I have traveled with the same yoga mat for many many years even though it is heavy and cumbersome. It has been rolled out in airports, on beaches, in friend's gardens, on balconies of hotel rooms and even on the side of a golf course on Dafuskie Island, South Carolina, at a family wedding (not at the ceremony). My mat has been to Cusheon Lake dock, Beddis Beach, Peace Park, Maricaibo, and many other beautiful places on Salt Spring. While I have the luxury of a yoga studio in my home, I really enjoy taking my mat and practice outside during the warmer months of the year. I find the meditative state of my yoga practice creates an immersion in nature that I long for and I am fully there with the sights, sounds, and smells of the natural world around me.
Recent studies show that we are more disconnected from nature now than we were 100 years ago and one contributing factor is the rise of indoor recreation. This study shows that connecting with nature increases self esteem, improves mood, reduces mental fatigue, improves productivity, reduces stress, and increases inspiration. A well researched article written by Yelena Moroz Alpert published in Yoga Journal shows 4 ways that practicing yoga out side can have the positive effects:
"1. Spending time in nature can replenish depleted energy.
Our nervous system evolved in a way that punctuates moments of stress with bursts of energy—a survival tactic used when we were part of the hunter-gatherer community. Spending time outside sends signals to the brain that the body is back in its native environment and recalibrates itself to stay alert,. Not surprisingly, when people spend time in a forested setting, feelings of vigor and vitality are increased, according to a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. We say that’s fuel for a dynamic Vinyasa flow.
2. Natural scenery can heighten awareness.
When you leave the four walls of a studio, all of your senses wake up—scent, sight, and touch, in particular, activate parts of the brain that make you more present. “Fresh air heightens breath awareness,” says Devani Paige, a yoga instructor who teaches outdoor yoga at L’Auberge de Sedona in Arizona. “I can really feel the oxygen flowing through me, clearing my mind and empowering my practice.” What’s more, researchers at the University of Southern California found that looking at beautiful scenery releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that bring us pleasure. “Perhaps the color green is the default mode for our brains,” writes Esther Sternberg, M.D., in her book Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being. Touching grass or a sandy beach further provides stimulation. Bonus: a slightly uneven surface engages and strengthens your core. As we become more fluent in processing a sensory experience it morphs into a sensuous experience that shuts off the list-making part of our brain and zeros in on the now.
3. Practicing yoga in a new environment can build confidence.
Find your edge—no, we don’t mean balancing on a side of a cliff. Practicing outside for the first time can feel awkward. It is easy to feel self-conscious when you’re used to practicing in a set environment. While familiarity brings security, stepping outside your comfort zone opens a gateway to an entirely new interpretation of your yoga practice. Imagine the power of sun salutations under actual sun rays or the vivacity of a tree pose while focusing on a real tree instead of a spot on the wall.
4. The outdoors can further boost meditation’s benefits.
Scientists have already shown that those who meditate on a regular basis have a smaller amygdala, the part of the brain that is responsible for managing the fight-or-flight response. Coincidentally, field studies, published in Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, show that people who were exposed to a forest environment versus an urban environment had a lower concentration of the stress hormone cortisol."
Judging by the evidence above we need to get outside and practice!!!! Join me each Tuesday starting June 5th at 9.30am for an all levels Vinyasa in the garden class. Let's do our own experiments and see if we can feel some of the benefits of spending time on our mats in nature. Dress in layers for your comfort and sign up here.
Sarah-Jane loves learning, listening, sharing and doing yoga!