Why yoga and the outdoors are a magical combination
Getting out in nature is one of the most powerful ways to ground and reconnect to yourself. I love nothing more than laying on the ground and soaking up the earth energy from beneath me, walking on the beach and simply marvelling at the exquisite beauty of flowers.
Through the practice of yoga I have become so highly attuned to the deepest needs of my body, that I actually crave the outdoors, this is where I find my refuge when life is getting on top of me. The sheer beauty and power of nature makes me stop and tune in to what is around me far more than when I’m in the city. My yoga practice helps me turn inwards and marvel at that same vast beauty within.
The meaning of yoga is to ‘yoke’ to unify and I find when I combine yoga outdoors and in nature, something magical happens in this union. Firstly, I have to give up my need for order and control - the ground is uneven, dirt gets all over my mat (if I even have one), I have to ‘feel’ my way more, the sound of the ocean or the breeze helps me connect even more intimately to my own breath, bird song or the distant sound of children playing brings a smile to my face. It helps me get out of my head and into my heart.
For some people, connecting with the natural world is, well, second nature. For others, it can take some cultivation, patience, and gratitude. The benefits, however, are worth the effort. If the demands of daily living restrict your access to this ever-present source of renewal, you don’t have to travel far or sacrifice much time to allow nature to bring a little more light into your day. Here are some suggestions:
The first thing is not to wait for time to appear, but to prioritise the need to connect with nature and carve out regular time to walk barefoot in the park or beach, spend time laying on the ground looking up at the clouds (like you did as a kid), check out some local bush walks, exercise outside rather than in the gym or, like me, take your yoga practice outdoors.
You are not separate from nature - you are part of it. What you give to the earth it will give back to you in support and grounding. Simply sitting in nature helps us connect to our own essential nature, away from stress, worry and anxiety.
Try standing, shoes off outdoors, with your feet hip distance apart. Close your eyes and feel your feet firmly planted on the earth, take a small soft bend in the knees, press down through the feet into the earth then slowly straighten the legs by drawing the front thighs up. Lengthen through the spine, then extend up to the base of the skull. Stay for 10 smooth, slow breaths.
Leave your phone behind:
Give yourself time to unplug and really switch off. The technology tools we use can overwhelm us and they’ve created a real nature deficit in many people. This can lead to feelings of separation, loneliness and depression.
There is so much natural beauty around us, and we just need to slow down enough so that we can really ‘see’ rather than just look. Notice the spirals that are extensively found in nature. The spiral has universal appeal and a mysterious resonance with the human spirit, it is complex yet simple, intriguing and beautiful. The spiral pattern is found in plants, animals, humans, the earth and galaxies around us.
How do you feel after a day at the beach, or a bush walk? Do you feel more calm, chilled and grounded? This is the inherent wisdom of your body trying to tell you this is good for you! Its intelligence always knows what serves your being best, and those impulses you get—to go hiking, surfing, gardening, or bird watching—are manifestations of that inherent wisdom.
Sitting in the stillness of nature often offers us a more accessible gateway into mediation. These experiences wake something inside us, and help to set our lives into a more natural rhythm. Nature lovers have discovered this secret without ever studying meditation!
- Sit or stand in a comfortable position, tune in to everything around you, tune into your breath and when you feel ready, close your eyes.
- Consciously start to slow your breathing down and take the breath a little deeper. Relax the shoulders and relax the jaw.
- Become present to everything that you are experiencing. Notice how your body feels, as well as the activity of your mind and emotions. Experience whatever is present without resisting anything or trying to change it. Do this for about a minute.
- Now bring your awareness to everything that you can experience in your surroundings. Feel the temperature of the air on your skin, the feeling of the breeze and the sun. Notice the sounds around you—birds, bees, cicadas, flowing water. Listen to the symphony of nature. For the rest of the meditation, continue to experience these feelings and sounds. Whenever your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the experience of nature.
- As you meditate, you can see where your attention is naturally drawn. You can also focus on one experience and notice the experience in greater detail. If it is a bird’s song—notice the quality of the sound—as if you are going more deeply into the sound. (It may seem to have a shape or texture.) Don’t analyse the sound and label it with your mind—simply notice the quality of it.
- Once again, whenever you notice that the mind has become distracted by other thoughts, bring it back to the sounds and sensations of being immersed in nature. At times both awareness of the sensations from the environment and thoughts will be present. That’s fine. Choose to favour the experiences of nature.
Nikki Ralston has been working with the human body for over 15 years. She devised the Ralston Method, which blends together elements of hatha, vinyasa, precision alignment and mindfulness teachings. She is also the owner of Urban Ashram in Auckland.