Hiking 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.
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).
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.
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.
Big Sky Yoga Retreats offers yoga and hiking retreats in Montana. Registration is now open for 2012 retreats Aug 31-Sep 3 (Labor Day weekend), Sep 20-23, and Oct 5-8 (Columbus Day weekend). Visit BigSkyYogaRetreats.com for more information »
ROCK LUNGES | This essential on-trail move stretches the quads and hip flexors and improves balance.
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.
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!