I’d never thought about practising yoga outdoors until the fire alarm got stuck at my local gym. Before that happened yoga was something I did in a studio or at home in the privacy of my living room.
However, on that fateful day, despite getting the all clear no-one could stop the gym’s speaker system loudly announcing “Evacuate the building, evacuate the building” so instead of abandoning the class our instructor told us all to grab a mat and meet her on the rooftop car park. What followed was a yoga class that could have been on a beach in the Bahamas instead of a grotty car park in the middle of Romford. OK so the car park itself wasn’t exactly covered in golden sand and the sound of sirens and traffic couldn’t be mistaken for birds or gently lapping sea but when I closed my eyes, focused on her instructions and felt the sun on my skin I could have been anywhere and I was well and truly converted to outdoor yoga.
Since then I’ve taken every opportunity I get to practise outdoors. I discovered that my back garden is a suntrap first thing in the morning and unless it’s bucketing down with rain I throw my mat down and spend at least ten minutes outside every day. Even in winter it’s beautiful outside – the air is crisp and refreshing and it’s lovely just connecting with nature even for a few short minutes. I’m very lucky that my patio is both south facing and sheltered but the benefits are so amazing I believe everyone should try to find an outdoor space they can practice in. It doesn’t have to be a large area – just a few feet where you can stretch and breathe in some fresh air is all you need. Even practising next to an open window will feel great.
So, to get back to my original question, what’s so special about taking your practice outside? While the right clothes sort out weather fluctuations (I always wear layers so I can adjust my temperature as necessary) the fact is that outdoor yoga isn’t for everyone – air quality can be an issue in some areas and hayfever sufferers will understandably prefer to stay indoors. For some people, being outdoors is just not their thing and a quiet studio where conditions can be controlled works better for them. It’s also best not to be too self-conscious when you’re outside – even though I try to find a quiet spot there’s no way a park is going to be anything other than a public space and you may find yourself entertaining the odd ice-cream eating spectator! On my patio, where it should be private, I once found myself being watched by a group of roofers working next door.
But for anyone thinking about taking their practice outside I’ve made a list of what I enjoy most about outdoor yoga. Please let me know your ideas.
If you’ve always practised yoga in a stuffy or air-conditioned room you will be amazed at the difference. Admittedly the air quality is not always great – I have to stay indoors if there’s been a bonfire for example and I’d advise care if you’re near a busy road – but trees and plant life supply loads of oxygen. It’s impossible not to understand the meaning of prana when you’re outside surrounded by nature. It’s great to be aware of the different seasons and changes in the air which varies even day to day.
Sun and Vitamin D
Despite warnings to cover up and stay out of the sun it’s essential for our well being both physically and mentally to get a daily dose of sunshine as long as you’re sensible about it. Use sun lotion, cover up and avoid being outside in the middle of the day, of course, but a little bit of sunshine on your skin will do you the world of good.
Connecting to nature
Practising on grass won’t guarantee you a smooth surface but it will challenge your sense of balance. Stretching your arms to the sky gives you a sense of the infinite and barefoot walking has been proven to improve our health. If you practice early morning you’ll notice fresh dew on the flowers, bees moving from blossom to blossom and even ants and spiders scuttling about their daily chores. At night you can observe the changes in the moon and chart how your mood follows its progress. You’ll notice the trees changing with the seasons. I’m always amazed at how suddenly the leaves change colour, from new blossom in the spring, to brilliant emerald green at the start of the summer to golden, ruby colours in the autumn. And then suddenly the trees are bare, your mat is resting on a pile of leaves and you can see buildings and shrubs that have been hidden all summer. Every day is a revelation!
The great thing is that there are more outdoor classes now than ever before. Look online for classes in your local park or rooftop. You could even go to London and practise surrounded by iconic buildings like St Paul’s.
If you live in Essex or East London come along to one of my classes in Lodge Farm Park or Raphael’s bandstand – Main Road, Gidea Park/Romford. We have been practising under shady trees and it’s actually been much cooler outside than it would be in a studio. If it rains we’ll be using the bandstand for cover. This Wednesday is the last of this summer’s sessions but I’m hoping to start an autumn class on Thursday mornings soon.