This time of year, I love taking my practice and my students out of the studio and into nature. Being outside can inspire your yoga practice in many ways. It gives us the opportunity to practice letting go of distracting thoughts and rest our attention more fully in the present moment. Connecting with our natural surroundings, we become more wakeful and alert and touch that open, spacious awareness that is our true nature.
Doing yoga and meditation in a studio is a somewhat controlled environment. Practicing outside can present itself with a few challenges. Here are five tips for a good practice.
1) Be Open To Distractions
I teach near a lake and summer can be a busy time. In a recent class, there were distractions of children’s voices, the bay of a ship horn, and even a guy who sat and watched while eating a bag of fast food. When we roll our mats outside, we need to practice being open to the myriad of distractions that arise. When a pleasant sound arises, it’s helpful to note the sounds as “pleasant” and then return our attention to this moment, this breath. When an unpleasant distraction arises, just note “unpleasant”, and letting it pass. This way, our outdoor yoga practice becomes a way to practice quieting, as Pantanjali in the Yoga Sutras describes, “the fluctuations of the mind.” Because, everything is in a state of continual change. Everything passes (even the fast food picnicker got up and left).
2) Keep Your Practice Simple
I enjoy doing the Surya Namaskar, the Sun Salutations outside. Breathing in, we reach our arms up overhead looking up to the expansive blue sky, exhaling we fold forward letting go a little more towards the earth. A few rounds of the sun salutations can warm up all the major muscle groups in the body and prepare the body for the standing postures. Practicing on an uneven terrain can be challenging. Before doing a standing pose, set up a good foundation and focus on keeping a strong lower body and a light upper body. Try poses like Trikonasana (triangle pose) or Parivritta Trikonasana (standing twist) that involve rooting the feet down and bringing the gaze towards the sky.
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3) Notice Sensations In The Body
When we practice outside, the sensations in our body can feel more alive. We feel the sensation of the warmth of the sun, the cool breeze on our skin, the feeling of the earth supporting us. Use these sensations as way to anchor yourself in the present moment. Observe the sensation; feel it fully and watch it change moment to moment.
4) Notice Sounds In Nature
In meditation, we often rest our attention on sound. As you practice, notice the aray of sounds in nature; the wind in the trees, the sound of water touching the shore, birds singing. Notice in great detail how sound is also constantly changing, evolving. Observe how sound contains not only the most obvious part of sound, but also space or stillness.
5) Finish With A Few Minutes Of Mindfulness Meditation
I always like to finish my classes with at least a few minutes in mindfulness meditation. We practice cultivating an open, spacious awareness which includes visual perception (if you choose to keep your eyes open), the sensations in the body, as well as the symphony of sounds in nature. It is natural for the mind to wander to thought, and when this happens, gently bring your attention back to a simple, all encompassing awareness of your surroundings.
When we take our yoga and meditation practice outside, we become more aware of the boundlessness of nature and our connection with this limitlessness. The mind naturally becomes more still and we breathe in a little more fully. We notice the ever evolving wilderness of change in all living things and we connect with it more deeply.