Tight hips, sore hamstrings, an aching back…after a day on the trail, your body could use good stretch or two, but often all you want to do is crawl into your sleeping bag and call it a night. Add these moves to your evening routine or first thing in the morning before you pack up camp. Not only will your body reap the benefits and feel better as you hike, but these yoga poses will restore your sense of calm and focus that so many of us venture into the woods to find in the first place.
Start out with a basic vinyasa flow. Breathe slowly and deeply, letting yourself lengthen into each stretch as you exhale.
Downward Facing Dog—Adho Mukha Svanasana
This is one of the most basic and common yoga poses out there, yet it still has much to offer the most experienced yogi. Push against the earth with your hands on either side of your sleeping mat as you bend your knees and lift your hips into the air. Tighten your quadriceps to deepen the pose and target your hamstrings. Alternate between pressing your heels down to the mat and bending your knees to increase your circulation in those tired muscles.
Plank Pose—Uttihita Chaturanga Dandasana
In Downward Facing Dog, exhale and lower your hips, focusing on your lower back, shoulders and core to hold you here for a few moments. Your back and shoulders are tired from your hike, but in this pose you can engage those muscles in a different way, allowing them to loosen up and prepare for round two. You can also deepen the stretch in your lower calf and Achilles tendon here—hiking can be rough on the smaller but essential foot and ankle tendons.
Cobra Pose or Upward Facing Dog Pose—Urdhva Mukva Shavasana
Lower your chest to your sleeping pad and prepare for either Cobra Pose or Upward Facing Dog Pose. Those less experienced with yoga or those tired and worn out from their hikes should probably stick with Cobra, where you rest your palms lightly on the ground and use your lower back muscles and glutes to lift your chest up. Lead with your sternum to avoid giving yourself a crick in the neck. If you are familiar with the position and would like a deeper stretch, straighten your arms and look upward to move into Upward Facing Dog. Flex your quads to bring your thighs off the ground as your weight is supported by the tops of your feet and your hands.
Move through these three poses until you feel loose. Synchronize your breath with your movements, inhaling as you come into upward facing dog, exhale as you move back into downward facing dog. When you feel relaxed, you can incorporate the next few poses.
Cat/Cow Poses—Marjaryasana to Bitilasana
On your hands and knees, take a deep breath. Then as you exhale, round your back, spreading your shoulder blades and tucking your tailbone to create a C shape. This is Cat pose. To transition to Cow, inhale and allow your belly to drop and loosen as you arch your back to reverse the C shape. Allow your hips to rock side to side to stretch the muscles that connect with your spine. Continue to transition between the two poses each time you switch from an exhale to an inhale and vice versa for about four or five cycles.
Bridge Pose—Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
While lying on your back, draw your knees close enough to your hips that you can touch the back of your ankles with your fingertips. Lift your hips upward and arch your back. If you can, roll your shoulders back and interlace your hands underneath you. This pose is a great torso stretch, calms the mind, and relieves insomnia, a perfect way to wind down. If you can, grab your ankles and transform this into a half wheel pose.
Half Spinal Twist Pose—Ardha Matsyendrāsana
Sit upright with your legs extended and cross your right leg over the left, with your right knee bent and drawn in to your chest as far as is comfortable. Take your left arm and cross it over your bent right leg, allowing your left elbow to push away from your right knee to deepen the twist. Use your right hand to anchor on the ground and gaze over your right shoulder. Release and repeat on the left side.
Your practice is not complete without this resting pose. It stretches your spine, allowing your back to round and targeting muscles all the way from your hips to your spine. Let your arms hang loosely by your sides or extend them in front of your head and push against the earth. This causes your shoulder blades to draw together and away from your neck, which eases the tension caused by schlepping your back around all day. If you have knee problems, place an extra fleece or other padded material you have handy under between your glutes and your calves to ease the pressure.