Yoga and hiking – a powerful union.
Whether on the mat or in the woods, both yoga and hiking transcend mere physical exercise, encompassing mental and spiritual benefits too.
Energy, exploration, and enjoyment are all good reasons for hitting the trails and going on a hike. They’re also good reasons for practicing yoga. Both allow for a reverent escape, a place for peace, and an opportunity to get in a workout.
If you’re torn between tree pose and actual trees, developing a mixed routine of yoga and hiking is a great way to appeal to your mind, body, and spirit.
Here’s how combining yoga and hiking can help any level yoga practitioner or hiker stretch and strengthen their mind and body.
Meditation and movement create holistic balance
Incorporating meditation into movement, regulating your breath, and practicing specific yoga poses can help enhance your hike. No matter how or where you like to hike – scenic nature strolls, beachcombing, or intense forest trails – these practices can be applied to lift your experience.
Begin with a walking meditation, which can occur when your thoughts and breathing work in tandem with your movement. Take notice of the motion of your body. As your feet carry you forward, note the beat or rhythm of your steps. Left, right, one, two. A simple, makeshift mantra can help bring your focus back to the present and create a greater awareness of yourself and your body.
Next, observe your breathing. If you are breathing hard or want to calm or catch your breath, switch from focusing on your steps to counting your breath by using a four to six count:
- Breathe in for four seconds, out for four seconds.
- Breathe in for four seconds, out for six seconds.
- Breathe in for six seconds, out for six seconds.
Four to six counts and ujjayi pranayama are commonly used breathing guidelines in yoga. Ujjayi pranayama is energized, focused breathing in through the nose and out through the nose, with a slight constriction in the throat, that creates internal heat, power, and concentration. However, you should use whatever is safest, healthiest, and most beneficial for you. Noticing your breath, your movement, and what your body is feeling and experiencing can help increase your awareness and reorient your focus.
You may also maintain your center by setting an intention for your hike. Examples of an intention include gratitude, peace, or focus but an intention can be whatever will best support you and your hike for the day. An intention also works as a good reminder to be present and exist in the moment. These techniques can wash away stress and anxiety by cleansing and aligning your mind, body, and soul.
Yoga poses for enhancing your hiking experience
In addition to the spiritual and mindful aspects of yoga for hiking, there are physical benefits, which can make your hiking experience more enjoyable.
Yoga poses can be utilized proactively before a hike, during a hike when you pause for a brief respite, or retroactively as means of recovery. Any choice or combination can help build and maintain a foundation of strength and assist in putting your best foot forward.
Yoga teacher, author, and fitness columnist Nicole Tsong, who has conducted research on the benefits of yoga and hiking tells us those common injuries experienced by hikers include plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis.
Plantar fasciitis and how yoga can help
Plantar fasciitis occurs when the arches of your feet aren’t strong enough to adequately support your weight while traveling downhill. This causes your plantar fascia, the ligaments connecting your heel to the front of your foot, to get crushed, compromising the ability to absorb and soften the force from your step and protect your arches. This can lead to pain and inflammation. Plantar fasciitis can be prevented and relieved by practicing mountain or tree pose.
Mountain pose- tadasana
Mountain pose, or tadasana as it is known in Sanskrit, requires you to stand with your feet hip-width apart and parallel to one another. Spreading out your toes can lift the arches of your feet and help ground you. Your arms can either rest by your side or be brought overhead. If you choose to lift your arms above your head, spiral your pinkies in towards one another and relax your shoulders by drawing them down your back. Mountain pose can be followed by a forward fold, or a controlled folding at the hips until your hands touch your shins or the floor, whatever is attainable to you. After completing your forward fold, slowly rise up while focusing on your balance.
Tree pose- Vrksasana
Vrksasana or tree pose expands upon foot strengthening and balance by engaging stabilizing muscles. Begin this pose by standing with your feet together, then lift one foot to your inner calf, inner thigh, or front of your thigh. Engage your core muscles, find a point to focus your eyes on, and bring your palms together at the center of your chest, above your head, or even behind your back. If this pose is challenging, you can modify it by using your lifted foot as a kickstand and fit it against your supporting leg.
Achilles tendinitis can benefit from yoga
Achilles tendinitis can happen when there is an overextension or overperformance of dorsiflexion, or the act of flexing your foot toward your shin. The result is the tissue in your achilles tendon, the tendon that links your lower calf muscle to your heel bone, becoming inflamed and tender. This can be made worse by carrying heavy items, such as a backpack. You can prevent this by working on strengthening your ankles via toes pose and squatting.
Toes pose, also known as toe sit or toe stretch, starts by coming to your knees. One you are sitting and situated, tuck your toes underneath you until you are on the balls of your feet. Sit up straight and keep your chest over your hips. Hold and breathe.
Yogis’ Squat pose- Malasana
Yogi’s squat pose, also referred to as malasana or garland pose, is a grounding pose that can be performed with multiple variations. To squat, begin by standing with your legs wide then bend your knees and lower yourself towards the ground. Your feet can pivot outwards. Try to find a stance that allows your feet to be flat on the floor, then lift your feet to expand your arches. When doing this, be sure not to let your chest collapse forward and try to maintain a straight back. Your hands may remain on the floor, your thighs, or they can be brought together in front of your chest. To deepen the focus on your ankles, you can place a block, bolster, or pillow underneath your sacrum for support.
To modify this pose, stand with your feet together or as close together as possible. Squat down with your legs and knees together. Once comfortably balanced, slowly separate your thighs, spreading them just beyond the width of your torso and lean slightly forward. Your hands can remain on the ground to help stabilize your balance, or you can press your palms together. To lengthen your torso and generate muscular resistance, try placing your elbows on the inside of your knees. Squatting with your feet together allows for a more intense expression of the pose while targeting the knees and hips.
To take this modification one step further, lean forward and round your back until your head touches the ground. Wrap your arms under your shins and clasp your hands behind your ankles or under your heels. Any of these squat variations will assist with ankle strength and balance.
These poses should be practiced before hiking, but are also good to stop and do intermittently on a hike, especially if you find yourself suffering from any of the associated symptoms.
Other good poses during a hike include chair pose, crescent lunge, downward facing dog, rag doll, one legged extended tadasana, and planking, all of which allow for stretching your body out and strengthening your feet, legs, and core.
Recovery poses completed post-hike can help ward off potential muscle aches and soreness, and can include a variety of positions such as supine twist, happy baby, or seated bound ankle pose. Be sure to practice poses that are safe and comfortable for you.
Combining yoga and hiking may be a blend of your two favorite hobbies or a way to shake up your current physical activity routine. Regardless, yoga for hikers is beneficial to the physical body and the spiritual being and a great opportunity for those who are looking to expand their yoga practice beyond the mat or make the most of their time on the trail.
Raya Kate Castronovo is a writer, certified yoga instructor, and graduate student. Living in the mountains of Colorado, she can often be found hiking, kickboxing, doing yoga, or sitting in the sunshine with a good book.