Getting into a regular yoga practice can have a lot of benefits on and off the mat, especially for hikers and backpackers. As a yoga instructor and avid hiker myself, I make it a point to practice regular basic yoga stretches to help me stay injury-free when I’m out on the trail.
But yoga doesn’t have to mean doing things like sun salutations, headstands, and chanting at the summit of a mountain during sunrise. In fact, a yoga practice can be something much simpler, like a set of basic stretches that can be done anywhere, even at base camp.
If you want to start a yoga practice to help keep your body ache and injury free, consider incorporating these simple poses before, during, and after your hike to help protect your body from the wear and tear of long days out on the trail.
Why is Yoga Good for Hikers?
Reduce the risk of injury
As much as I hate to admit it, the aches, pains, and injuries I’ve acquired over a lifetime of being outside don’t always get better when I’m hiking. Sometimes, they can even get worse.
Maybe you can relate, but this is a frustrating place to be and as much as I’d love to push through these aches and pains, I know from both education and experience that pushing through isn’t the right way to deal with stress and injuries. Practicing yoga regularly helps keep those aches, pains, and injuries at bay, so I can spend more time outside doing what I love.
Yoga poses aren’t just simple stretches. They actually help build strength and lengthen muscles, which are both critical for maintaining a healthy range of motion in your body.
Improve stability and balance
Along with building strength, practicing yoga can also improve stability. If you’re an avid hiker, you know how important stability and balance can be on a trail. Without balance, especially with a heavy pack, you’re more prone to falling, rolling ankles, and getting fatigued.
Lastly, practicing yoga for hiking can greatly increase flexibility, which will help reduce muscle aches and strain on and after a hike.
However, it’s important to also include strength-building poses in addition to stretching poses because too much flexibility without muscle strength can actually lead to injury.
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Can I Still do Yoga if I’m Not Flexible?
Yes! For some, the idea of doing yoga or even just stretching is somewhat intimidating if you have “tight” or stiff muscles. One of the biggest arguments that I hear from people against stretching is, “I’m just not flexible!” and my answer to that is, “forget about flexibility”. Everybody is different and it isn’t always the flexibility part that matters. Some are born hyper-flexible, while others are not and many are right in the middle — the key is to find what works best for you.
It’s more important to have a healthy range of motion in your body that allows you to be outside and pain-free for the long term. I don’t know about you, but I am aiming to be that 80-year-old out there crushing it and I’m relying on my yoga practice to help me make it happen.
I assure you that small changes do make a difference and add up over time, so try to make these stretches and yoga poses as routine as brushing your teeth or tossing an extra granola bar in your bag. It can really be that easy.
Essential Yoga Gear for Hikers
Manduka Yoga Strap
A yoga strap is nice to use for gentler yoga when you want to spend more time relaxing into stretches. This Manduka Align strap is 8 feet long and can be buckled into a loop.
Pre-Hike Yoga Poses
Before you head off on your hike, it’s a good idea to warm up and stretch your muscles with a few simple poses. Here are some of our favorites to start with:
- Start on hands and knees in a tabletop position.
- Take a deep breath in and lift your chest and chin to look forward into cow pose.
- On the exhale, round your back up towards the sky and drop your chin in towards your chest into cat pose.
- Step one foot forward in between your hands and lower your back knee down to the floor.
- Bend the front knee more and bring your hands up on your hips or stretch your arms overhead if you feel steady.
- For a bigger stretch that helps to strengthen your ankles and knees, lift your back knee off the ground into a high lunge.
- Hold here for 3 breaths and repeat on the other side.
Standing Wide-Legged Forward Fold
- From standing, step your feet out wide and stretch your arms out to the side.
- Fold forward to touch the floor and grab your ankles or big toes.
- Firm the muscles of your quads to protect your hamstrings as you fold all the way forward and gently release your head down.
- Optional: add a shoulder stretch by clasping your hands behind your back and reaching your arms overhead.
- Hold here for 3 breaths.
Yoga Poses To Do During Your Hike
While you’re hiking, the calves, hamstrings, and quadricep muscles are doing most of the work and tend to get really tight. For some people, this might cause some pain in the ankles, knees, or lower back.
If you’re carrying a heavy load, your shoulders are also going to feel tight or fatigued so use your break to find some relief with these simple stretches out on the trail. Here are our favorite yoga poses and stretches to do while out hiking:
- Place the ball of your foot on a rock or anything slightly higher than ground level and draw your heel down toward the ground to stretch your calf muscle.
- To intensify this stretch, step the other foot forward and press your back heel down more, leaning forward slightly.
- Hold here for 3 breaths and switch sides.
- Stand on one foot, using a tree for balance if you need, and grab the other foot in your hand behind you.
- Gently lengthen your knee down towards the ground for a simple quad stretch and stand up tall.
- Hold here for 3 breaths and switch sides.
Standing Wide-Legged Forward Fold
- To stretch your hamstrings, repeat the same pose from before, standing wide-legged forward fold for 3 breaths.
- By clasping your hands behind your back you can stretch your shoulders and chest and give your head a gentle shake yes and no to release the muscles of your neck.
Post-Hike Yoga Poses
Post-hike yoga poses should be gentle, restorative, and relaxing. Give these easy yoga poses and stretches a try after hitting the trail and see how you feel!
This is also a great time to grab your foam roller, tennis ball, or other self-massage tools to loosen up tight muscles.
- Start on your hands and knees.
- Engage your core and lift your knees up off the mat then slowly press your heels toward the floor.
- Drop your chest down through your arms and lift your hips to the sky.
- Stay here for five breaths.
- Interlace your fingers in between your toes and slowly rock your hand back and forth for a gentle stretch.
- Do this once or twice on each foot.
- Then, sit on your shins and curl your toes underneath you for an even bigger stretch in your feet.
- Hold here for 3-5 breaths as long as there is no pain in your toes or feet.
- If you have a tennis ball, roll it in the arch of your foot for a minute or two on each side.
Low Lunge Thigh Stretch
- Stand a few feet away from the wall and fold forward to touch your toes. Do this once or twice on each foot.
- Reach your left leg back behind you until it reaches the wall and slide your knee all the way down to the floor.
- Place both hands on either side of your right foot and either stay here or bring both hands up to the right knee. The closer your back knee gets to the wall, the deeper the stretch, so do what feels best. If you have sensitive knees, use a blanket or a thick yoga mat for padding.
- Inhale and stay here for 3-5 breaths then switch sides.
Legs Up the Wall or Couch
- If you have open wall space, bring your legs up against the wall or stack a few pillows on the couch to lift your feet up overhead.
- Wherever you are, make sure your hips are all the way up against the wall or couch and allow your arms to relax to the side or grab opposite elbows overhead for a nice stretch in the chest, arms and shoulders.
- Hold here for at least one minute, or longer if you like!
Are you an experienced yogi or are you just starting out? What are your favorite ways to practice yoga for hiking? Share with us in the comments below!