It’s easy to be a great hiker when you’re 35. Your hips are supple; your knees don’t creak and if you do happen to fall, you bounce. When you reach your mid-50s, somehow your balance isn’t what it once was and those hills—how did they become so steep?
With so many baby boomers hitting the trail, I decided to look into how to best prepare for the upcoming hiking season. From first-hand experience, I know that yoga is a great friend of hikers. Hiking requires strength, flexibility and some cardio fitness. Yoga delivers on all fronts.
Yoga For Hikers
Barbara Karasiuk is living proof of what yoga can do for hikers. Last May, I lead a group of about 15 women on a 12k hike along a rocky trail. The farther we walked, the slower the group moved.
Among the women at the back of the pack was Barb. The uneven terrain challenged her balance. Barb’s hips ached and her lower back had all but seized. Barb never complained, but her pace slowed and her rest stops increased.
Six months later, Barb greeted me warmly before we set off up a steep kilometre-long hill on an 8k loop route. As we walked, Barb slipped in beside me and told me she and her husband had been hiking in Croatia. “If you have ever seen the coastline of Croatia, you will know that it is a very rocky terrain—not too much flat land to be found,” she explained.
At the top of the hill, it dawned on me that far from lagging at the back of the pack, Barb was leading the charge. “What’s happened to you?” I asked her. “How come you are walking so fast today?”
The secret to Barb’s transformation turned out be yoga, or, more specifically, yin yoga, which is a slow-paced form of the physical, mental and spiritual practices developed in India that is hugely popular in Canada and around much of the world.
“I absolutely love my yin yoga,” she said. “It would take a very serious illness, a hurricane-force wind, or some other such cause to keep me from attending Monday morning yin classes.”
Barb went on to explain that by taking two yoga classes a week with Jean Szmidt at Evergreen Yoga near Palgrave, Ontario, she increased her flexibility and alleviated the problems she was having with her hips and lower back. The proof was clearly in the pudding: Barb had had a great time hiking in Croatia and on this particular day, she practically sprinted the entire hike.
Personally, I’ve been taking power yoga classes from Caron Shepley for about 15 years. Like Barb, I’d rather brave a hurricane than miss the power yoga class that Caron offers at her new Personal Best studio in Mono Mills.
Those who do yoga know that it simultaneously improves strength and flexibility. What is less well known is that it can also build up cardio fitness especially if you do sun salutations: a flowing series of yoga poses that will raise your heart rate. I highly recommend hikers at least give yoga a try.
Tips about Yoga for Hikers
- Don’t be deterred if the first yoga class you attend doesn’t appeal to you. There are many different types of yoga ranging from Barb’s yin yoga to my power yoga.
- Just as there are different types of yoga, instructors differ too. So you need to find someone who appeals to you. It may take some sleuthing, but there’s a good change you’ll find a class that you’d brave a hurricane to attend.
- If you have specific problems such as a bad knee or a wonky shoulder, tell the instructor. A good instructor gives alternative directions on how to do a certain pose if you have an injury.
Pre-Season Yoga for Hikers (and throughout the year)
Jean Szmidt, the owner of Evergreen Yoga near Palgrave, says that yoga is great for improving strength and flexibility, which means it will help you be a happier hiker. Not only will you be able to negotiate the trails more confidently, but you won’t have to worry about keeping up. You will become Barb-in-the-fall rather than Barb-in-the-spring. So using yoga in advance of and throughout the hiking season is a great idea.
Post Hike Yoga Stretches
Jean explains that stretching after a hike is really important. She suggests four stretches after your walk is done:
Downward Dog – If you can, do a downward dog, it will stretch the back of your legs, arms, calves, hamstrings and more. If you cannot do a downward dog then fold forward from the waist to stretch your legs.
Reclined Twist – A reclined twist stretches the lower back, IT band and the front of the opposite shoulder.