Beyond enjoying the beauty of nature, practising yoga outdoors challenges our ability to focus
Lately I’ve been unrolling my yoga mat in my backyard. There’s something so reverential about sun salutations under the fiery orb. The added challenge of standing and balancing on uneven ground perks up my muscles in new ways. Plus, the moving meditation requires next-level focus if I’m not to get distracted by the ants that wander onto my toes or annoyed by the neighbour who starts mowing just as I lie down for savasana. There is so much new information to play with when we move our yoga practice outdoors.
Many practitioners come to yoga for the stretch. They seek flexibility and a way to give their spine some love after hours of sitting and subtly (or not so much) hunching over laptops and cellphones. And yet yoga has much more to offer.
When I’m asked to describe yoga, I summarize it as a practice teaching self-regulation. When taking physical shapes, sitting in meditation, and manipulating our breathing, we naturally react based on our emotions, past patterns, and environment. For instance, at some point in a yoga class we’ll be challenged by a pose. Maybe we’ve never done it before and feel tentative. It could be that we don’t quite have the strength or flexibility to take the shape in the way we want. Sometimes our focus is elsewhere and we find ourselves falling out of a balancing posture. This is supposed to happen.
As humans, we’ll feel frustrated. We’ll want what we’re not ready for or capable of or what’s not best for us at the moment. We’ll compare ourselves to our neighbours. We’ll compete for attention. And all of this and more comes up on the yoga mat. The benefit of experiencing it on the mat, of putting ourselves quite purposefully in this position, is that we are present for all of it. On our mats, we are asked to notice our reactions and our self-talk so that we can use the breath and the pauses we take to respond rather than react. We notice which poses and breathing methods make us feel calm, energized, safe, joyful.
In this way, yoga teaches us how to concentrate on our experience so that we can regulate our experience. It’s a path towards caring for ourselves so that we don’t get caught in the current of emotion. It gives us tools to turn to when we’re off the mat and wandering the world.
So, as we embrace the warmer weather and head outside for yoga, we can be gentle with ourselves. Recognize that along with the beauty of the season, there is far more stimulus calling for our attention. From sweet birdsong, to sneeze-inducing pollen, the great outdoors brings an added challenge as you seek to turn inward on your yoga mat. But how you react to the world around you as you take bumblebee breath with bees buzzing near can be just another data point on your journey to cultivate equanimity. Be curious and keep returning to your breath.