Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Benefits of Practising Yoga Outdoors

By Hazel Hoyle
Practising yoga outdoors yields many benefits to improve your balance, strength, posture alignment, breathing, meditation and overall well-being. This article will deal with three areas that are most positively affected by outdoor practise.

Being outdoors while we practise strips our practice of many comforts and controlled aspects we take for granted in a studio. In doing so, we are disciplined in a different fashion and will increase our body’s awareness of physical alignments and posture placements even when we cannot see ourselves in a mirrored reflection.

These abilities are called Inner Proprioception Skills.  With them, you can instinctively know directions and placements of feet, knees, back, shoulders, etc. without physically seeing where they are; and without looking.

With this skill, you can get deeper into your body. You will get to know your own body more intimately and you will be able to get deeper into your poses while safely making adjustments in backbends, warrior postures and inversions.

The first principle in yoga is breathing, the second principle is alignment. With heightened inner proprioception skills, you will achieve proper alignment and deeper poses. Practising outdoors can help you attain this.

There are a lot of distractions outdoors. Focusing on the placement of your foot, the arch of your back or alignment and stacking of your hips is more difficult. However, by overcoming those distractions and accomplishing your poses outdoors, muscles increase, inner strength and stability heightens and balance achievement is enhanced.

People often struggle with STANDING BALANCE POSES, sometimes in a studio we can place our feet on a wooden floor off the mat, or lean into a wall to bring our balance to a more stable point. Outdoors, these supports are not available to us and we need to dive deeper into our inner core and focused breathing to accomplish such poses as  Eagle (Garudasana), Tree (Vrksasana), or  King Dancer (Natarajasana).

While conducting an outdoor class to develop her student's focus, Yoga Instructor, Jeanne Heilleman, jokes instructing them to “fix your eyes on one wave.”  The joke is that one wave moves into the next. They are not a stable point of focus, nor can one wave be. Her point was that outdoors, nothing is stable, so practicing in such an environment will develop these skills.

While in the Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana), Heilleman mentions looking up was an amazing experience because there was no ceiling; the sky went on forever and there were no walls to feel enclosed by. But this phenomenon threw the balance on her leg off and she tumbled to the ground. Clearly balancing while outdoors is more difficult than in the quiet, controlled environment of the studio, but continuing to try outdoors will allow you to master balance and it will ultimately amplify your balance abilities indoors and out!

Meditating and practising breathing outdoors can challenge you but with continued effort, will reward you with the intensified ability to block outside sounds from your thoughts and to breathe more deeply into your own clear, focused mind.

Being indoors we can turn up the thermostat or turn on the air conditioner to adjust the temperature. If it is noisy we can close the door, or we can put on some soothing music.  Of course outdoors, we can always add or remove a layer of clothing for temperature regulation, or we can wear earphones or headsets for music, but without these modifications, the continual distraction of outdoor sounds and climate is a reality that may pull your thoughts in many directions.

Disciplining ourselves by exposure to these distractions is exceptionally great for achieving much greater success in posture alignment, balance, concentration and breathing. Ultimately, practising outdoors will heighten your skill level and streamline your overall yoga experience and ability.

One final thing to say about practising outdoors is simply the beauty of being outside among nature. It is refreshing to breathe the cool or warm, fresh air and to gaze upon the magnificence of nature, be it at the beach, the ocean, beside a creek, a valley, a mountain top. The peaceful quiet and the loveliness is a wonderful gift to the senses. Of course, practising in a park beside a busy traffic street, may not be as beautiful, but the green grass and the billowing trees dancing in the breeze off in the distance are still remarkably comforting and soul enriching.

Of course yoga is a practise that can be enjoyed anywhere, and all of the outdoor choices available to you will afford you the same challenges and advantages mentioned previously.

But there is nothing like striking a pose on the top of a mountain after a great climb/hike through the forest, or holding a strength and balance posture on the sandy beach while gazing out at the sunset, sunrise or the mid-afternoon glistening water. Outdoor yoga and meditation is a peaceful and enriching experience internally, emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Practising yoga outdoors will change your life!

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