Yoga for post trekking
The other day when on holiday in Northern Spain I climbed the iconic mountain looking over Bilbao, Pagassari. Now being in pretty good shape; due to being a yoga instructor with an addiction to outdoor adventure sports, I shot up and down the mountain with relative ease in what amounted to a very enjoyable 4 hour trek. The problems started the next day when I woke up with extremely stiff calves and what felt like the onset of shin splints that left me walking like a robot for the whole day.
Kicking myself for swerving my post trek stretch out in place of biscuit eating on the sofa, really I should know better in my line of work!, I proceeded to spend the next couple of days working on some long hold yoga poses known as Yin yoga to release all of the stiffness in my legs.
Yin yoga is particularly beneficial for Athletes as the long hold time of the poses that target mainly the lower body, work into the web of connective tissue throughout your body known as fascia. This can help to: hydrate the joints, reduce inflammation and relieve chains of muscle tension by allowing your myofascial network to remain flexible, preventing unnatural movement patterns to form that can result with tight or damaged myofascia. Essentially 20-30 minutes practicing the below yoga poses would have saved me days worth of stiffness, and let’s face it, quite silly walking style!
Try and hold each pose for a minimum of 3 minutes for as deep a release as possible with exception maybe of the ankle and toe stretch, which can be very intense for some people. Using a timer helps you to focus on your breath and not on clock watching. Working with fascia over major muscles takes time, so surrender to the poses and enjoy the wind down after all the hard work of your day’s trekking. Closing your eyes and revisiting some of the beautiful scenery that you’ve seen that day may help you to find more stillness in the long hold times.
Great for stretching out the hamstrings, releasing the whole back body and rejuvenating the spinal nerves. The light compression on your abdominal and internal organs in this pose is wonderfully therapeutic and the inversion slows your heart rate down bringing you into your parasympathetic nervous system, known as your rest and digest system.
Hinge forward at the hips with softly bent knees, allowing your mid back to round and the crown of your head to fall towards the ground only when you feel like you can’t extend forward any more through the spine. Once there grab opposite elbows and make sure that your weight is centralised between your heels and toes. Use your breath to release further into the forward fold and slightly contract your thighs to try and find more length in your hamstrings.
Fantastic for opening up your toes and feet after being crammed into those walking boots, this pose will also strengthen your ankles. You may need to bring you hands to blocks either side of you and elevate your knees off the ground if you feel it too much in your knees. Or you can place a blanket under your knees and sit up on your knees if it’s getting too intense on your toe joints.
Squatting down on your tip toes with your heels off the ground and feet together, bring your knees to the ground and your hands to your thighs. You can also add in an upper body element into this pose with the inclusion of Eagle arms to stretch out across the shoulder blades after lugging a backpack about all day.
This pose not only opens up and stretches out the ankles and shins, but is also a counter pose for the Toe squat before.
Start by sitting back on your heals and then lean back onto your hands placed just behind you. If you can then elevate the knees off the ground feeling a deep stretch along the front of your foot and shin. Your hands can be either side of you on the floor or blocks or placed on your thighs.
Myofascial release with a tennis ball:
Moving to the base of your foot now you can release your plantar fascia simply by rolling a tennis ball about the sole of your foot for a few minutes. From a Yin yoga perspective you’ll also be stimulating all of the meridian lines that start and finish in the foot, giving yourself a dose of revitalising reflexology.
This pose relieves tired legs and helps to stretch out tight quads and hip flexors. Some people may find this too intense on their knees due to tightness in the above muscles, in which case half saddle is a more accessible option whereby you keep one leg extended and the other knee bent. You may also just want to lean back on your hands broadening across your chest as opposed to releasing down towards the floor.
Sit back on your heels, but this time with your feet either side of your hips. Roll out your calf flesh to the side and sit on a block if your knees are already feeling it in this pose. Bringing your hands behind you fingers pointing towards your body, lower first of all down onto your elbows and then if you can release all the way down onto either some stacked cushions or all the way onto the floor, making sure that your knees don’t leave the floor. Come up as you came in and then stretch your legs out in front of you after, maybe even coming into a light forward fold as a counterpose.
Legs up a wall:
One of the best ways to treat shin splints if you’re unfortunate enough to have got them and to ease tired legs, is by inverting them. This restorative yoga pose inverts the blood flow in your body bringing an increased flow to all of your main internal organs. It also takes with it along the way lymph and other fluids which can lead to swollen ankles and knees, depositing it in the lower belly and in turn rejuvenating the legs.
Start with one hip stuck to the wall and then swing your legs up the wall coming to lie on your back. If you can raise your buttocks up a bit with a couple of cushions making your heart the lowest part of your body and giving it a much earned rest after all the day’s exertion by boosting your circulation. Your palms can be either side of you facing up or you can place your hands on your abdomen and connect with the gentle flow of your breath.