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Expedition Yoga with Olivia Hsu-Richards

Posted on: July 3rd, 2012 by Abbey Smith

Author Olivia Hsu-Richards—AAC Member and Yoga Journal cover-girl—lives, climbs and teaches yoga in Boulder, CO.

The wind picks up making it even harder to breathe as I come over the last pass. I can see the tent village, which will act as my home for a week. I have arrived at Everest base camp. I never imagined being here. I’ve always had a love for the mountains, but my affair was more in the realm of vertical rock faces in Yosemite or the sunny crags of Spain. However, last year I married into a life of expedition climbing and I keep finding myself in the Himalayas. As a yoga teacher and practitioner, yoga is my rock. It never falters, it never wanes; it is like brushing my teeth. Just because I’m not at home doesn’t mean I don’t practice.

A friend once lamented to me about not being able to practice yoga on expeditions. It certainly is more challenging due to uneven ground and being exposed to the elements. However, yoga is perfect for the days on end spent at base camp. Yes the ground is bumpy and the air is thin and cold, but yoga can help make the acclimatization process more palatable. It will improve your circulation, get your blood flowing and allow you to find fuller deeper breathing.

Postures for Outside

Olivia in Warrior 1. Photo by Cory Richards

Olivia in Warrior 1. Photo by Cory Richards

 Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)

Application: Improve balance; strengthen and stretch quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors

1. Start standing at the front of your mat with big toes touching. 2. Step your right leg back and bend your left knee, bringing it directly over your heel at a 90-degree angle. 3. Drop your heel so that your heels are aligned. 4. Draw your left, outer hip back, and right hip forward to align your hips square to the front of the mat. 5. Lift your arms over head and keep your spine long. You can either keep arms shoulder-width apart or bring palms together. 6. Draw the front ribs in to avoid collapsing in the lower back. 7. Look forward with your head in a neutral position or, if comfortable, gaze at thumbs. 8. Imagine an upward growth or lengthening sensation from the sacrum up the spine and flowing out through the fingertips. Remember, the back leg should always be fully active with the outer edge of the foot pressing into ground or if you are on the ball of your foot reach back with your heel. 9. Hold for five breaths, then switch sides.

Olivia in Downward Dog. Photo by Cory Richards

Olivia in Downward Dog. Photo by Cory Richards

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)

Areas: Upper back, hip flexors, hamstrings, and obliques

1. Start on your hands and knees, with knees directly under hips and arms slightly in front of shoulders. Spread fingers out with index fingers parallel. 3. Exhale as you lift the knees away from the floor by pushing the hips up and back. First, keep the knees bent and heels lifted away from the floor. Slowly straighten your legs and keep feet hip-width apart. 4. Reach your heels down. It’s OK if your heels don’t touch the floor and your legs remain bent. 5. Take shoulders away from the ears so there is a sense of broadening in the collarbones. Imagine pressing your shoulder blades against your back. 7. Lengthen the spine from your sacrum through the top of your head. Engage in your core. Keep gaze toward navel. 8. Hold for five breaths. 


Postures You Can Do in the Tent

Olivia in Cobra Pose. Photo by Cory Richards.

Olivia in Cobra Pose. Photo by Cory Richards.

Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

Applications: Energizes the spine and returns the sacrum to its natural neutral position

1. Lie on your belly; forehead rested on the floor. Stretch your legs back with the tops of your feet on the floor. Place your hands directly under your shoulders, elbows tucked by the side. 2. Press tops of feet and thighs firmly into the ground with pubic bone grounded. 3. Inhale and engage in your abdominal while straightening the arms to lift head and chest off the ground. Going as high as possible, only keeping the connection to the ground in the legs and pubic bone. 4. Draw the shoulder blades down and against the back with the side ribs forward. Lift into the sternum to keep the heart open and wide. Lengthen the spine. 5. Hold for five breaths, then exhale and release by lowering head and chest.

This is a passive back bend. Remember to engage in your abdominal to protect your lower back while you find more opening in your upper chest.

Olivia in Half Lord of the Fishes Pose. Photo by Cory Richards

Olivia in Half Lord of the Fishes Pose. Photo by Cory Richards

Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)

Application: Alleviate back fatigue and energize spine

1. Sit with your legs extended in front of you. Bend your knees with both feet flat on the floor. 2. Bring your left foot underneath the right leg: Thread it through and place your left foot on the outside of your right buttocks next to your hip. 3. Bring your right foot to the outside of your left thigh. The right knee stays upright. 4. Inhale deeply; lengthen the spine and on the exhale reach your left arm up and twist toward the right thigh, placing your left triceps against your right thigh near the knee. Place your right hand behind your right buttocks to help keep your spine upright. 5. Pull your front torso and inner right thigh toward one another keeping the right foot active pressing in to the mat and lengthening in the torso. 6. You can continue the twist through the head by looking over the right shoulder or keep the head looking over the left shoulder toward the right foot. 7. Hold for five breaths. With each breath, try to lift a little more through the sternum twisting a little more with each inhale. 8. On the exhale, release from the twist and switch sides. 

Words by Olivia Hsu-Richards     •     Photos by Cory Richards

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