If you’ve got a fitness tracker, or are just using a pedometer on your smart phone, you’re part of a growing trend of people who want to get more exercise into their lives but perhaps don’t have the time to devote to a daily gym routine. At the very least, most of us have heard how we should target 10,000 steps a day as a good indicator that we’re moving enough to stay active.
What isn’t commonly understood is that walking alone, while great for strengthening some parts of the body, can cause other parts to literally lock up or get tight. Any kind of unbalanced workout is going to do the same thing. You’ve seen guys at the gym whose shoulders seem to curve straight down from their necks, highlighting huge pecs. This is one example of an imbalanced workout. While focusing on the pecs, the trapezius muscles become pulled forward, creating that sloped effect. To balance that upper body workout, attention needs to be paid to all the muscles and joints associated with the desired effect. Anything less, and you have tightness, tension, and pain.
Yoga offers relief for those of us walking for the majority of our exercise. We find achey lower backs, tight hips, and if we’re students carrying heavy backpacks over one or both shoulders, walking places stress on parts of our bodies we never would have anticipated. Here are a few favorite poses for loosening up after a good walk.
Perhaps the most enjoyable pose in all of yoga is Happy Baby. Not too many of us will feel comfortable doing this particular pose in the park or on the track after a few miles of walking, but it’s incredibly beneficial and easily done at home on a good yoga mat. The variation may change as you find comfort, but for starters, lie on your back and bring your knees in toward your abdomen. Reach around the outsides of your feet with your hands and hold them gently but firmly. Pull them towards your upper body so that your ankles are above your knees. Spread your knees slightly to open the hip joints. If you’re comfortable, roll slightly from side to side to release the back and hips. If it feels better just to hold the pose, by all means, do it.
The Forward Fold is commonly a transitional pose in yoga, but done on its own can bring a good stretch to the entire back, as well as the hamstrings. It’s not a boot-camp style stretch where you push past your comfortable limits. It’s a relaxing and releasing pose to lengthen the spine and relieve tension in the back muscles. You may not feel like walking does much to your back, but it does simply by association. Your feet transfer impact to your knees, hips, and spine, so all of these areas need post-walking attention. Reach up overhead, then slowly bend at the hips until your back is a nice table top. Dangle your arms, grasp your ankles, or touch the floor for maximum stretch. But stay comfortable.
When you’ve really done all the walking and stretching you can stand, Corpse Pose is a welcome relief. Grab your mat, lie down, and just breathe. Take plenty of time to allow your body to melt back into loose and alive. Amazing that a Corpse Pose could actually give you more energy and life, no?
Walking is great exercise, but make sure you take care of the rest of your body for a balanced, healthy, and active lifestyle.