by Justine Glenton
An Ashtanga & Zen Yoga Teacher
After the long and dark winter months, London is currently experiencing the most glorious spring sunshine, with blossoms, daffodils and magnolias magnificent in their full bloom splendour. The last winter cobwebs being brushed aside as the seeds that we have planted begin to manifest and express themselves in our physical worlds. Our bodies relishing soaking up the light solar energy into our systems. One naturally feels drawn to be out there embracing the great outdoors!
Within the confines of a studio, yoga teachers do their best to create an ambience of soft lights and pleasant sounds, and even an aromatic experience. But striking a mood is an attempt to evoke a natural setting. Taking a class or self-practice outdoors can be just what you need to invigorate you and receive the maximum benefits from your practice.
Yoga means 'union,' and when it's practiced outdoors it seems like the union with nature, humanity, and the universe is truly felt: focusing awareness, breathing deeply and practicing stillness. A breeze can deepen your breathing, the warm sun can enhance poses by making muscles more pliable, and a ladybird can invite you to focus on something small and still.
Many aspects of yoga are in fact about being in the moment and at one with nature or the universe. That's why so many asanas reflect animals and nature. By putting your body into the shape of a tree or a stretching cat, by exploring the graceful wingspan of a bird or the fluidity of the Sun Salute, by breathing with the same cyclical sense as the tides or with an ocean sound, you evoke a sense of harmony, timelessness, and connection to the universe.
The great outdoors offers another level to focus on: the smell of nature, such as the ocean, pine, or freshly cut grass. When you start to smell the outdoors, it's as if nature wants us to be present and breathe deeply. The uneven, natural surfaces such as sand, grass, or the woodland floor can intensify a yoga posture and its physical benefits, sand, for example builds the secondary muscles of a yogi's feet, hips, knees, spine, and shoulders. A slight variance in natural terrain can focus balance more than a flat floor, using the distraction as an opportunity to find some peace, patience, and centre.
We may not all have the luxury of being able to practice by the ocean - but be grateful for what you have within your surroundings, quite simply any space under the blue sky will be perfect; your back garden, a park or woodland? Give your body the natural gifts of the universe that you deserve.