Not much compares to striking out in the morning (or evening) with a companion to summit a ridge and take in a breathtaking view. But before you head out, it’s wise to give your muscles a little TLC. Melissa Garland, the owner of Tadasana Yoga Studio (recently honored by the Park Record as Park City’s Best Yoga Studio), recommends doing these five simple yoga poses for a few minutes each before you start up the hill. These poses target the core muscles and tendons you use in hiking and ensure that you’re stretched and ready to conquer any trail, whether it's PC Hill or Mt. Timpanogos. “The beauty of yoga is that most of the core poses come very naturally to everyone,” says Garland. “Some people tell me they’re a bit intimidated when they think about starting to learn yoga. I ask them if they do any of these moves and they’re surprised to learn they’re already a practitioner!”
When you’re standing at the base of your trail, take 10 minutes (two minutes per pose) to do these yoga poses before you start. They’ll help you warm up, stretch out, and really enjoy your hike. It’s also a good idea to do them again when you finish.
Pose 1: Ragdoll (Uttanasana – oot-a-nah-sa-na)
With your feet hip-width distance apart, put a slight bend in your knees and hinge at your hips to allow your belly to come to your thighs. Let the weight of your head pull your upper-body down to lengthen your spine. If it’s early in the morning or your hamstring muscles aren’t particularly flexible, put even more bend in your knees. This pose provides a complete stretch to the entire back of the body, particularly the hamstrings. This pose can also be done seated to prevent over-stretching of the hamstrings. “This pose is my favorite in the morning,” says Garland. “The blood flow to the head wakes me up and the gentle stretch to my legs gets me ready for movement.”
Pose 2: Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana – ahn-ja-nay-ah-sa-na)
Step one foot forward 3 to 4 feet and then bend your forward knee into a deep lunge. Lower your hips until they are level with or below your knee. Make sure your knee is just above your ankle. Your back knee can be on the ground or straightened. Bring your hands to your front thigh. Try to keep both hips facing forward. This pose opens the hip flexor of the extended leg. Repeat on the other side. “Make sure your feet are hip-width distance apart again,” notes Garland. “If you’re on a tightrope, you’ll fall over.”
Pose 3: Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana – prah-sa-reet-a pahd-oat-ah-na-sa-na)
Stand with your legs wider than hip-width distance apart. Make sure your feet are parallel to one another. Again, with a gentle bend in the knees, engage your thighs at the knee and hinge at the hips to fold forward, bringing your hands to the ground. An optional addition here is to interlace your hands behind your back and stretch your hands overhead. This pose moves deeper into the hamstrings and up into the gluteus muscles, strengthening and stretching the inner and back legs and the spine.
Pose 4: Wide Side Lunge (Skandasana – skahn-dah-sa-na)
This pose is great for opening the hips. Starting from the wide-legged forward fold (pose #3), bend your left knee into a half-squat. Keep your right leg straight and flex your food so that your toes leave the floor and you are resting on the right heel. You can keep your arms on the ground for balance, or if you’re feeling particularly “yogic,” try wrapping your left arm around your bent left knee, reaching behind your body with your right arm, see if you can clasp your hands. “This is one of my favorites,” says Garland. “I enjoy the deep inner-thigh stretch that helps me warm up for any activity.”
Pose 5: Modified Dancers Pose (Natarajasana – nah-ta-ra-jah-sa-na)
The full version of this pose has other fun names, including “Lord of the Dance” and “Dancing Shiva.” You begin by standing tall with your weight evenly distributed. Then shift your weight into your right foot and bend your left knee to lift your foot off the floor. Keep your knees hugged together. Grasp the instep of your left foot with your left hand, turning your palm away from your body. Begin to gently kick your leg out behind you. As your leg lifts, your body will naturally tilt forward, though you should work to keep it upright as much as possible. This version of the pose will open the quadriceps. “Most people do a quad stretch like this, hanging onto something for balance,” notes Melissa. “If you work to do it without support, it helps strengthen your legs and your core at the same time.”
*Since encountering yoga in 2001, Melissa Garland has studied most forms of hatha yoga including Iyengar, Anusara, Bikram and Vinyasa and practiced with respected teachers around the world. For more information about classes and teacher training sessions offered at Garland’s Tadasana Yoga Studio, click here.