Outdoor Yoga and Meditation
Though fall is approaching, we know that the warm weather isn’t over for us here in Texas until around the end of October. You can almost always count on Halloween to be the official marker of I-could-use-a-sweater-weather. This is good news for those looking to get a few extra days in at Barton Springs, but for the ones who look forward to bundling up (and not sweating bullets while walking from the house to the car), fall doesn’t seem to come quickly enough. Whatever the temperature and your preference of season may be, cultivating a relationship with the outdoors is a pastime everybody can benefit from. Many communities enjoy nature and community through the enjoyment of outdoor yoga and meditation. Austin Yogis take advantage of our shorter fall season with outdoor yoga sessions in the park or meditation gatherings outside on the lawn of My Vinyasa Practice for Yoga Teacher Trainings. If you are fortunate enough to live in a place with quick access to nature paths, running water, or natural views, maybe spending time outside is already a part of your daily routine. However, if you’re city-living and the closest nature to you is the plant you’ve kept alive in your windowsill, it may feel like a chore to seek nature spots to settle into during the middle of the day. Whatever the case may be, there are sure to be opportunities to connect with nature, so long as you prioritize it.
Outdoor yoga is a popular offering you can find in most cities. Many times, outdoor yoga is offered for free in city parks. In Austin, there is even a group of yogis who hike together to a destination where they unroll their mats and move and breathe through a led asana practice together. If you are looking to connect to events such as these, you can use apps like MeetUp or Eventbrite to search for what is available in your community. At My Vinyasa Practice, we offer outdoor yoga classes weekly. These classes are community classes that are free to the public! Sometimes we even have the construction people working on the new building nearby show up in their blue jeans to get a brief movement in. We love moving together under the large oak trees and the open sky. All are welcome! If you are not in our city, but you would like to practice with us, you can use our new Web App to tune in to one of our many livestream classes, and practice wherever you have access to the internet!
Outdoor Yoga Benefits
Outdoor yoga benefits the body and mind in ways that in-studio classes may not. By simply adding the element of sun to your practice, you inhibit your body to produce Vitamin D, which supports your blood cells, bones, and immune system. There have also been studies done that prove walking barefoot on grass can improve your eyesight, blood pressure, and nervous system, while also reducing hormonal imbalances, chronic pain, inflammation, and insomnia. By walking barefoot, you activate reflexology as each shoeless footstep creates more pressure than it would if you were walking with your shoes. Along with activating reflexology in the feet, “when we walk barefoot our skin comes in contact with the earth directly and the negative ions present in the earth can help balance the positive ions in our body creating a balance that improves our health in many ways.” Other studies show that connecting to natural sounds also has its own benefits, such as reducing pain, lowering stress, enhancing mood and cultivating better cognitive performance. It would be ideal to find a quaint patch of grass, surrounded by nothing but sounds of running water and chirping birds where you can practice barefoot, with blades of grass softly grazing between your toes, but unfortunately, this scene is not readily available for all of us. If you are blessed by a scene such as the one described, be sure not to take it for granted. But if only one or two of these elements are available to you, know that practicing outdoor yoga benefits you even so! Combining the benefits of your movement practice with the benefits of being outdoors work in conjunction to help you achieve a better sense of balance and awareness of the world around you. The benefits of practicing in the sun are not limited to yoga practices that are led by other teachers. It is just as beneficial for you to sit out on your mat on your balcony and move through a few sun salutations. Remember, taking this practice outdoors can look several ways, and there is no way that is better or worse. Below are a few tips to help you cultivate a relationship with an outdoor yoga practice.
Tips for Setting Up Your Outdoor Space
Pick a clean space that has little to no distractions. If it is outside in your backyard, you may opt for a soft patch of grass, checking the area for any messes your dog may have left behind. If you are practicing on a balcony, you might take a moment to sweep away any debris and clean up any unnecessary clutter.
- Choose a time of day that works best in your climate and be consistent. This time of day may change depending on the season, but do your best to be as consistent as possible.
- Manage expectations. You do not have to set out to practice for one hour 5 days a week.
- Maybe you start off with 10 or 15 minutes once or twice a week, and build from there.
Outdoor yoga benefits reach beyond the physical body. Practicing outdoor yoga has significant benefits for the mind as well. By taking time to go outside, to step away from screens and emails, it is possible to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, even if only for a few moments. Disconnecting from the sense of urgency to be with the breath and acknowledge our body, the vessel that carries us through our days, is not merely a hobby, but a necessity.
As we remember that asana, the physical practice of yoga, is but one of the eight limbs of yoga, we might also remember that it is important to spend time with the other seven limbs of the practice as well:
- Yamas- restraints, moral disciplines, or moral vows
- Niyamas- positive duties or observances
- Pranayama- breathing techniques
- Pratyahara- sense withdrawal
- Dharana- focused concentration
- Dhyana- meditative absorption
- Samadhi- bliss or enlightenment
We can practice the seven limbs of yoga that are less familiar to Western practitioners from a meditative seat. Whether you are reading, journaling, practicing breathing techniques, or meditating, taking this practice outside can offer some of the same benefits you find in practicing asana outdoors. The good news is that because we can practice the other limbs from whatever comfortable posture you would like, the requirements for an outdoors meditation space are less strict than they are for an outdoor yoga practice. Below are a few tips for setting up an outdoor meditation space.
Creating A Space For Meditation
- Choose an outdoor meditation space that is comfortable and clear from unnecessary distractions.
- Have a meditation pillow, cushion, or blanket that you can sit on during your practice.
- Take a journal, a glass of water, and any other items it may tempt you to get up to retrieve during your practice.
- Put your phone and other electronic devices on do not disturb.
- Like setting up your outdoor yoga practice, be consistent, but manage your expectations. Though you may try to make it to your practice at the same time every day, know that it is okay for the time you spend practicing to fluctuate from day to day.
Cultivating a well-rounded yoga practice will look different from person to person, but choosing to show up consistently is the key. Outdoor yoga and meditation has several benefits, but sitting by the windowsill with your favorite plant every single day for five minutes to sit with your thoughts or find gentle movement will have more benefits than going to the park once a month for an hour of yoga and meditation. If you are working to strengthen your yoga practice, just remember that showing up is the hardest part, and it really doesn’t matter where you go to practice, as long as you practice.