Hiking has a host of known physical and mental benefits, but still, after a long trail day, your muscles might feel sore. Fix that in camp—or back home—with this gentle yoga sequence designed to release hardened and achy muscles. Focus on your breathing as outlined in the exercises below to slow down your heart rate. Stay in each pose for a few minutes to allow your muscles to release deeper into the pose and relax. The poses may seem deceptively simple, but holding them allows your body to let go and sink in, getting a good stretch.
Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
Get your hips and low back ready to face the trail again tomorrow.
Lay down a sleeping pad or towel, or find a soft patch of grass or dirt to cushion your bottom. Sit and draw your legs in, crossing them at the shins with each foot beneath the opposite knee. There should be a gap between your feet and your pelvis—comfort in this pose is key. Rest your wrists on your inner kneecaps with your hands gently dangling out front. Softly press your pelvis forward and puff out your chest, keeping a flat back. Touch your pointer fingers to your thumbs and close your eyes.
While in this pose, practice Box Breathing (Sama Vritti Pranayama) to slow your heart rate and control your breath. Inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold that breath in for four seconds, then exhale through your mouth for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and start over. This may be difficult at first, especially if you just finished your hike, but if you stick with the rhythm you’ll eventually find your heart rate slowing down and your breathing getting closer to the four second intervals.
Stay in Easy Pose and practice Box Breathing for 5 minutes.
Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Loosen your calves and hamstrings with this classic yoga pose.
Get a full-body stretch with Down Dog. Exit Easy Pose by placing your hands down in front of you, shoulder-width apart. Rock onto your knees and walk your legs back so that your hands are beneath your shoulders and your knees are under your hips and hip-width apart. (You should be on your hands and knees.)
To enter Down Dog, walk your hands up about 3 inches in front of your head. Then, firmly press into the earth and spin your biceps toward your ears while firming your triceps. As you inhale, tuck your toes under so that they are on the ground, and as you exhale, press your hips back and up towards the sky. Allow your shoulders to spin out and up while maintaining a flat back. Let your head hang freely. Pedal out your feet, alternating drawing your heels closer to and further from the ground, to get a deeper stretch through your calves and hamstrings.
Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.
Stretch your hips and glutes to fend off soreness after a day on the trail.
From Down Dog, inhale and lift your left leg up while keeping your leg straight and your foot arched, then, as you exhale, flex your knee and bring it towards your body, hovering directly below your chest. Inhale as you drop your left knee to the ground in line with your left wrist, and your left foot slightly outside of your right wrist. Keep your toes and heel aligned. Gently lower yourself down by dropping your right knee to the ground first, then bringing both elbows to the ground. The stretch may feel intense, but it shouldn’t be painful.
For a more gentle stretch, rest your elbows on your backpack or any other soft, tall surface to take the pressure off of your outer hip. Once you’re situated, press your right leg back, keeping it straight. Rest the top of your right foot on the ground. Take long, deep breaths in this pose; if you feel comfortable, stretch more deeply on each exhale. To exit the posture, press back into your hands to elevate your back, roll onto your right foot to elevate your hips, and bring your left leg back and up into the air. Shake out your raised leg, then drop it back down next to your right leg. Repeat the posture on your right side.
Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.
Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
Focus on your calves and hamstrings with this gentle pose.
Start in Down Dog, then drop your knees to the ground, roll onto your bottom, stretch place both legs out in front of you. Move your legs together and lightly twist the tops of both thighs inward. Press both thighs down into the ground. From this position, draw your groin into your pelvis, allowing for a slight bend in both knees. Maintain a flat back with your shoulders wide and your chest lightly puffed out. As you inhale, fold forward from your hips and rest your hands on either the tops of your feet, your shins, or your knees (wherever is most comfortable). Keep your elbows straight. Keep a straight back, arms, and legs in order to properly stretch your calves and hamstrings. If you can’t reach your shins or toes that’s OK; bending your knees so that you can grab your feet reduces the feeling of the stretch. On every inhalation, rock back slightly, and fold deeper on every exhalation.
Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.
Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Stretch your delts, traps, glutes, and back with this gentle twist.
After exiting the Seated Forward Bend, continue to sit with both legs out in front of you, your hands down by your sides, and your back straight. From this position, bend your knees to elevate your thighs, and slide your left leg underneath your right leg so your left foot is outside of your right hip. Step your right leg over your left leg so it’s positioned outside your left thigh or hip. Place your right hand next to your right hip as a brace. On an exhalation, bring your left elbow to the outside of your right knee, press into it, and twist your torso toward your right hand. Allow your head to follow your torso, and maintain a flat back. On every inhalation, lift up through your chest, and twist deeper on every exhalation.
Hold for 3 to 5 minutes, then repeat on the other side.
Crocodile Pose (Makarasana)
Release tension from carrying a heavy pack in your shoulders, neck, and low back.
From a seated position, spin your legs behind you and lie down with your chest, the tops of your thighs, the tops of your feet, and the underside of your arms on the ground. Fold your arms above your head and rest four fingers from your right hand over the knuckles of your left hand while forming a V shape with both thumbs. Rest your forehead in the V between your thumbs and fingers.
Kyle Houseworth is the assistant editor at Yoga Journal.