I recently moved from a small mountain town where walks in the forest, while wonderful and beautiful, also consisted of carrying bear spray and making sure my small child stayed close in case a cougar was prowling around ready to pounce on small prey. Needless to say the forest walks had an edge of tension to them. But alas, I moved back to a city with a lush and large rivervalley where I can frolic deep into the forest with nary a concern about being eaten by a bear.
Throughout my forest frolicking, I have been adding some fun movements to make it a whole body movement extravaganza! Instead of being tense and looking over my shoulder for wildlife, I can now walk amongst the trees, relax my shoulders, use roots and logs to stretch and balance and simply enjoy endless wandering while my dog and kid run wild and free.
Hopefully we all know how great walking is for us right? And walking off the beaten track is even better, for both body and spirit. Not only is walking such an easy and simple way to stay active, so is keeping your muscles supple and healthy. In fact, did you know, tight muscles affect your cardiovascular health? A really effective recipe for good cardio is stretching your muscles all over your body and going for long walks. Supple muscles and walking = happy cardiovascular system!
Here are a whole bunch of creative ways to get the most out of your forest walk (or any walk). Strengthening, stretching and balance utilizing the beautiful forest around you!
There are alway fallen logs and large tree roots in the woods. Instead of going over them, how about using them to make your calves happy!
Shoulder Stretch & Strength
Using a smaller tree trunk, place your hand at any height and allow your body to extend away from the tree. This will both stretch and strengthen from your shoulders down to your hand. Change the height of your hand placement and distance of the feet from the tree to change up the load to the muscles. Experiment on different size and textured tree trunks for a whole other level of strength work.
Staying on the same tree, now stand beside it, extend your arm and hold onto the tree with your hand. Keep your body an arm's distance from the tree then start to turn away from the tree to start to stretch into your shoulder. Repeat on the other side.
Who doesn't have tight hamstrings? This is a great stretch not only for the backs of the legs but will feel good in the shoulders and chest as well.
Find a tree, wrap both hands around the trunk. Walk back until your arms straighten a bit. Widen the legs apart and bend forward from the pelvis until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Try to keep your pelvis untucked and over your heels. Using the tree as leverage, you can pull your body back away from the tree to wake up your torso.
Place one foot onto a tree. Try to keep your whole foot on the tree and both legs fully extended. Make sure your standing leg is directly under your pelvis as best you can. If you need to, lean a little bit forward toward the tree, from your pelvis to increase the stretch. Repeat on other leg.
Inner peace can come through working on outer balance. One of my favourite balances is Warrior 3. Using the tree can really help to stabilize while you can work on what the legs and hips are doing.
Place your hands on a tree, walk yourself back. Bend forward and start to lift on leg off the ground. Make sure your pelvis is balanced over your standing leg's heel to kick on your posterior leg muscles. Once you have your leg as high as what works for your body, level the pelvis. Work towards both sides of the front of pelvis level to the ground. Reach out through your back heel. Breathe and repeat on the other leg.
If you are looking for something a little more playful during your forest wanderings, try going upside down. Find a tree with a wide truck. With your back to the tree, walk forward a few steps. Bend and place your hands on the ground in a shortened downward dog. Make sure your hands are directly under your shoulders and start to walk your feet up the tree until your legs and feet are at hip height. Stay there and pull your ribcage in to stabilize the core.
Once you feel comfortable there, try bringing one leg up to the sky while pressing the other foot firmly into the tree trunk. Switch sides and have fun!