You don’t need a mat, a whole hour, or even perfect weather to take your practice into the great outdoors. Read Lucy’s tips on how to get started.
Once the weather warms up, there are few things I love doing more than practising yoga outside, under a shady tree in the park, beside a cool lake, even in the garden at home. For me it’s the ultimate self care ritual, ticking so many wellness boxes at once, from connecting with nature to getting a workout that as soon as the weather warms up I shift my practice outside as often as possible. Practising so close to nature is how yoga was traditionally designed, so it’s not surprising that it feels so amazing. From the sound of bird song to the scent of flowers, the wisdom of the trees to the whispers of the breeze, I believe nature can calm and inspire like nothing else - add the benefits of yoga to the power of nature and you have a truly therapeutic experience. Practising outside is also completely free and offers a totally different experience to studio yoga. Like running, it offers a very accessible workout that even the busiest of us can make time for, even half an hour on a lunch break can actually make a difference to our mental and physical wellbeing.
When I first started practising in the park, I felt self-conscious cast adrift from the comfort and confines of four studio walls. However, I can assure you as someone who used to hide in the most secluded corner of the park but now plops down my mat wherever the fancy takes me, that this phase passes, as does the beautiful summer weather, so there is no time to waste.
Don’t worry too much about creating the perfect sequence, simply combining a few of your favourite poses with a little meditation and breath work out in the fresh air is an incredible tonic itself. It connects us to our roots, it replenishes depleted energy levels and encourages wakeful relaxation. When you practice outside, all of your senses wake up—scent, sight, and touch, in particular, you activate parts of the brain that make you more present and focused in the moment. So what are you waiting for, grab a mat, a scarf for Savasana and embrace the great outdoors.
If you need a little guidance, here are some tips you might find helpful.
Perfect postures for outdoor practice
Any asanas you feel confident with are perfect to take outside but I think there is no better sequence than Surya Namaskar. Practising sun salutations outside early in the morning feeling the sun’s rays on your face and warming your muscles is a wonderful experience. Allow your breath to guide you and connect to the power and energy of the sun as you flow through each part of the sequence and make your sun salutations an offering. Trees come in very handy for inversion practice and points of focus and I would also add, for anyone short on time, that you don’t have to practice for an hour or so to feel the effects of outdoor yoga, even 20 minutes is great.
Should you use a mat or not?
For me it all depends on the surface. On firm ground, decking, anywhere a bit stoney or uneven I use a travel mat but on soft grass or sand I’ll go bare feet which feels just lovely. In fact, you’ll never feel more grounded than when you have your bare feet on the earth. Not only will you feel a much deeper connection to the earth, and therefore, stability in your practice, you'll also reap the benefits of earthing. Earthing, is believed to help relieve muscle tension, increase energy levels, lower stress levels and increase adrenal health. Imagine roots travelling down from the soles of your feet deep into the earth grounding you as you exhale, and then drawing the nourishment of the earth back up through the roots into your body with each inhale.
Expand your focus
We spend so much of our time looking intently at a computer or phone screen without regular breaks that it’s good for us, and our eyes, to expand our gaze and look out at the bigger picture. Science is now proving that fully taking in our surroundings and having a wider panorama helps us move more easily into an alpha state, that is a state of relaxation and creativity. While drishti (focused yogic gaze) is an important part of yoga, we can be a little less strict with our focus when we practice outdoors, so take your awareness to the beautiful surroundings and enjoy the increased relaxed state that expanding your horizons brings.
Let Mother Nature work her magic
Nature can be a great healer and a wonderful inspiration at times when we feel lost, down or simply out of sorts. As you take your practice outside into places of natural beauty and deep earthly wisdom, be still, quiet and patient and allow nature to talk to you. Allow yourself to open up to hearing her deep, nurturing, ancient wisdom and you may find the answers or strength you are seeking. Practice in nature will help you to really come back to yourself.