Yoga and nature are a perfect pair. Imagine the peacefulness of a gentle yoga class paired with the tranquility of a trickling stream, a fresh breeze, and the chirping of birds. It all sounds pretty idyllic, but did you lug your food and shelter 12 miles into the mountains for that little slice of heaven? If that’s the case, yoga in the backcountry will help your body recover from the hike, too. Try these five poses for the ultimate backcountry yoga session.
Your feet have worked hard; show them some love! This simple variation will stretch the bottoms of your feet. Start by kneeling down and tucking your toes. Rest onto your heels. That’s all there is to it!
Tone it down: Remove pressure from your feet by staying upright instead of down on your heels. You can even lean forward and rest your hands or forearms on the ground to release weight.
Hiking can tighten your IT band, the tissue that runs down the outside of your upper leg, and no one likes a tight IT band. Stand with feet hip-distance apart. Step your left foot forward with toes pointing straight ahead. Shift your back foot so your toes point out slightly. Keep your hips facing forward. Move into the twist by first hinging at the hips and extending your arms out in front of you. As you slowly twist to place your right hand on the ground, rotate your torso and keep your chest open. Your left hand can extend toward the sky or stay on your left hip. If the ground isn’t within reach, use a sturdy water bottle as an arm extender rather than straining into a closed chest and hunched shoulders.
Tone it down: This pose can be intense! A forward fold with legs crossed can provide a similar sensation for your IT band. Cross your left leg behind your right, hinge at the hips, and fold forward while keeping your spine long.
Even the best-fitted pack can feel heavy on your shoulders and back after enough miles. The classic cat-cow flow creates movement all the way up and down the spine for a comfortable release. As you exhale, round your back, draw your belly button toward your spine, and relax your head and neck. On your inhale, arch your back to draw your tailbone and the crown of your head toward the sky.
Tone it down: Seated cat-cow can provide a similar movement without the knee and wrist pressure. Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. On your exhale, round your upper back as you reach forward. Inhale and draw your shoulder blades together with arms extended to your sides to open your chest.
A basic lunge does wonders for stretching the quad and hip flexors. Many of us are familiar with this shape, so take these pointers into consideration. Be sure to line up your joints: your knee should be above your ankle or slightly behind it, but never ahead of your toes. A backbend is a sweet bonus to lengthen the sides of your torso and add some movement for your shoulders. Otherwise, you can place your hands at heart center in a prayer mudra and keep your torso upright.
Tone it down: Take a knee! A low lunge, just like the one above but with the back knee on the ground, is a great alternative.
This one can be tricky if you have tight hips—be patient! From down dog, bring your right leg forward to rest on the ground with your knee bent and your toes tucked close to your left hip. It’s important to keep your hips level, especially if you extend forward into a resting variation. Don’t forget to switch sides!
Tone it down: A reclining figure four stretch will give you the same effect. Start by lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Bring your right ankle to cross over top of your left thigh.
// (Mandy Schenkemeyer)
Mandy Schenkemeyer is a freelance writer, certified yoga teacher, and outdoor enthusiast. Formerly a resident of Pullman, Wash., she now lives in southwest Colorado with her van Hilde. For more fitness tips from Mandy, visit Mudita Outdoors on Instagram or at MuditaOutdoors.com.
[Feature photo courtesy of Mandy Schenkemeyer.]