Whether you walk to relax, energize, or burn calories, walking is an easy way to build your fitness levels and enjoy the great outdoors–not to mention relieve stress and recharge your energy supplies. But, be careful–you might be tightening your hips, hamstrings, and lower back. Yoga can help by stretching and conditioning the muscles that are essential to walking properly. Try these yoga positions to complement and enhance your walking workouts. You’ll find that over time these yoga positions will also help improve your overall sense of well-being.
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1. The Pose: Forward Bend
Good for: Hamstrings and lower back
How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart and take a deep breath. Then inhale and bring your arms overhead, lengthening your body. Exhale and slide your hands down the front of your legs. Place them either above or below your knees as you lift your sit bones. Bring your chest to your knees. “By dropping your chest through, you get a stretch at the origin of your hamstrings–your sit bones,” says Argie Tang, founder of Yoga for Athletes in Vail, Colorado. If you’re flexible you can slide your hands to your ankles, keeping your back flat and legs firm. If not, bend your knees and keep your back flat. Rounding your back cancels out the hamstring stretch. Keep your shoulders down, away from your ears. Hold there for 20 breaths.
Release your hands and cross your arms at the elbows or clasp elbows. Hang out there, with your neck loose, for as long as you are comfortable, working up to a minute. This gives you the benefit of an inversion with blood flowing to your head and glands. Come out by slowly bending your knees and rolling up, vertebra by vertebra.
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2. The pose: Crescent Lunge
Good for: Hip flexors
How to do it: Go into a lunge position, making sure your front knee is at a 90-degree angle, thighs parallel to one another. Your feet should be shoulder-distance apart. Press through the heel of your back leg. Raise your arms up above your head–but make sure you don’t raise the shoulders up too. Flatten out the front of the hips by tucking the tailbone in slightly until you feel the lower back lengthen and your abs draw in. This pelvic tilt allows a deeper stretch into the hip flexors (or psoas muscle), Tang says. Hold for 20 breaths.
3. The pose: Cat pose
Good for: Lower back
How to do it: Kneel on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips, shoulder-distance apart. Inhale and lift your tailbone to the ceiling, exhale rounding your tailbone back down and under. Imagine that you look like an angry cat. On the inhale look up and bring your chest up. On the exhale, look down toward your navel, drawing your spine and abs to the ceiling. Repeat five times. Cat pose loosens your back after the compression caused by walking.
4. The pose: Plank
Good for: Upper-body strength
How to do it: From a pushup position (as though you are about to go toward the floor), with your body in a straight line (think of an alligator), draw your abs in to support your lower back. Keep the shoulders in line with the hips and ankles. The hips can be slightly higher than the shoulders but not lower. The goal is to hold the pose for 60 seconds, so start at 20 and gradually build it up. If your lower back is straining, drop to your knees but keep the lift in the chest and under the arms. From there sit back and rest with your chest to the floor and hands relaxed in front of your body.
Poses for Treadmill Walkers
If your walking routine involves hoofing it on a treadmill, your lower body is getting a good workout, but some parts might need loosening up. “On a treadmill, your hips and hamstrings will get toned but tight,” says Robin Levine, owner of Intelligent Yoga in New York City. Adding these poses to your routine will stretch your body and add definition to your arms without further exhausting your legs.
1. The pose: Dead Bug
Good for: Hamstrings, hips, lower back
How to do it: Lying on your back, hug your knees to your chest. Then, reach up and grab the outside of your feet and open your legs so your knees are along your body, shins perpendicular to the floor. Dead Bug opens up your hamstrings and hips, and releases your lower back, says Kimberly Fowler, founder of the YAS Yoga and Spinning Studio in Venice, California. Hold for 10 breaths before bringing your knees back to your chest and gently rocking side to side.
2. The pose: Side Plank
Good for: Upper body, arms, wrists, balance
How to do it: Start on all fours–fingers spread wide, wrists under the shoulders, knees under the hips. Extend the left leg back and rotate the thigh upwards. This action results in your left hip stacking on top of your right hip. The kneecap and toes face left as you bring the entire bottom of the foot to touch the floor. Raise your left hand and extend it skyward so you have one long, straight line from middle finger to shoulders to right wrist. For an added challenge you will stack your ankles left on top of right requiring you to balance on the right arm, lift the hips and extend the legs. Use your abdomen to stabilize this balance. The only body parts touching the floor are your right palm and the inside edge of the right foot. Breathe and lengthen as much as you can in the torso and through the arms for that long, strong feeling. Hold for 3-5 full breaths. On your last exhale, return to your hands and knees and repeat to the left. Or if it’s natural for you, come right into Plank pose and do this on the other side.
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