YOGA PRACTICES IN THE WOODS - Yoga for Hikers: Stretch, Strengthen, and Climb Higher by Nicole Tsong (2016)

Yoga for Hikers: Stretch, Strengthen, and Climb Higher by Nicole Tsong (2016)



SOMETIMES THE PEAK OF a hike is a snowcapped, craggy mountaintop that stuns you into awed silence. Sometimes the “peak” is an alpine lake so deeply blue you never imagined such a color existed, or it is the depths of a canyon down to a river or lake, even though you know that a climb awaits you on your return to the trailhead. The pinnacle of a hike could more aptly be titled the halfway point—the time when you sit down, contemplate a space and place bigger than your body, and eat the best lunch of your life.

Whether you hiked up or down, you challenged your body. If it wasn’t the elevation, at the very least you worked on endurance and the balance required on uneven terrain. It is time to rest, refuel, and move your body in new directions to ease the muscles that have tightened up from the first half of your day. It also is an opportunity to reflect on where your legs have carried you, to contemplate the beauty of where you have arrived, and to take it all in. A yoga practice offers mindfulness in the moment and a connection to the source of why you travel to the wilderness—and can keep you limber for the return trip.

Doing some yoga poses at the end of your day will also help your body rejuvenate, particularly if you are out on a multiday backpacking trip. If you’re anything like me, you’d rather make dinner immediately upon reaching your campsite—or just set up your tent and collapse. Instead, try doing a few poses while your body is still warm from your hike—when you’re waiting for a friend to take off her boots, or when the water is heating up for your evening meal. Or sit by the campfire in a hip opening pose. It doesn’t take much, and the rewards will be great.


Take off your pack.Look around. Notice the color of the sky. Feel the temperature of the air on your skin. What do you smell? Gather in the view. Do you see mountaintops or trees or vast desert? Listen to what is around you. Do you hear birds, water, or other hikers? Breathe deeply for five breaths.Find a fairly even surface. Do a few yoga poses, in bare feet if possible. Or try the following sequence.

Mountain Pose

»Stand with your feet together.

»Reach your arms up to the sky. Feel the great stretch in your spine.

»Lift your face to the sun. Breathe deeply for five full rounds.


»Stand with your feet wider than your shoulders.

»Lower your hips down between your feet so your hips dip below your knees.

»Press your elbows into your inner knees.

»Lift your chest up to the sky. Stay for ten breaths.

Rag Doll

»Stand with your feet at hip-width distance.

»Bend your legs slightly at the knee.

»Fold your chest forward over your legs.

»Move your hands to your lower back, interlacing your fingers to bind your hands.

»Stretch your arms away from your back.

Horse Stance Twists

»Stand with your feet a leg’s length distance apart from each other, turning both feet out at an angle.

»Bend your knees, tracking your knees over your ankles in the direction of your toes.


Founder, Kaf Adventures
Seattle, Washington

Q: How did you get your start with yoga?

A: To me, yoga has been always outdoors. I was on a Boundary Waters trip in Minnesota with a friend and coworker. They were stretching. I asked, “What are you doing?” They said, “This is yoga.” At some point, it morphed into a game, trying to pick up a bag while standing on one foot. That was the first time.

Q: Why do you do yoga outdoors?

A: Doing yoga outside is about the commonality of getting adults together to focus internally. It’s a lot easier to focus internally when you’re outdoors because you’re in the womb of your existence. It’s such a beautiful place to be, to sit. I think that’s why we all go outside. We value it, we can feel the energy from the earth. Incorporate that with breath, movement, and overall intention around your own personal growth, and now you’ve got an entire group of individuals who are also trying to build community and that intentionality. That’s the whole part of why I do outdoor education. It’s about community and individual growth, and it’s about learning a little bit of yourself and the people around you.

Q: What’s different about taking people out on group hikes where they also do yoga?

A: Lots of people say they go outside for this one peak or activity or final destination. When you say I’m going outside to do yoga, already you can tell, it’s not necessarily related to an outcome. Of course you want to get to the lake, etc., but maybe it’s not as important how quickly you get to the lake or if you get to the lake at all. In our experience, it doesn’t actually matter.

»Bring your hands to your inner thighs, and press until your arms are straight.

»Lower your right shoulder toward your left foot for a twist with your core engaged. Hold for five breaths.

»Come back to neutral.

»Lower your left shoulder toward your right foot. Hold for five breaths.

One-Legged Chair

»Stand with your feet together. Lower your hips toward the ground for Chair pose.

»Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Flex your upper foot.

»Insert your thumbs into your hip crease (the indentation where the top of your leg meets your hip socket), and press your hips back until you feel a stretch in your hip in your bent leg.

»Hold for five breaths. Repeat on the left side.

»Variation: Hold onto a tree or use a boulder or trekking pole for balance.

Low Lunge with Quad Stretch

»Stand with your feet together. Step your left foot far enough behind you so that you can lower your left knee to the ground. Bring your hands to the ground.

»Pull your left hip toward your right knee. Pull your belly in toward your spine.

»Reach your left hand for your back leg and pull your foot toward you.

»Rest your front hand on your front thigh. Stay for five breaths.

»Bring your hands back to the ground. Step your back foot forward to your right foot.

»Do the pose on the other side.

Upward-Facing Dog

»Lower down to your belly. Place your hands below your elbows next to your lower ribs.

»Press the tops of your feet down into the earth, and lift your knees off the ground.

»Plant your palms into the ground, and straighten your arms, with your shoulders stacked over your wrists.

»Lift your chest to the sky. Lift your gaze and feel the air on your face.

»Hug your shoulder blades in toward your spine.

»Stay for five breaths.


For a day out backpacking, add the following poses to the Pinnacle Practice (above) to help ease the intensity of the day. These additional poses help release your hips and lower back from the extra weight of your backpack. You can do this practice on the ground with boots on, if necessary, but barefoot on a tarp is nicer! Do all the poses in order on your right side, then switch to your left.

Twisted Crescent Lunge, Modified

»Come to a Low Lunge with your right foot in front, and your back knee on the ground behind you.

»Lower your left hand to the ground; squeeze your inner thighs in toward your pelvis.

»Stretch your right fingers up to the sky. Hug your shoulder blades toward your spine.

»Engage your core lock. Look up past your right hand to the clouds. Stay for five breaths.

Warrior 2

»Bring both hands to the ground in your Low Lunge. Tuck your back toes and spin your back heel to the ground. Come all the way up.

»Bend your right knee over your front ankle.

»Extend your arms out parallel to the earth away from your chest.

»Set your gaze on your front fingers. Stay for five breaths.


»Keeping your front foot facing forward, straighten your front leg.

»Reach your front arm forward and lengthen your spine.

»Lower your right hand to your right shin. Stretch your left fingers to the sky and look up past your left hand.

»Stay for five breaths.


»Come up to stand from Triangle.

»Spin your right foot parallel with your left foot.

»Turn your left toes out slightly at an angle, and bend your left knee over your left ankle.

»Keep your right leg straight. Bring your hands to the ground under your shoulders.

»Lift your chest even with your hips.

»Pull your belly in toward your back.

»Stay for five breaths.


Half Splits

»From Skandasana, walk your hands to your right foot, and come back to a Low Lunge.

»Shift your weight back so your hips stack over your left leg.

»Come onto the heel of your right foot, sliding it forward if necessary.

»Squeeze your right thigh muscles and lower your chest gently over your right leg into a hamstring stretch.

»Stay for five breaths.


»Shift your weight forward into a Low Lunge. Bring your hands to the ground inside your right foot.

»Turn your right toes out at an angle, and roll to the outer edge of your foot. Keep your foot flexed.

»Stay here with your hands on the ground or deepen by bringing your forearms to the ground.

»Stay for five breaths.

Half Pigeon

»Come up to your hands from Lizard.

»Walk your right foot in front of your body until your right knee comes to the ground. Keep your foot flexed.

»Square your hips toward the ground. Lift your chest up and lengthen your spine.

»Slowly lower your chest to the ground.

»Stay for ten breaths.