Many of us live most of our lives in suburban homes or apartments where our eyes barely see nature’s green. Our ears are accustomed to reacting to honking or announcements as we spend long hours in cars or riding the trains. Often our noses catch the whiff of spice coming from the kitchen or a nearby coffee shop, but has not had the pleasure of smelling the rain. Our fingers are busy touching the keys as we use an array of electronic devices to work from home or office, forgetting what the touch of grass feels like. You get the idea. We spend most of our time indoors surrounded by things that our senses have forgotten the existence of Mother Nature. Even our yoga-asana practice is mostly indoors in climate-controlled studios.
One of yoga’s many allures is – it can be practiced anywhere. Practicing in nature enhances our practice in an entirely different way than in a room with four walls. Practicing outside the security of a studio environment for the first time can make you feel somewhat self-conscious. Try stepping outside your comfort zone and allow yourself to practice in a whole new way to see what happens. Having had the sky as the ceiling, trees for walls and grass for a floor, today’s was a practice out of this world.
On June 21st, summer solstice, a perfect sunny day, we decided to take our mats, blankets and blocks outside to perform our practice under the sun’s watchful eyes. I’m certain that each of us found that being in nature increased our energy, internal focus, and enhanced relaxation for a very rewarding yoga-asana practice.
Although Pratyahara, in Raja Yoga means training the senses so they can turn inward for meditation, today’s instruction began by letting the senses wake up and connect to the outside with an attitude of reverence and awe.
We were aware of the gentle breeze that carried the scents of Mother Earth as we took in full, deep breaths. Research says that fresh air intensifies breath awareness while practicing in nature and activates parts of the brain that make us more present. With fresh oxygen flowing through each of us, it is safe to say our minds started to clear and enhanced our practice.
Listening to the sounds of the breeze through the trees and the songs of the birds was invigorating. The sounds of intrusions like the lawnmower, cars or planes flying overhead were not bothersome at all. It was as if they didn’t exist. Although we alternatively heard the birds chirping and the roar of the lawnmower or the plane overhead, we were able to synchronize our heartbeats to the flow of our breath as we moved gracefully through sun salutation.
Our eyes captured the movement of clouds across the bluest sky each time we raised our arms upward. We folded forward to touch our toes dropping our heads below our hearts in an attempt to surrender our egos just for a moment. My eyes caught the slightest movement in Trikonasana, triangle pose, to find a couple of ants crawling on one side of the mat only to exit on the other.
Turning your senses outward to tune into nature’s abundance during yoga-asana practice, will not drain the senses as it would during other daily activities. During yoga-asana in nature, if you take pleasure in knowing and respecting the role your senses play in this world, you are preparing to turn them inward with complete acceptance during Shavasana, your final relaxation. As we become comfortable in processing these sensory experiences, it transforms into a gratifying experience that shuts off the list-making part of our brain and allows our mind to rest in the present.
The practice of Surya Namaskar, sun salutations and other yoga-asanas under actual sun rays has the power to transform a stagnant routine into a heightened experience.
The touch of the earth under our feet and hands was grounding and empowering. The slight unevenness of the grassy surface prompted our muscles to grasp more firmly in order to steady the body and breath. The unevenness spontaneously engages the core to make us rooted in Trikonasana, Triangle, or Virabhadrasana, Warrior 2 – although there is a tendency of forgetfulness when it comes to engaging them. Despite the unleveled earth, our stance stabilized, helping us find the grounding we needed in our practice.
Everyone agreed that practice of yoga-asana, especially outside is not complete without Vrikshasana, tree pose. To begin with, balance poses can be formidable for many. And trying to balance on an uneven surface can be even more challenging. However, today’s tree pose was not a practice of competition.
Standing in Vrikshasana next to a sixty year old maple tree can be a humbling experience. It was not about showing off how well we stood motionless on one leg. Just has the aged maple stands rooted in rain or shine, it would serve us to remember that our ability to stay rooted in our daily yoga-asana practice can make the transition from adulthood to old age as smooth as possible.
Fish pose, Matsyasana, is a must especially under the sky. Craning our neck backward to rest on the crown of our head can be challenging. But we did get into the final position where our eyes had a chance to capture the world upside down giving the mind a different perspective.
What a view! I like to focus on something closer first and then extend my gaze outward or upward to the tops of the gigantic maple tree while admiring the vast blue expanse. This steady gaze always brings such calmness to my mind and body.
If you haven’t done this in many years, drop everything and do it – now. Keep your eyes open and appreciate what the world looks like upside down. Looking at the world upside down can bring you to a deeper understanding of change – to become aware that – this too shall pass. It helps to cultivate patience and compassion towards ourselves and others, especially if you are battling emotional demons or mending relationships.
Finally, we settled in Shavasana, Corpse Pose. The body was ready to shut down. Our eyes closed savoring a quick snapshot of the infinite vastness. The mind was guided to anchor to the breath – inhaling without future expectations, holding to notice the present, even if it was fleeting, and exhaling the past without any regrets – words of the wise. Although the senses were actively engaged in an outward practice earlier, they did not resist to turn inward. If I may speak for everyone, we enjoyed a well-deserved rest. We were fanned by a gentle breeze for a refreshing slumber. We were sung to a restful sleep by the birds.
Thank you all for sharing this wonderful, uplifting yoga-asana practice to welcome the first day of summer. Hope this blog captured everyone’s experience of what it was like to practice yoga-asana with nature’s best. If it did not, please share the experience in your own words in the comments section so the readers can get a better sense.