Recently, I’ve started to notice that my body doesn’t quite recover as quickly as it used to after a long hike. At first I figured it had to do with the fact that I usually had my growing son in tow in my back carrier, but then I realized I felt the soreness and tight muscles on my adult-only hikes as well. I concluded that I had to face the fact that I am getting older and my body needs some extra TLC to recover. I started stretching more and realized that the most relieving and effective stretches were all yoga poses I had learned along the way.
That got me thinking: I wondered how yoga can help hikers relieve soreness, recover faster and even strengthen the major hiking muscles. So I enlisted the help of my yoga instructor friend, Caitlin Parwana, to see if I was on to something. Caitlin faced a turning point in her life, as many of us do, and turned to something that had always brought her clarity and calm: yoga. She trained in India to deepen her practice and now owns a yoga studio, Saha Yoga, in Ballston Spa, NY. I sought her expert opinion to see how the practice of yoga can help hikers.
What exactly is yoga?
“In the western world, yoga is considered a physical practice of poses/postures. But in its origin, yoga is more of a lifestyle, and the physical practice is just a small part of it. What I love about yoga is that different people find their way to it for different reasons, and they often find in it more than they were looking for. Some people want to exercise. Others want to eliminate back pain. Still others want more of a spiritual experience. But, if practiced regularly, all of these things and more can be found. Finding the physical practice helps people become more open to other healthy choices and promotes strength, flexibility, balance and a deepened awareness of one’s own body and breath.”
How do you think practicing yoga can benefit both new and experienced hikers?
“Yoga, as far as I am concerned, can benefit all people. We have always been told, since gym class, that stretching before any physical activity is important, so the same can be assumed for hiking. That said, having a regular practice of stretching and strengthening the body would have to be beneficial.”
- Yoga helps reduce both the risk of being sore after your hike and the risk of injury on your hike.
- It helps build strength and stamina so you can hike longer, more intense trails with ease. Also, that strength and stamina will help greatly if you are carrying a heavy pack or a child on your hike!
- Yoga helps with your balance, and balance is great for hikers!
- You’ll really find a deep connection to your breath, your life force. Through yoga, you can learn breathing techniques to calm down the nervous system, helping to pace yourself and preserve energy longer. Learning breathing tricks can also help eliminate cramps.
- Yoga helps you become more aware of your body and lets you to know when you might need to take a break so you don’t push yourself too hard.
Pre-hike and post-hike poses to reduce and relieve muscle tension/soreness
The following poses work well for both a pre-hike warm-up to help reduce the risk of muscle soreness and cramping, as well as post-hike cool-down and soreness relief. For more detailed descriptions and instructions for each pose, check out this website.
- A simple downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) can help stretch out the entire back half of the body, working into those hamstrings.
- A wide-legged forward bend (Prasarita Padottanasana) opens the hamstrings and the hips.
- Pigeon (Kapotasana) or a figure four helps open up the hips.
- Bound angle pose (Baddha Konasana) is great for externally opening up the hips.
- Hero pose (Virasana) helps with internal hip rotation.
- Cat/cow breaths (Marjaryasana/Bitilasana) stretch out the core.
- Eagle arms (Garudasana) and cow-faced arms (Gomukhasana) stretch out the shoulders (especially if you are carrying a heavy pack or a child). You can also do a full eagle pose or cow-faced pose to stretch and work the hips and legs as well.
- A gentle “rag-doll” forward fold (Uttanasana variation) helps stretch and cool down the whole body after a hike. This can be followed by any/all of the above poses to help the muscles recover more quickly!
Gain strength/flexibility needed for hiking
The following poses can help with strength and flexibility:
- General sun salutations help build core and leg strength.
- A good strong lunge (High: Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana or Low: Anjaneyasana) helps one find stability while also feeling strong and stretching things out.
- Warrior poses (Virabhadrasana I, II, and III) strengthen shoulders, arms, legs and core.
- Balancing poses, such as tree (Vrksasana), Lord of the dance (Natarajasana) and half moon (Ardha Chandrasana) poses can work the full body and improve coordination and balance.
- Chair pose (Utkatasana) strengthens ankles, calves, thighs and spine.
- Four-limbed staff (Chaturanga Dandasana), plank and forearm plank poses work the core, arms and shoulders. Sun bird is a gentler alternative that is also great for the core.
Photos courtesy of Arika Bauer of Zion Adventure Photog, Christina Merhar and Rebecca Hosley.
Has yoga helped you strengthen your “hiking muscles” or relieve soreness after a hike? What is your favorite pose? Let us know in the comments below!
Disclaimer: Consult your health care provider and obtain full medical clearance before practicing yoga. Not all yoga poses are suitable for everyone. Practicing under the direct supervision and guidance of a qualified instructor, in addition to the direction of your healthcare provider, can help determine what poses are suitable for you and reduce the risk of injuries. The author, editors, and publishers assume no responsibility or liability for any injuries or losses that may result from practicing yoga.