In modern times, the growth of yoga in the western world has seen gyms, studios and fitness centers become the familiar setting of yogic practice.
This is, however, far from the traditional environment of yoga: outside in nature.
The origins of outdoor yoga are thus as old as yoga itself, tracing all the way back to ancient India, where yoga was traditionally practiced in open-air, natural settings such as forests, mountains, and riverbanks.
This tradition is the natural progression of yogic philosophy, which is grounded in a profound connection to and appreciation of the natural world, through it’s emphasis on the interdependence of all beings, matter, and energy.
And if the wisdom of yogic philosophy isn’t inspiration enough, scientific research continues to provide evidence of the countless benefits that practicing yoga and spending time outdoors in nature have on our health and well-being.
Outdoor yoga can be an incredible complement to your yogic journey, however, there are a few important things to consider to keep your practice safe and enjoyable.
So, before rolling out your mat, check out our top tips for practicing yoga outdoors below.
In this article, we’ll be looking at:
- The history and origins of outdoor yoga
- The benefits of outdoor yoga
- 5 tips for outdoor yoga
- 8 must-try spaces for outdoor yoga
History and Origins of Outdoor Yoga
As mentioned above, the origins of outdoor yoga can be traced way back to ancient India, where yoga was traditionally practiced in the various natural settings found across this eco-rich country.
From forests to caves, beaches to deserts, mountains to riverbanks, there are few places in nature that haven’t been used for meditation, asana and other limbs of the yogic journey.
In fact, the word “yoga” itself is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj”, which means to yoke, unite or connect, and is often interpreted as a union between the individual self and the natural world.
As such, throughout history, yogis have sought out natural settings for their practice, commonly retreating to remote caves or quiet ashrams nestled in the mountains.
Still practiced today by contemporary monks and sadhus, this immersion in nature was seen as a way to deepen one’s awareness of the interconnectedness of all things and cultivate a sense of harmony and balance with the natural world.
After some years that saw yoga move indoors in the west, the popularity of outdoor yoga is again on the rise, with more and more people seeking to reconnect with nature and experience the many benefits of yogic practice.
The COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated this trend, encouraging many to turn to outdoor spaces for safer exercise options.
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see yogis striking a pose in parks, on beaches, and amidst other natural settings worldwide – indicative of the growing appreciation of outdoor yoga’s capacity to incorporate the principles of yogic philosophy into everyday life.
Benefits of Outdoor Yoga
Practicing yoga in outdoor and nature-filled spaces offers numerous benefits, many beyond the physical and mental benefits of the yoga practice itself. These benefits include:
#1: Reduces stress and improves well-being
Exercising in the open-air has been shown to offer both increased feelings of well-being and reduced stress levels.
- One 2018 study showed that dancing in natural environments reduced feelings of anxiety and depression to a significantly higher degree than dance sessions held indoors.
- Participants practicing yoga outside 2021 study reported experiencing more positive emotions and physical benefits compared to those who practiced indoors.
#2: Cultivates creative thinking:
Many studies show how immersion in yoga and natural environments can affect the brain and promote creative thinking.
- A study from 2022 shows natural environments, or environments with natural elements, enhance creative performance more than urban environments.
- A 2020 study found that practicing Hatha Yoga leads to a significant increase in divergent thinking, necessary for creativity by encouraging the exploration of multiple ideas and solutions, leading to the development of innovative and original concepts.
- An influential 2009 study found that meditation, a key component of yogic practice, can increase alpha wave activity in the brain, which is linked to relaxation and a clear mental state. This shift in brain activity is thought to enhance divergent thinking and creativity.
#3: Boosts cardiovascular health:
The combined findings of many studies indicate how yoga, combined with exposure to fresh air and sunlight, can improve cardiovascular health.
- A 2020 study found that exposure to green environments like parks or forests can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke while also lowering heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels.
- A 2015 systematic review of 11 previous studies found that yoga interventions promote positive cardiovascular health outcomes, such as reducing blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body weight.
- A widely cited 2004 study found that yoga can not only reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease by lowering heart rate and so on, but can actually improve cardiac function and exercise capacity in individuals with cardiovascular disease.
5 Tips To Practice Fun and Safe Outdoor Yoga
#1: Check the weather
Before you roll out your outdoor yoga mat, make sure to check the weather forecast to avoid any surprises like unexpected rain showers or strong winds that could affect your outdoor yoga plans.
Where strong winds can make it difficult to balance in certain poses, rain or wet ground can make certain positions or transitions slippery and unsafe.
Checking the weather can help you prepare in such situations, allowing you to modify your sequence according to the weather and taking necessary precautions as needed to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
This will also help you determine what clothing to wear, whether to bring a towel, which type of yoga mat to bring, and which outdoor environment, if any, is best to practice on any particular day.
#2: Embrace interruptions
Natural spaces are full of unexpected changes and surprises, and that’s part of what makes them so beautiful and captivating.
Practicing yoga outdoors can thus present more challenges and potential frustrations compared to a studio environment.
However, if viewed in a different light, the interruptions and imperfections of nature can be transformed into an opportunity to cultivate the ability to remain peaceful, grateful, and positive amidst challenging or uncomfortable circumstances.
So, try to embrace imperfections and practice equanimity during outdoor yoga. From uneven terrain to gusts of wind, there are many factors outside of our control.
But by accepting these imperfections and maintaining a sense of balance, we can enjoy a more rewarding practice.
#3: Take time to warm up
Warming up before an any yoga practice is important to focus the mind and prepare the body for movement.
Yet, warm-ups are easily forgotten in the calm and beauty of nature. Outdoor environments can be more unpredictable and changeable than indoor spaces. As a result, warming up before is even more crucial to avoid potential injuries or strains.
Incorporating a few sun salutations or gentle warm-ups before diving into your outdoor yoga session is highly recommended to prepare your body for the conditions outside.
#4: Be sun safe and hydrated
While outdoor yoga offers many benefits, it does increase sun exposure which can lead to heat stroke, sunburn and skin damage. For this reason, remember to protect your skin by looking for shade and always wearing sunscreen.
When it’s hot outside, try doing your yoga in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat of the day. Plus, you might even catch a gorgeous sunrise or sunset to make your practice extra special!
Similarly, staying hydrated during outdoor yoga is crucial to beat the heat, which can cause your body to lose fluids quickly, leading to dehydration, fatigue, and other complications.
Drinking water before, during, and after your practice can help replenish lost fluids and keep you feeling energized and focused.
#5: Connect with the environment
Practicing outdoor yoga without connecting to nature is like eating a delicious meal without being able to taste it. You may still get some nourishment, but you miss out on the full sensory experience and enjoyment that comes from fully engaging with your surroundings.
So, to really reap the benefits of practicing yoga outdoors, it’s crucial to take the time to ground yourself in the natural environment around you and to maintain this sense of connection through out your practice.
This will greatly enhance the physical and mental benefits of your practice, promoting feelings of gratitude, appreciation and awareness of the natural world by fostering a deeper connection and oneness with the environment.
Take time to notice the sights, sounds, and smells around you to cultivate mindfulness and present-moment awareness for greater sense of peace and calm during your practice.
8 Outdoor Ideas to Practice Yoga
- Parks: Even the busiest cities will usually have a public park that offers an accessible and free space to practice yoga in the open-air, providing a green environment with plenty of space to stretch out and connect with the earth.
- Beaches: The soothing sound of waves, fresh ocean air, soft sand, and open space at the beach are perfect to help you connect with nature, find clarity of mind, and ignite creativity during your yoga practice. Also, the sand can offer an exciting challenge!
- Forests: Surrounded by the tranquil rustling of soft breeze moving the leaves and a cooling shade under the trees, the diverse symbiotic nature of forests make them ideal for developing our appreciation of the interconnectedness of all things.
- Mountain Trails: The awe-inspiring views, serene atmosphere, and higher altitude not only fosters a clear and calm yogic mind, but can also boost cardiovascular health and physical performance by improving lung capacity and red blood cell production.
- Rooftops: A unique and private setting offering great panoramic views, rooftops make an excellent spot for outdoor yoga practice that is accessible even in the most urban areas – offering your very own private oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of city life.
- Gardens: Your own garden can be a great environment for practicing outdoor yoga, offering privacy, familiarity, and proximity to facilitate a consistent and enjoyable yoga routine in a calm, green space that you can design yourself.
- River and Lakesides: Soft water reflections, fresh air, and lush green surroundings create a soothing atmosphere for yoga practice, while the constantly moving water serves as a reminder of impermanence, encouraging non-attachment and presence.
- Farms and Nature Reserves: Sharing the space with other animals can not only boost our mood, but offers us opportunity to develop focus amidst potential distractions of the sights, sounds and smells of our fellow animal companions.
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