No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path. ~ Buddha
Well. I haven’t been a complete slug. Sure the holidays kept me busy and I wasn’t able to hike in the woods, but I didn’t sit on my butt at home and eat Snickerdoodles either.
That’s not my style. I’m like a herding dog. You know what happens when they don’t get enough exercise. They’ll drive you crazy.
This great place is called The Little Tennessee River Greenway. And for a public green space, it is well used – and loved – by many people around here.
On any given day, no matter what the weather, you’ll find walkers, joggers, runners, bicyclists, bird watchers, dog walkers, berry pickers, amateur botanists, picnic-ers, Frisbee golfers and even geocachers enjoying this four mile riverside trail.
There are lots of public green spaces popping up around the country. Got one near you?
See ya’ on the trail (or maybe on the Greenway),
I’ve always felt if you take care of your body, it’ll take care of you – plain and simple.
Backpacking, or even a simple day hike – as good as they are for you – can create stresses on the body. If not properly handled, these stresses will develop into full fledged injuries and eventually keep you off the trail.
And there’s not a hiker in the world that wants this to happen. So what can you do about it?
Hiker Hot Spots
Knowing where to expect the natural stresses of hiking to occur is a good beginning. And it’s not hard to figure out, considering the activity includes walking with a pack on your back.
Hiker hot spots include your:
- Shoulders, Neck and Upper Back
- Low Back and Abdominals
- Hips, Hamstrings and Quads
- Knees, Ankles and Feet
Pretty much your whole body, right?
I’ve found that proper fitting shoes, a well adjusted backpack, lighter loads and trekking poles – among other things – go a long way to preventing stresses and hot spots.
But there’s more you can do to prevent aches, pains, strains and injuries on the trail.
Don’t Take Your Body For
Most serious hikers, whether they’re day hikers or thru-hikers, have some sort of routine to compensate for the stresses of hiking. It might include things like warming up, cooling down and stretching. The point is they’re doing something out on the trail to prepare their bodies for what lies ahead or pamper their bodies after a long day’s hike.
Personally I prefer yoga. I know a lot of other hikers who do too. The great thing about yoga is that it encompasses strength, flexibility and balance – for the whole body. Also, you don’t need any specific equipment and you can do it anywhere at anytime.
There are many yoga poses you can adopt for use on the trail. Here are a few of my favorites which include hip openers, shoulder and chest openers, balance poses and strengthening poses.
Key things to keep in mind when doing yoga are…
- do no harm
- keep your breath flowing – don’t hold it
- reach for length before reaching for depth
- strength and flexibility build in increments.
Go up to, but not beyond your edge.
If you’re new to yoga, consider taking some classes so you can learn how to safely get in and out of the poses. It’s not as scary as you might think. My first yoga class was actually fun.
My Top Seven Yoga Poses For The Trail
Sun Salutation – Perfect for warming up in the morning, stretching out at breaks and generating heat on cold nights. This includes upward salute, forward bend, plank pose, up dog, down dog and reverse swan dive. It’s good for the whole body. If you could do only one thing this is it.
Low Lunge – This pose is great for releasing tight hip flexors, the psoas muscle and the quads. I like to modify this pose and turn it into a chest opener too by lifting my sternum, rolling my shoulders back, drawing my arms back (like a cactus) and my shoulder blades together. It’s perfect after a long day with a pack on your back.
Pigeon Pose – Our hips are a storage depot for lots of tension and discomfort. If it goes unchecked, this tension can cause hip pain and decreased range of motion, possibly altering your gait, leading to knee, ankle and foot problems too. Pigeon pose will help open your hip flexors and release your piriformis muscle and other muscles of your buttocks.
Garland Pose – This is another great pose for opening the hips, allowing your muscles to relax and release. But that’s not all! It’s also similar to the position you’ll be in most of the time when you have to relieve yourself in the woods…you know, answer the call of nature. Oh, for crying out loud – for when you have to poop in a cat hole. Having the ability to get into this position comfortably will make your life a lot easier when the time comes.
Eagle Arms – Sometimes, after a long day hauling a pack, my upper back, the area between my shoulder blades, gets tight and uncomfortable. Eagle Arms is a great way to release these muscles and open up the upper back. You can do the full pose shown in the link or simply do the arm portion anytime during a hike.
Tree Pose – This pose is an excellent way to improve your balance or simply center yourself when you’re feeling tense. Also, as a great modification, you can place one ankle over the opposite knee (foot flexed), sink down into a chair pose and lean forward – or, for a deeper pose, go into a forward bend, hands to the floor. It’s like doing a standing pigeon pose and it’s great for releasing your hip muscles.
Half Lord of the Fishes – Twists are a great way to wake up you spine in the morning and help you relax at night. In addition, you get the added benefit of working your hips. Twists also have a positive effect on our digestive systems, keeping things moving, so to speak.
You’re all set! There are lots of beneficial yoga poses. Adapt a specific routine you can use on the trail and see how great your body feels.
What yoga poses do you like to use on the trail? Let us know in the comments below.
See ya’ on the trail,
Me, a yogi? Pft, no way! Far from it actually. A student, maybe. Yes, a student of yoga. I can live with that.
From where I stand in mountain pose, the more I learn about yoga the more I realize there’s…more to learn. I can’t imagine anyone ever “mastering” yoga. Every pose is never ending. Every pose can always go deeper.
Yoga’s great because it reminds me to breathe and let go, both physically and mentally.
It exposes my weaknesses, which is something most of us don’t like, but then turns them into strengths, which is something we all value and could benefit from.
And, for some odd reason, something I expect other yoga practitioners might understand, I’ve come to enjoy the physical challenges of yoga and actually have fun attempting some of the more difficult poses. I know – call me crazy.
But, honestly, yoga is the sanest thing I’ve ever done, especially as an avid hiker and backpacker.
Get this. I no longer have knee, hip and foot pain. No more tired shoulders or an achy back and neck. And no more holding patterns that limit my hiking ability.
Holding patterns, as my massage therapist calls them, are those tight, achy muscles we get from repetitive motions and postures, like sitting at the computer typing all day.
I’ve read enough trail journals to know a large number of hikers suffer greatly for their beloved hobby. But one doesn’t have to suffer – unless you’re into that sort of thing.
So, as I see it, here are the eleven benefits yoga provides to those of us who live on the trail.
- Strength: The isometric contractions from holding deep poses, combined with working all of your muscles through their full range of motion, creates incredible strength without amassing big, bulky muscles.
- Flexibility: Like strength, flexibility improves in increments. Taking your asanas, or yoga postures, to “the edge” and then letting go of any tension allows you to gradually stretch deeper without pain and discomfort.
- Balance: Being sure-footed on the trail can save your life. Yoga offers challenging balance poses you can practice in a safe and controlled environment with all the benefits spilling over to your trail activities.
- Better posture: Have you ever seen a hiker take off their pack and stand as though the weight of the pack was still causing them to lean. That weight can take its toll on your back, neck and shoulders. Yoga will counteract this pull, help you stand erect and prevent back and neck injuries.
- Endurance: Through yoga, your muscles will become accustomed to sustained contractions, greatly improving their ability to perform for long hours without fatigue.
- Fewer Injuries: Hiking long distances takes its toll on the body. Yoga, through proper conditioning and toning, will greatly decrease your chances of stress related injuries, keeping you on the trail longer and with more enjoyment.
- Improved Cardiovascular Health: Many yoga poses twist, bend, fold and invert your body, causing your heart to have to work harder to pump blood to these tissues. The result of his is a gentle, yet powerful strengthening of the heart and circulatory system.
- Greater Lung Capacity: Yoga encourages proper use of your breath, or Pranayama. Learning breath control will give you greater endurance and keep you from getting “winded” when climbing hills and mountains.
- Universal Practice: No matter where you are, yoga is unique in that you can do it anywhere. You don’t need a studio or a gym, machines, weights or much paraphernalia at all. What you need is a soft surface and a willingness to practice. Some hikers even take their yoga mats with them on the trail.
- Inexpensive: As an activity goes, yoga is cheap. Sure you can invest in all sorts of props and clothing, but compared to backpacking and many other sports, yoga requires very little investment. Save your money for more gear.
- Instant Community: Yogis are literally everywhere. Finding a group to practice with is easier than you think. Even on the trail, it’s not uncommon to see someone go into downward-facing dog. The point is, yoga is an individual pursuit but you never have to practice alone – unless you want to.
I’m sure there’s more – much more – and I look forward to discovering them as I deepen my understanding of yoga and spend more time on the trail.
If you’re a hiker, I invite you to explore the world of yoga. Your body will repay you ten times over.
See ya’ on the trail