As creatures of habit, sometimes we can forget the importance of switching up a dull routine, or trying something new. While this can be applied to life in general, it has a tendency to apply to our yoga and meditation practice, too. We get comfortable. We enjoy the familiar. We settle into our patters and rarely deviate from the norm, from what we know works. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?
Trying new things and breaking from routine can be inspiring, rejuvenating—both physically and spirutally—and exciting, too. Something as simple as opting outside once, or twice, a week for your yoga or meditation practice can have benefits you may not have realized.
Undoubtedly the most obvious benefit of practicing yoga in nature is having the ability to connect with the universal elements in a new way. Most yogis would agree that no two practices are the same—each time we step onto our mats it's a unique experience, and, similarly, no two days are ever the same. The wind changes its direction, the tide grows strong and powerful in a storm, the world around us is ever-changing.
The ways in which we practice, and the energy we bring to the mat, often reflect different elemental energies—earth, fire, water, and air. When we put ourselves directly in the way of these elements we carry their influence, whether we realize it or not, into our practice. Take your mat to the beach and notice how your breath begins to follow the rhythm of the constant rolling in and out of the waves, slip off your shoes and practice in the grass and experience grounding to the earth in a whole new way, or roll out your mat on a windy mountaintop (not too close to the edge, please!) and allow your body to flow with the wind.
Music has a way of evoking an emotional and spiritual response in us. So, it's not exactly surprising that most yoga classes have the same style of music playing softly in the background. It's soothing, relaxing, and rhythmic, and complements the practice. My favorite has always been soundtracks that mimic nature, sounds of birds, or water. These sounds have a way of transporting me from the physical space I'm in.
Practicing in Costa Rica, I had the fortunate opportunity to set up my mat in an outdoor chalet—no walls, no electricity, no pre-recorded soundtrack. Just surround-sound nature. It was nirvana. Much as I can appreciate these sounds coming through iPhone speakers, nothing quite compares to experiencing them first-hand, IRL.
Next time you practice outside—whether it's in your backyard, a park, or the beach, take a moment to notice, listen to, and appreciate the natural soundtrack happening around you.
Breaking out of routine is a challenge in and of itself. Opting to take your practice outside of its normal, familiar environment is an accomplishment. Leaving that flat surface, commonly a hardwood floor in a yoga studio, will present new challenges for your practice. Finding your balance on uneven grassy terrain, a stand-up paddleboard, or ever-shifting grains of sand on the beach forces you to focus in a way that you may not often have had to when on your mat. Breathe through the difficulties, find your center, and allow yourself to have the ability to laugh through the missteps. They're bound to happen.
Sitting in Sukhasana I looked out at the landscape before me. Like I'd said earlier, the chalet in Costa Rica was nirvana, and the landscape something forever imprinted in my mind. I remember thinking to myself, as I stared out to the ocean, “I could never get sick of this view. I'd sit here and soak it in every. single. day.” At least, if I had the opportunity to have that view every single day, I'd hope not to take it for granted as we often have a tendency to do.
A few times in the weeks after my trip I took my mat outside. I took inventory of the view before me— pale in comparison to the pacific ocean—a standard Long Island backyard, nothing to write home about. But, it was special to me. I look out here every day, and yet rarely take the time to appreciate what's there. The garden we worked so hard to get going, the butterfly bushes that my fiance's grandmother had planted so many years ago, the tree in the corner that acted as a perfect shield from rain and snow. I was disheartened by how infrequently I take the time to appreciate what's here, but grateful for the opportunity of enlightenment—a gentle reminder to appreciate my surroundings.
That giant oak tree in your backyard? It probably hasn't seemed all that special to you since the days when you used to get home from school and climb its branches for hours. But, as you ground down in Tree Pose and take notice—like really take notice—of that tree for the first time in a long time, you might just feel it tug at your heart strings. Take a moment in your practice to express gratitude for that tree—for the purpose it served in your youth, for its strength in withstanding the elements. Maybe even give it a hug, there's benefits to that, too.
Photo by Diana Gerstacker