Yoga for Backpackers
Ease post-hike pain and prep muscles for the next day.
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“Yoga loosens you and allows you to use the full range of motion in your muscles, which counters tightness caused by an all-day trek,” says Eric Kipp, founder of fitness company Hiking Yoga (hikingyoga.com), which helps teach yoga for backpackers through 90-minute hiking and yoga sessions in 17 cities in the United States. Before going to sleep, perform these four poses, which are great for cold weather because they can be done in a sleeping bag as well as on a pad. The exercises relieve tension in your back, legs, and upper body, and the deep breathing helps you prep for restful slumber. Bonus: The no-sweat movements will warm your bag in a flash.
Release tension in your back and stretch hips, thighs, and ankles. The spinal curl of this stress-relieving position also serves as a stretching warm-up.
How Kneel with the tops of your feet flat on the ground, big toes touching, and arms at your sides. Sit back on your heels. Exhale and lay your torso between your thighs, forehead on the ground. Relax your shoulders and arms, opening your shoulder blades across your back. Hold for one to three minutes.
Extra credit Stretch your upper back and shoulders: Lift your buttocks away from your heels and reach your arms forward; plant your hands on the ground (outside your bag, if you’re in one). Draw shoulder blades down as you sit back on your heels without moving your hands.
Cat and cow
“Carrying a pack can lead to compressed discs,” says Lucretia Williams, a yoga instructor and ranger in Washington’s Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. “After a long hike, pay extra attention to your back.” She suggests this spine-focused combination.
How Begin on your hands and knees with your toes pressed flat on the ground and your spine in a neutral, relaxed position. For the cat pose, inhale and draw your belly button toward your spine as you round your back skyward. Drop your head until your chin nearly touches your chest. For the cow pose, exhale and lower your belly toward the ground while lifting your gaze upward. Alternate stretches for 10 deep breaths.
Extra credit Gently twist away shoulder aches. On hands and knees, with your back in a gently arched, neutral position, turn your head and neck to the right, creating a “C” with your side (ribs compressed on one side, stretched on the other). Return to neutral and repeat on the left for five deep breaths.
This pose loosens “exactly what repetitive hiking for eight hours tightens up,” says Kipp. It stretches your glutes, hamstrings, and a band of connective tissues along the thigh called the iliotibial (IT) band.
How Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Place your right ankle over your left knee and slide your right arm through the space made by your legs. Clasp hands beneath your left thigh and gently draw your knee straight in, toward your chest. Sway side to side slightly and hold the pose for five breaths. Switch sides and repeat.
Extra credit Isolate your IT band and lower back by varying the stretch: Start in the same position but instead of pulling your leg straight toward your chest during each stretch, pull your leg across the body at a slight angle. Hold the pose for five breaths, then switch sides.
Hikers compensate for ill-fitting packs or heavy loads by contorting the spine. Result: backs overarched and shoulders rolled inward. This pose elongates the spine and loosens overworked pectorals.
How Place padding (like a fleece jacket) under your shoulders to support your neck and protect your lower cervical spine. Then, lie on your back with your gaze straight up and arms at your sides. Plant your feet flat and as close as possible to your buttocks. Exhale and press feet and arms into the floor, lifting your hips until your thighs are nearly parallel to the ground. Keep feet, knees, and thighs in line and aim your chest and pelvis skyward. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, and lower slowly, one vertebrae at a time.
Extra credit Deepen the chest stretch while your hips are elevated by interlocking your fingers beneath your body, with your arms on the ground.