India. We left behind our fears of survival or waiting for registrations.

In a month or two, the website traffic built up – people started visiting our website for the information they could find. This increased the registrations for our treks. The summer treks started to fill up. We slowly limped back in business.

Trekking helps the mind to think clearly. To be more creative and imaginative. On the winter trek it helped us to see things clearer.

In our experience of growing Indiahikes, most of our innovative solutions about the world of trekking have come while we were on treks.

Indiahikes - Tarsar Marsar - Kishan Harwalkar 5
A trekker sits peacefully overlooking the beautiful Tarsar lake. Treks help clear our minds and act as a fresh respite. Picture By: Kishan Harwalkar

This is just not our personal experience. Data that we have also point to the same thing.

We have seen our trekkers change professions, careers or start a new life after a trek. They get into or get out of relationships. They start new projects. These are all life-changing experiences.

Treks change lives, it changes our thinking and it changes how we deal with difficulties. It makes us more focused, creative and sensitive. It builds our bodies, makes us healthier.

We take 20,000 people on treks every year. We constantly observe people at close range. Our database of observations is large and clear: The impact of trekking on the human mind, body and spirit is enormous. It is not something that can be ignored.

If you have not started trekking, then perhaps you must.

Thank You.”

Considering you’re a trekker, we’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic! Do drop in a comment below with your thoughts. 

What you should do now

1. If you’re inspired by this story and are looking for treks to do: Then head over to our upcoming treks page. You’ll find all our Himalayan treks there.

2. If you want to work with us: Head over to our careers page. We have lots of positions open. We also have lots of applications coming in. So the sooner you apply, the better.

3. If you want to see the 13 best treks of India: Then get our guide here.

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26 thoughts on “How Trekking Impacts Your Mind, Body And Spirit – A Full Script Of Indiahikes Founder’s TEDx Talk

    1. Very true to the core article by Arjun.
      Trekking is not about destination,it is much beyond.
      Joy of trekking is transcendental.

  1. An awesome article. For me trekking is very HEALING , SPIRITUALLY. MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY
    As we climb higher, we inhale the clean oxygen in the air and are revitalized. Reaching the peaks is very exciting and feel our journey has been accomplished. That’s how life is with all its ups and downs. These treks make us stronger, The higher we climb the closer we feel to God, our creator , where these views are unspoilt and natural, uninhibated. Why do you think the Asians built temples right onto the peaks of the mountains.? For us to cleans our Mind, Body and Soul. and go back to Godhead
    Arun Madhavjee

    NB I am now 63 yrs old if there still is a position at Indiahikes, then I will join and thank you for these beautiful pics

  2. That’s a very well written article. Impact one could feel after a trek couldn’t be described in a much better way. I personally have been to only one trek couple of months back and I went there when I was on my lowest mentally. And so that trek lifted me up to look my life in a new way. End result is I feel the most positive I have felt my entire life and hopefully that would never change.

  3. Very inspiring talk by sh Arjun Majumdar. I wish him great success in his mission.
    I ,too have experienced the strengthening of my body & enlightenment of mind & spirit by having the passion of trekking since my college days. During my youth I used to trek on my own in the Himalayas but after attaining the age of sixty I join Indiahikes for all my treks. My last three treks : Beautiful Rupin Pass, winter trek to Kuari Pass & the latest to Gomukh-Tapovan were great experience.With
    every trek my age reduces & that is how I have managed to keep myself fit & young with regards to body mind & spirit.

  4. it was invigorating to read the article. My eyes welled up while reading about the part in which the participant Susheela breaks down uncontrollably. I have experienced similarly while scaling Valley of Flowers and other treks.

    The article was every bit worthy of being on TED Talk.
    My profound thanks to Mr. Arjun Majumdar.

  5. This article, in fact, makes me feel a little sad – how unfortunate I am.
    I have not done any trekking as yet. Not sure if it would ever happen, for i have some respiratory issues. But I am a regular visitor of your website, because i get to read a lot of trekking experience, beautiful photographs, wonderful travelogues ….helping me with getting my desire satisfied to a small extend.

    Anyway thanks to IH for all the good things you have been sharing through your articles, videos and emails.

  6. Hi swathi
    Mr Arjun has stolen my feelings thoughts as I was unable to find words or pen them down
    after my recent first time trekking experience
    Of EBC alone
    YES, that’s a wonderful full description of what I underwent and here I am , a changed individual
    I strongly feel we should try to make trekking compulsory twice a year for primary to secondary school youngsters
    My sincere appreciation to Arjun for such a wonderful message
    Dr suresh

  7. Loved the Article, I am a very impatient reader and cannot complete most of the write-ups, but this one glued me with it and could not stop before completing. Very realistic and practical thoughts, experience of running IH from Business point when it was going down is really motivating. Very beautifully described how one can be benefited from Trekking, thanks for this.

  8. Hi Arjun,

    What an incredible speech..! KUDOS 🙂

    With almost every line, I could relate myself to the treks that I have done with IH. I cannot trust anyone else than IH when it comes to trekking.

    YES, trekking makes a huge change in one’s life.
    My inclination towards trekking came from my husband, Shubham who is also a IH trekker. During my Hampta Pass trek last year with him, I realized that you don’t conquer a mountain top, what you conquer is yourself. You overcome everything be it the pains, aches, fears to reach the summit.
    And You would be happy to know that this was gist to each other on our 3rd wedding anniversary.

    The journey only requires you to put one foot in front of the other, again and again and again.
    And if you allow yourself the opportunity to be present throughout the entire trek, you will witness beauty at every step you take. Being a travel & tourism professional, I highly respect the Green Trail Initiative from your organisation.
    All the Best.
    Love INDIA HIKES <3

  9. Goosebumps! That’s what I felt as I read about Sushila and her experience. Anything that puts us off our comfort zone while bringing us closer to nature, to ourselves and other humans has to be a life-changing experience. And trekking is one such activity. Thank you Indiahikes and Arjun for such an inspirational talk.
    I am super excited as I begin a new chapter in my life. Well, I have quit my job as a feature journalist in a leading mainstream newspaper and intend to explore avenues that I have always wanted to. Needless to say that on my to-do list is trekking. I am happy that I am taking a baby step towards that with the Indiahikes Nag Tibba trek this July (2018). On that note, cheers!

  10. So true, Arjun! I get into a deep meditative state when I trek in the Himalayas, feeling a profound connection with divinity inside and outside. The simple living, the clear and crisp water, the clean air, the beautiful scenery around you and being with people who share with you the love of mountains – all contribute to distill out a pure you. The preparation before coming for the trek and actual experience of trekking makes you fitter physically and mentally.

    Nice article. Truly resonates.

  11. It’s very inspiring and touches the essence…Arjun has beautifully explained the impact of trekking on the body , mind and soul….the oneness in nature and our connect with it.

  12. Great read.

    Trekking I think pushes you to your limits. But you can do that by other means as well say push ups. Where trekking is successful in doing this is cause its walking. While doing push ups, you will hit an impossible wall well within your limits.

    But walking and taking next step forward is never as hard. So its more of a slow burn process which is successfully able to take you beyond your limit. Also lack of oxygen and general difficult environment is again not an impossible odd but one that slowly takes you beyond.

    Once you cross your limit, you break. But rebuilding starts at next camp site, with a good night’s sleep.

    I hope any of that made any sense. Also good to read about initial struggles of Indiahikes. I was going to ask how you manage to repeat treks for so many people if they can’t reach summit, like happened in this summer season. Without going bankrupt. I guess you have been there before.

  13. I was completely zapped after reading that article/speech of Mr.Majumdar. I was like reliving my experience of my first trek with IH – Valley of Flowers. I was 47 years of age then.

    One of the main reasons for undertaking a trek after overcoming years of fear and apprehension was to get over my fear of breathlessness at higher altitudes – which I had experienced on my visit to Chengu Lake in Sikkim(16,000 odd feet of elevation). I was scared to death that my heart would seize just after taking a few steps on alighting our vehicle.

    Unlike Susheela’s case, I underwent vigorous physical training to equip myself to face the rigours of trekking. But deep down that fear of breathlessness lurked and threatened to over take my Hemkhund trek. Like Mr.Majumdar has suggested, it was my husband who suggested that I drop out of the Hemkhund trek – he was petrified because of my bad head ache after reaching Ghangharia. But I was adamant, at the same time consulted our trek leader,Tanmay – he was very confident that I would ace it. And ace it I did! Oh Boy! What joy and thrill, adrenalin rush and sense of accomplishment I experienced cannot be described through words. I can see myself in the teary eyed photograph! This ascent was all the more sweet because I became an example of the adage,Age is just a number and mind is definitely over matter! Because I was the heaviest of the group, and the one of oldest(my husband being elder to me).(It is a different issue that I had to prove my fitness through Nike app at the time of registration! ) To say the least,Tanmay was the happiest person to see me at the Gurudwara.

    Lasting friendships we surely made – I think the mindset of trekkers and the hard wiring of our brains is completetly different from that of the others! We are all still in touch and trying meet when ever we can!

    Not but not the least, the role IH played in making a first time trekker like me want to trek again and again by no means is small! You guys made it scientifically safe – through Oxymetres, bp checks, well trained trek leaders,staff etc.

    What can I say? I can do only one thing – thank you guys from the bottom of my heart!
    May IH grow from strength to strength – transforming so many lives on the marvellous journey!

    Thank you Mr.Majumdar for persevering with your dream, even through tough times – for you and IH team is being instrumental in making our trekking dreams come true!

  14. It’s very inspiring and touches the essence…Arjun has beautifully explained the impact of trekking on the body , mind and soul….the oneness in nature and our connect with it.
    The article was every bit worthy of being on TED Talk.
    My profound thanks to Mr. Arjun Majumdar.

  15. Hi Arjun, I absolutely agree with you on this. Trekking changes your mind, body and spirit and the article is totally awesome. Keep it up. Its a best way of meditation when you get exhausted with your work.

  16. When you started talking about Sushila in your article, for a while I felt you are talking about me….because my first trek of life was Chopta- Chandrashila and that too with Indiahikes only and I am almost of same nature as her and faced same things as her ( except for i cudnt complete the Summit due to my fear for bad weather)….. but yes I returned with a new person in me…i never worked out for more than 3 months in my life but on returning from trek its been a year and i m regularly going for workouts and became much fit person! Most importantly i started watching sun rises!!!

    I completely agree with your article about impact of treks on mind body and soul!

    Treks is a must!

  17. Very well said Mr. Arjun. Altitudes does changes ur mind and put u in a new state of mind. At IH u hv given a perfect platform to explore the new in Himalayas and in ourselves. Wish u good luck and long life.

  18. This is a beautifully written article.
    I can connect to each and every word written as I had experienced the very same when I did my first trek with India hikes. Its always about pushing yourself to do something new. The feeling of achieving something which seemed difficult and distinct before, makes you stronger and confident.

    Thanks Arjun Majumdar for this beautiful speech. I am waiting eagerly for this video to be broadcasted!!

  19. I love trekking, but maybe this speech is overselling it a bit by promising life changing experiences, fixes for psychological issues, lifelong friends and loss of 3-4 kgs of weight! I love trekking and go every year, and yet none of the above happen to me. It doesn’t have to be a life changing experience…why does everyone’s life have to be changed in the first place?! It’s just a wonderful way to connect with nature and with oneself…can’t we just leave it at that?

  20. You make a pertinent observation.

    But remember in my talk I speak of observations over a large database of people. While everyone will not face the changes that I have described, many do. And the number who do is large enough that we cannot ignore them.

    Trekking is bringing about fundamental changes in people’s mind, body and spirit. It is wonderful to see that.


  21. Couldn’t have agreed more, but specially on this point “Out of these conversations emerge a deep connection that we form with another human being. This connect stays intact and we make friendships that last for life.“
    In 2016 I went alone for the Goechela trek with India Hikes and came back with a bunch of friends (for life) and we have been trekking together since then. In each trek the tribe is growing. Ther is a faint chance of such new friendshis to grow anywhere else but during a high alltitude trek.

  22. A lovely article Arjun, you can’t put it better. I myself come from Almora, Uttarakhand and during childhood we used to go trekking but not the kind you organize.
    I wish I was younger to take the trek but at 60, I feel a little hesitant as the city life and a corporate job has drained all the energy. But I still feel like going back to olden days and enjoy nature at its best in mountains

  23. You have beautifully expressed the essence of trekking.. I’m really looking forward to start a new journey for myself both physically and mentally, and no better DOSE (the initials of the 4 hormones you mentioned :p) can come except embarking on a trek!
    Thanks Arjun and Indiahikes for this initiative, Kudos!