Spending time in nature has a healing effect on both our physical and mental well-being. We explore how taking our yoga practice outdoors can improve our awareness of ourselves and the world around us.
It is no secret that spending time in nature is therapeutic. A walk through the park, a swim in the ocean, or a hike in the mountains allows us to remove the distractions of our busy lives and return to our primal roots in nature.
Nature provides an exact example of what we should aim for when we step onto our yoga mat – peace, quiet, and existing in harmony with the world.
Where nature creates connection to the outside world, yoga connects us to our internal nature – our body, breath and mind. This sense of interconnection in our yoga practice is the perfect accompaniment to spending time outside. By exploring our external surroundings, we can realise that what we see outside is a mirror to what is occurring inside.
This is why so many of the asanas reflect animals and nature. Nature is a great form of imagery in our practice, as it is simple and we can all relate to it. It unites a visual appreciation for the natural world with the awareness of the workings of our inner bodies.
There are many examples of nature that we use in our practice:
- Sun Salutations build a burning heat through our body through the repetition of poses.
- In our tree pose, we are rooting down into the earth with our feet with the steady stance of tree, and becoming aware of the connection our body is making with the Earth beneath us.
- In our Cobra, we raise our chest off of the earth towards the sky, giving us a new perspective, similar to how a cobra moves its belly off the ground to see clearly.
- Unfolding from Eagle pose, we spread our ‘wings’ with a sense of lightness and freedom.
- And in the Lotus Flower, an iconic symbol in the yoga world, our hips blossom open like a flower to let in light and energy.
While many of us practice yoga indoors at a studio, it can be beneficial to take our practice outside to remind us of this union with nature. A breeze can deepen our breathing, the warm sun can help deepen poses by making our muscles more flexible, and an insect can help us to focus on something small. It allows us to notice more, both in nature and within ourselves.
There are many physical benefits we can gain from spending this time outdoors. Muscle tension, pain, increased heart rate, and higher blood pressure - all symptoms of stress - fade or decrease with exposure to nature. This is because we are exposed to a class of naturally occurring, highly beneficial chemicals called phytoncides, which as well as reducing our blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol, also improves our immune function.
Starting or ending the day with yoga outdoors means an added vitamin D dose as well, which is a great mood booster and keeps our bones strong and muscles healthy. Transitioning to an outdoor practice can also reignite a sense of playfulness in our lives that is often forgotten in our adult lives. Being playful relieves stress, enhances creativity, forms new neural networks, nurtures connection, and cultivates empathy.
By leaving the confines of our four walls, all our senses wake up – scent, sight, and touch. Nature and yoga naturally weave together to transform our practice into a heightened experience.
Below are some ideas for connecting with nature through our practice:
Watch the sunrise
Being outside at this quiet and peaceful time of day gives us a sense of awakening and starting fresh. Align and stretch the body and mind to set up for a balanced day ahead with a clear mind and open-heart. An early morning yoga session will stimulate fresh oxygen to help wake up the brain, giving you a caffeine-free energy boost.
Tune out from technology and listen to your surroundings
By turning off our phones and laptops and being fully present in nature, we strip away all distractions and provide the opportunity to confront ourselves freely.
Instead of using a screen to watch your instructor, why not write down your flow so you can be fully present with your surroundings.
Rather than listening to music through speakers, enjoy the sounds of nature around you. Focus on the simple bird songs, the noise of the wind, and the rustling of the trees.
Use the beauty around you to inspire your practice
Moving our practice outdoors allows us to actually look at the elements of nature that inspire the asanas. For example, we can harness the steadiness of a tree while grounded in tree pose, or take flight into crow pose while watching the birds fly above.
Having your feet direct on the ground is a great way to remove all barriers and feel connected with the earth. Research has found that “grounding” yourself through a connection with the earth, sand, rocks or grass, can reduce the risk of heart problems, pain and stress.
Embrace your surroundings (even if you have to stay home)
More than ever, we all need time to connect with ourselves, move our bodies, and spend time outside when we can. Even if this means taking your practice to your balcony, back garden of your house, or in a sunlight strip on the floor, you will soak in the benefits.
Wear natural fabrics
For a more organic and comfortable experience in your practice, wear natural fabrics that are good for both you and the planet. Natural fabrics can continue to be replaced, raised or regrown. Pinky and Kamal’s entire range of yoga wear are planet friendly pieces you can wear for years to come.
The magic of yoga is that it can be done anywhere, at any time. Let’s get back to nature by moving our bodies and enjoying the outdoors when we can.
Words by Jess Bell