17 Mar Yoga + Nature: How to Create a Sacred Space Outside
By: Dr. Arielle Schwartz
When you feel overextended or have lost a sense of yourself, where do you turn? Most often, I turn to my yoga mat and the predictability of a practice breathing in rhythm and flow. But, as the days get warmer with the approach of spring, it can be hard to resist going outdoors. Too often, it can feel like a conflict between a yoga practice or getting outside to hike the trails. Consider, taking yoga into nature—it can amplify your practice and offer the best of both worlds.
Often, when we step onto the mat the first intention is one of present-centered awareness. Likewise, often the first step in bringing yoga outdoors is to cultivate a mindset of presence. It is all too easy to reflect upon the do-do list, or the busy lives that we lead. However, nature invites us to be-here-now as we notice the details of the world around us. Approach yoga outdoors like a walking mediation; an invitation to awaken all of your senses. Maybe you begin to notice the breeze on your skin, some deer grazing, the buds of flowers on the trees, or the filtered quality of light as it passes through branches.
The Japanese offer us the practice of Shinrin-yoku, translated as forest bathing. They believe that time in nature improves our physical, emotional, and social well-being. Likewise, in the Native American tradition, we are well-advised to “walk in beauty” which involves aligning ourselves with nature so that we may stand in right-relationship with the world around us. The next time you step onto the trail, take a moment to set an intention just as you might do during your yoga practice on the mat. Perhaps, this intention is one of loving kindness, or self-compassion, or gratitude for this world we share.
The practice of yoga asana already invites us to awaken our relationship to the natural world with postures such as mountain, tree, or eagle. When you take yoga outdoors, yoga in nature asks you to get creative by exploring how to align yourself on uneven terrain. It can also be quite a joy to play with the shapes that you observe. Perhaps you make up your own postures to match your environment by playfully exploring how your body wants to mirror a waterfall, a crooked tree, or the curve in a canyon wall.
Stepping into the nature provides ample metaphors for the terrain of our inner wilderness. Recently, I walked upon a trail that passed through an old forest fire burn area. The blackened trunks of the trees stood bare while a fresh carpet of green beamed beneath; a stark reminder of the cycles of death and rebirth. Looking upon the scene I was reminded of the ways in which we all must allow parts of us to die and that as we release that which no longer serves us, we too can rise out of the ashes reborn again.
Are you inspired to take your yoga practice onto the trail? If so, I invite you to bring this inquiry along with you. Take the time to become present by awakening your senses. Set an intention for your time outdoors. Pause along the way to explore familiar postures such as mountain or warrior poses on unfamiliar terrain. As you continue on your way, allow yourself to observe the shapes of the natural world and playfully mirror these with your body, intuitively creating your own postures. Savor the sensory details of the light, the sounds, the smells. Notice the way the clouds move in the wind, or pause with a moment of gratitude for your strong legs that carry your body through the world. Yoga in nature has the potential to bring us home to the very heart and meaning of yoga; union and connection to your divine nature as it exists within and all around you. As you complete your outdoor yoga practice, take a moment to breathe into this connection and with a moment of reverence, offer your heart and mind to the teacher that exists in all things.