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Outdoor Yoga: Poses for Hikers

September 24, 2008

Margaret at Glacier FallsHiking is a great reminder to have fun when you exercise. We do it not just for the health benefits, but also for enjoyment. There’s a feeling of accomplishment when you hike a trail, especially one with a destination that includes a natural landmark like a lake or waterfall. Health-wise, it’s great to get outside and into nature, and there’s the body and mind benefits of the long, low-intensity cardio workout from a good solid hike. So what else do you need to add to this almost-perfect mix? Yoga, of course.

Yoga cultivates the mind-body connection that allows the brain to effectively direct the body with ease and grace. The more aware you are of your body’s position in space, the better able you are to direct it. I’m not just talking about knowing your right from left; it has more to do with an overall awareness that comes from familiarity with movement. Biologically our bodies are meant to be in motion, and our sedentary society can work against this. Hiking over varied terrain puts many demands on our coordination skills. Body awareness can help meet those demands, reducing the potential for misalignment and resulting injury/soreness. Yoga also emphasizes balancing skills; improved balance will help hikers glide effortlessly over uneven, constantly changing ground.

CONNECT TO YOUR CORE

Whether practicing yoga or hiking, always be mindful that core strength is an essential foundation. If we have a strong, stable core we’ll be able to control our movements with more precision. In yoga class, an often-heard refrain is “draw your navel in towards your spine.” This helps cultivate an awareness of our core as the body’s center and source of stability. Connect to the center of your body’s energy while you hike; it’s very simple. Remember to continuously pull your belly button in, and experience the lift that results in your upper body, along with the feeling of control and stability this lends to your hiking maneuvers.

5 POSES FOR BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER A HIKE

YOGA SQUATS | Tone your glutes and quads while simultaneously opening your hips. Flexible hip muscles are key to maintaining body alignment while hiking, and to avoiding sore muscles post-hike.

Yoga Squat

HOW | Stand with your feet wide apart, toes turned out slightly. Lower your hips down as far as they will go (as your hips open more, you will be able to lower them more). Engage your quad and glute muscles to lift your hips and upper body as you reach your arms overhead on an inhale; return to the low squat position on the exhale. Repeat this sequence 10 times with 10 deep breaths.

DANCER POSE | Natarajasana addresses balance and tight quads. Hiking over uneven terrain can result in tightness in the quads. This pose even has a nice little back bend to help release lower back tension resulting from core strength disconnect (even the fittest among us will experience this on a long hike). Dancer pose is great to do on a nice flat rock (just stay safe).

Dancer Pose

HOW | Stand with your feet together and reach your left arm up. Turn your right palm out and reach back for the arch of your right foot. Push your foot into your hand and send your leg up and back behind you (don’t let it go out to the side). Keep your chest lifted and your left arm by your ear, reaching the left hand up towards the sky. Hold for 3-5 breaths. Repeat on the other side.

WIDE-LEGGED FORWARD BEND | Prasarita Padotanasana simultaneously strengthens and stretches the legs, benefits essential to enjoyable to hiking. The added bonus of a shoulder opener can offset the tension that results from even the tiniest backpack, especially after a long hike.

Wide Legged Forward Bend

HOW | Take your feet wide apart; if you outstretch your arms, your heels should line up under your wrists. Turn your toes in slightly. Keep your quads engaged and press down through your heels. Take your hands behind you and interlace your fingers, working to press the palms together. Lean back as you inhale; on your exhale, fold forward, allowing the arms to come up and over. Try to maintain the connection between your palms; if you keep them pressed into one another, you will work deeper into the tight spots in your shoulders. Let the crown of your head release towards the floor. Hold for 5-10 deep breaths. Come up on an inhale, releasing your hands to your hips once you are standing.

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ROCK LUNGES | This essential on-trail move stretches the quads and hip flexors and improves balance.

Rock Lunges

HOW | Find a big rock you can get your foot up on, grabbing your ankle to help lift if necessary. Interlace your hands on your thigh for support, or if you feel balanced, raise the arms up in a spine-lengthening reach. In either arm position, lengthen your spine up on your in-breath, and shift the hips slowly forward on your exhale; return to your original position on your next inhale. Repeat for 10 breaths on each side.

STANDING HAND-TO-FOOT POSE | Get a lift from your natural surroundings by using a rock as a yoga prop. This variation on Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, a standing balancing pose, is a great opener for the hip flexors and inner thighs, along with a side stretch.

Standing Hand-to-Foot Pose

HOW | Take your foot up on the rock, ideally one that is at least hip height or a bit lower. Turn your toes up toward the sky, and make sure your standing leg is firmly grounded and straight. Slide your hand down your lifted leg and take the opposite arm over your ear, creating length in the side body. Try not to lean forward with your torso.

Happy Hiking & Namaste!

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12 Comments

  • Reply Michele March 5, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Great tips. We hike often and adding a few yoga poses will add to the adventure.

  • Reply TU August 24, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Pose to your heart’s content. Lemme know when you decide to get serious and practice Yoga for its intended purpose: self-realization. Poses won’t solve the riddle of causality for you and it mightn’t stop the wheel of samsara from spinning either. Until then, you’re on egotistical autopilot practicing “yoga” because all your friends do.

  • Reply TD October 9, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Oh, TU, you are so deep! Although evidently not deep enough to realize what an arrogant poseur you are.

  • Reply DustinDawind April 1, 2010 at 11:18 am

    That’s too funny. TU, has your self-realization made you realize what a tool you are? Lemme know when it does.

  • Reply Colleen September 27, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Hey, I just do it because it feels good and stretches out the kinks, especially in my aching back. I applaud anyone who makes an effort to get up off the couch or computer chair and do something good for their body and well being.

  • Reply dancing vagabond July 20, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    Thank you so much for these helpful and useful tips. As I prepare for thru hike, keeping my muscles limber and my mind focused is important. I appreciate your help!

  • Reply Eric Z September 26, 2011 at 9:01 am

    There are many reasons to do yoga, from a sense of ego loss to better flexability. Whatever your reason for doing it, it will make you and your body happier and helthier, never the opposite. I just watched a documentary called Enlighten Up, and it basically says to stop trying to figure out why to do yoga or what the real goal of yoga is, if you like doing it then continue. Go with love.

  • Reply Kim September 28, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Just printed this for my fall hikes for upstate NY! Thank you!

  • Reply PJ September 30, 2011 at 6:19 am

    Thank you for the outdoor pose suggestions- just printed them for my girl scout troop hike and camp coming up!

  • Reply Niko October 9, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Thank you for posting these poses!
    TU is a bitter and sad person. Probably needs a lot more than yoga to help that hater attitude.
    Go in love and go in peace, yoga or no yoga.

  • Reply Debee September 4, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Wow, someone (TU) needs to get off their yoga high horse! Everywhere in life we venture, we can use a lil pose. Thanks for sharing the hiking poses. Namaste TU!

  • Reply Whitney Triplett March 20, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    Thank you, I am facilitating a hiking/ yoga class and this was very helpful for me:)

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