Now that you’re all pumped up and ready to get going on your alpine adventure it’s time we let you in on a little-known trail trekker’s secret: High Altitude Yoga! While the novelty of striking an expert pose on a big peak to show your physical prowess is certainly satisfying, the ancient spiritual exercise is actually an excellent way to bring relief to achy bodies and weary minds.
Whether you’re trying to get a stretch in during a water break, or ease some muscle tension at the end of the day you probably won’t be looking to try that big inversion, so here are 10 simple poses to relieve the backpacker in need:
- Rag Doll: Nice and easy, but a surprisingly good stretch. Simply fold your torso forward, keep a slight bend in the knees, and let your arms droop down. You can gently hold onto your elbows or you can let your hands fall toward the ground. The key to all Yoga is breathing. Inhale deeply, and let each exhale take you slowly down toward the ground. You should feel the stretch in your legs, but take it slow and don’t overdo it! (you will be hearing that again!)
- Rag Doll with Shoulder Rinse: If the first stretch felt particularly helpful to you, consider a modification. Reach your arms behind your back and interlace your fingers, then bring your arms forward above your head and breath, slowly letting them fall farther down toward the ground on the exhale.
- Hindi Squat: Simple pose that, like anything worth doing, is harder than it looks. Place your feet a bit more than shoulder width apart, and rotate your feet to face out away from your body. Press your hands “prayer style” gently against each other at your belly and slowly sink straight down into a squatting position. Breath deep and let your body weight push you down and stretch out those quads. You’ll feel it working, I promise.
- Legs Wide, Hands to Floor: Another basic stretch that’s easy to do on the trail or in the lodge and works wonders on worn out legs. Stand with your feet a little more than shoulder width apart and turned slightly inward, inhale deeply and fold forward with your hands to the floor on the exhale. Again, let yourself fold more with each deep inhale and exhale. To further engage your legs, move your hands slowly in an arc from leg to leg, maintain pressure by reaching farther out from your body as your hands move toward the middle and then closer in as they move to your feet.
- Legs Wide, Simple Twist: If you thought that last one seemed too unassuming to be Yoga, well then you thought too soon! Adding a simple twist will keep your legs engaged, but also help you spread the love to your lower back. For those of you packing heavy on the Chilean trips, this one’s for you! Fold about halfway down on an exhale and place your arms on the floor. Gently twist your back and rotate one shoulder upwards, reaching for the ceiling. Your gaze should follow your lifting hand. One the inhale, reach farther toward the ceiling, on the exhale twist your back just a little more, then lower lower your arm and lift the opposite.
- Downward Dog & Peddle Legs: Downward dog is a great baseline pose from which more complicated movements are often launched, but it’s also an effective calf stretch all on its own. Spread your legs slightly more than shoulder width apart, and plant your hands firmly on the floor at the same width. Push your hips back and up, essentially making a triangle with your body. The secret is to slowly pump your legs, almost like pedalling a bike, to actively stretch your calves.
- Table Top to Cat: From downward dog you can lower down onto your hands and knees, this is the Table Top pose, it’s not particularly challenging, but when you arch your back upward and push your spine toward the ceiling you’ll feel your back muscles engage and forget all about that backpack
- Table Top to Cow: This is the mirror image of the previous pose. Push your stomach down toward the floor, inverse arching your back to loosen up the muscles you missed on #7.
- Shoulder Stretch with Simple Twist: To continue loosening your lower back and now move to the shoulders as well, lower yourself down from Table Top and turn your head to the side until your ear is resting gently on the floor. Use one arm to support your weight and slide the opposite arm underneath and straight out perpendicular to your body, twisting your shoulder. Continue breathing deeply and on the exhale reach a little farther out away from your body, twisting a little more on the inhale. Repeat for the other side!
- Childs Pose: If you’ve gone to a Yoga class before, you probably remember this pose as “My favorite!” It’s not a demanding position, but it opens and loosens your hips and lower back. Sit down on your shins and the tops of your feet, pointing your toes back away from you. Stretch your arms all the way forward at about shoulder distance apart, palms down. Then: Breath. A lot. As your body pushes down on your hips it may feel a little painful, but let each breath settle you into the stretch. Just don’t overdo it.
Now these aren’t all perfect for doing right on the trail (number 8 would likely get a little dirt in your ear), but they are all easily performed by beginners and provide deep stretches that even the more experienced Yogis will benefit from. Take some time to try them out after a run or a bike ride and see if they work for you, you never know what will come in handy after that first big hill!