Take advantage of the season and trade in an hour at your local studio for a rejuvenating outdoor yoga session. Here's how to make the most of yoga outdoors.
Summer is here, bringing with it long, warm days and an outdoor environment bursting with birds, bees, plants, and trees.
Take advantage of the season and trade in an hour at your local studio for a rejuvenating outdoor yoga session. It’s an activity that anyone can do, not to mention, that it’s a lot cheaper than paying for a class.
What to Pack for Your Outdoor Adventure
For an enjoyable outdoor yoga experience, you’ll want to be prepared for the elements. Here’s a simple list:
- Natural non-toxic sunscreen
- Two hand towels: One to put over your eyes in Savasana and one to help you open up your poses or to sit on for meditation.
- A picnic blanket or full-size towel. Place this under your yoga mat to keep it from getting sandy or soggy.
- Bottle of water
- Yoga mat
Choose Your View
The view in an indoor yoga class is constant. When you move outside, you have more control over what you want your environment—and view—to be.
When you arrive at your destination, take in the environment, and look at the view from each direction. Choose a spot that’s pleasing to the eye. There’s nothing more enjoyable than looking out at a beautiful landscape while in a headstand.
Now that you’ve found your perfect spot, follow these five steps to challenge and inspire you.
Step 1: Start With a Series of Sun Salutations
Since we can enjoy the abundant sunshine on our face, it’s time to put our Surya Namaskar to the test. This sequence of poses was developed as a practice to honor Surya, the source of energy and light for the world.
The sequence involves eight basic postures:
- Tadasana (Mountain pose)
- Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
- Plank pose
- Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff pose)
- Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog pose)
- Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog pose)
Step 2: Be a Warrior
Practicing outdoors can be intimidating, especially if there are people watching you. This is a great opportunity to try Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior II pose). Stand strong and own your power. You may just inspire others to give it a go as well.
Start in Tadasana (Mountain pose) and step your feet 3 1/2 feet apart. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and reach them actively out to the sides, keeping shoulder blades wide, and your palms down. Turn your back foot out to 45 degrees and your front foot facing forward. Keep the sides of the torso equally long and the shoulders directly over the pelvis. Turn your head toward your front fingertips and look out into the distance. Repeat on both sides.
Step 3: Challenge Your Balance
You may be a balance superstar in the studio, but what about on a sandy beach or grassy hill?
Outdoor yoga provides a true balance challenge. Try to take any teetering or falls in stride. The whole purpose of yoga is to evolve; don’t worry if you have a little wobble.
Try the classic Vrksasana (Tree pose) to challenge your balance. Standing in Tadasana (Mountain pose), fix your gaze on a point a few feet away from you. This will keep you focused and help you balance.
Gradually shift your weight from your left to right foot. As you shift your weight, bend your left knee and raise your left foot off the ground placing it either on the ankle, shin, or above the knee (never place it directly over the knee). Using your left hand, draw your left knee out to the left side. This will help open up your hip.
Now comes the balancing act. Start by bringing your hands to prayer position in front of your chest. Once you’ve mastered this for a few breaths, raise your arms to the sky, and stretch tall like a tree. Hold this pose as long as you can. When you’re ready to come down, bring your hands through to the prayer position once more. Next, take your right hand and wrap it around your right knee to release the grip of your foot. Return to Tadasana and repeat on the opposite side.
Step 4: Use Your Props
You might not have access to all the props typically found at an indoor studio. Instead of lugging a bunch of gear to your outdoor yoga spot, bring two thick hand towels to be used in place of a strap, eye pillow, or meditation prop.
Lie on the floor for Supta Padangusthasana (Modification for Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe pose). Your spine should comfortably rest on the ground. Exhale and bend your left knee, drawing your thigh into your torso. Press the front of your right thigh heavily on the floor and flex your toes back toward your heart.
Loop your hand towel around the arch of your left foot. Hold the towel with both hands as you press your heel toward the sky and straighten your leg. Walk your hands up the towel, which will increase the stretch.
You can stay here or move into the full asana by releasing your right hand and placing it vertical to the right side of your body (on the ground). Turn the left leg outward from the hip joint so the knee and toes are pointing toward the left. Exhale and swing your left leg out toward the left, and hold it a few inches off the floor. You can remain in this position for 2 to 3 minutes. Once you’re ready to return, inhale to bring your leg up. You may also hold your leg in an upward position for an equal amount of time. Finish this side by bending your left knee toward your chest, releasing the towel, and returning your left leg to the ground. Do this on both sides.
If you’re the type of yogi who likes to take some of the pressure off of your knees and ankles, create a small meditation cushion with your hand towels. Make sure you have two thick hand towels to give you that extra boost. Fold them on top of each other and sit on them for some Pranayama or meditation.
Step 5: Breathe in the Elements
In the ancient yogic texts it’s understood that our bodies come from the five elements, which are:
• Vayu (wind or air)
• Ap (water)
• Agni (fire)
• Prithvi (earth)
• Akasha (ether)
Take a moment at the end of your practice to bask in these elements, for they are right at your fingertips. Feel the wind on your body. Become aware of the dampness of water in the air. Let the warmth of the sun renew you. Allow the earth to ground you. And invite the ether to connect you with spirit.
*Photos by Megan Stone