Written By: Lena Schmidt/www.yoginilena.com
Practicing yoga outside is one of the most magical things I enjoy doing. When I get on my mat or put my feet on the grass, the sand, the dirt, or on a rock out in nature, I breathe in fresh air and remember that I’m part of this universe, this earth, this world. One of the coolest things about yoga is that you don’t need anything to do it (just your bad-ass self) and you can do it anywhere (try it, you’ll see)! There are tons and tons of benefits to practicing yoga (energy and vitality, strength building, body awareness, relaxation, improved sleep, anxiety relief) and there are added benefits to practicing outside:
- Connect with the earth. Whether you’re practicing out on the back deck, on the sandy beach, on the grass at the park, or up in the mountains, getting outside helps get you out of your head, into your body, and remember what a vast universe we’re all a part of. Sometimes only two or three deep breaths outside can change your whole mood, perspective, or (dare I say it?) life.
- Balance the root chakra. Located at the base of the spine and radiating down to the legs and feet, the muladhara chakra, or the energy center at our base or roots, is associated with the earth element. Putting your feet on the earth, surrounding yourself with nature, and building strength in your legs are some ways to balance the root chakra. When the root chakra is balanced we feel steady, safe, secure, and at home wherever we may be.
- Present moment awareness. It’s difficult to obsess over that work drama or that nasty bill when you’re gazing out at a mountain lake and balancing on one foot.
- Helps acclimate to elevation. Ever experience a dull to severe headache when you’re up in the mountains? Or feel kinda nauseas when you hike up to higher ground? That’s your body feeling the effects of high altitude. Though everyone experiences altitude differently, doing five to ten sun salutations as soon as I arrive at camp has made my mountain time much more enjoyable. It’s all about deeeeeeeep breaths to get that oxygen pushed into the brain.
Here are some learned-from-experience, tried-and-true tips for practicing outside:
1. Tell someone where you’re headed. Alone time is to be treasured. But there are certain risks that come with playing yoga in the wilderness. It’s important that you give someone a heads up that you’ll be “over there” or “in that direction” doing some yoga for fifteen minutes to an hour. Whether you’re an experienced yogi, a peak-baggin’ fool, or just enjoying the fresh air, accidents happen. Tell someone where you’ll be. Or maybe…bring a friend and do some poses together!
2. Find a cool view. A tree will do. A grand vista in the distance. An interesting rock face. A view of the lake. A great view can inspire you and help keep you focused. Let your yoga spot become a sacred space for you. Drink it all in. You may never come back to that same spot again! I can still recall vividly the last four places I practiced outside. Just the thought of them, that view, that fresh air, that headspace, brings me back and I feel more relaxed. If possible, I highly recommend avoiding staring at a parking lot. Or garbage cans. Nothing will draw you out of present moment mindfulness like someone’s blaring car music or the stench of last night’s dinner in the trash.
3. Find a flat spot. Whether you’re using a yoga mat or not, a flat-ish spot is key. Sometimes flat terrain isn’t a possibility and that’s cool too. Though down-dog on a downward slant isn’t too fun. And an I’ll-just-go-for-it-cuz-YOLO handstand on a tiny sharp rock is a recipe for disaster.
4. If you climb up…make sure you’ll be able to climb down.
5. Notice your surroundings. Yoga is a practice of presence. You may not be the only one with the brilliant idea to try tree pose at the top of that rock…a friendly neighborhood rattler might have made their home up there! Or a mountain lion might have eaten dinner up there last night. If you’re practicing in a populated area, go ahead and do your thing, the dedicated yogi is aware of others but not distracted by their presence. And there’s a great possibility that you’ll inspire someone else to take a breath, to slow down, and to remember their own wholeness.
6. Take off your shoes. Well, wear your shoes to walk wherever you’re gonna practice. And once you’ve scoped it out, take them off so you can feel the cool stone or the soft sand between your toes. Ahhhhh.
7. Ditch your phone. Unless it’s a safety concern, leave the bugger behind. Let yourself really hone in on your breath and what’s going on in your body. Take a mental snapshot of your view. If you truly want to share your inspiring experience with the Insta world, return after your practice to capture the scene.
8. Flow. Start with a deep breath. Then another. And then do sun salutations. At least five of them. Sun salutes are a great way to warm the body, coordinate breath with movement, and see your surroundings from all sides (open your eyes in downdog! what do you see that you didn’t notice before?). Generally I like to flow from sun salutes into some standing poses like Warrior I and II, Triangle, Balancing Half-Moon, and Tree Pose, then move on to seated poses like Pigeon and Wide-Legged Forward Fold, and then enjoy a Reclined Spinal Twist. Practice honoring your body and intuition and enjoying the process…anything goes!
9. Sit. Take some time post-practice to be. Just be. Meditate. If you’re like me, you’ll have brought your journal and pen and a good book. Reflect on what came up during practice.
10. Practice gratitude. Thank the trees, the flowers, the rocks, the earth, the sky, the sun, the wind, your body, and your breath.
Next time you’re out in the garden or on a hike or at the beach try some outdoor yoga. And tell us about it! We’d love to hear about your outdoor yoga adventures in the comments below. Namaste ☺
Yogini. Hiker. Happiness-seeker. Dog-mama. Feminist. Yummy-food-eater. Whether it’s exploring the local trails, playing pretzel on the yoga mat, or diving into a book on inner peace, Lena loves an adventure. You can find her teaching yoga in San Diego, leading retreats near and far, and empowering others to be the change they wish to see in the world.
Lena’s upcoming retreats: