One of the best things about yoga is that it can be practiced by anyone anywhere. No special equipment is needed and venturing outside to practice yoga may enhance its benefits. Several studies show that exercise improves mood by stimulating feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins. Add fresh air, green space, and sunshine to yoga practice and people set themself up for a refreshing practice where they can feel good and relax.
Take a moment right now to relax your shoulders, unclench your teeth, and breathe. Now bring to mind a place outside, in nature, where you can do this again. This same place may provide you with space to practice physical yoga poses or go on a mindful walk.
Practicing yoga outside enhances breath awareness.
Imagine feeling the earth underneath your feet, standing tall, taking a refreshing deep breath of fresh air into your body. Feel the fresh air move down from your nose or mouth into your lungs and then back up and out again. Breathing practices can be done anywhere. When you take them outside, for many people, their mood instantly boosts. Fresh air is rejuvenating and makes you feel alive and present. Yoga practices can be simple breathwork or pranayama. Practices can be done standing still, mindfully walking, or seated.
Practice: find a place outside where you can sit, stand, or walk slowly and safely. Inhale through your nose or mouth, feel the air move down to your lungs, and back up and out again. Practice this 10-30 times in a row. You will oxygenate your body and practice mindfulness without even trying.
Yoga improves your mood.
Not everyone enjoys exercise or competitive exercise. Yoga is not competitive. Practices encourage you to listen to your own body in the present moment and do what feels good. You can let go of the need to compare yourself to others, including your own expectations of what you think yoga is supposed to feel or look like. When we move, our body produces endorphins that make us feel good. Feeling good can improve your mood and boost self-confidence. Yoga helps you to become friends with yourself by encouraging you to let go of unrealistic expectations.
Practice: Find a place outside and take your shoes off. Feel the earth under your feet, stable and grounded. Practice Tree Pose on your right leg and then on your left leg. When you practice this balancing pose on each side, notice how your body feels without judgment of what you think it should look or feel like. Then thank yourself for doing this practice today.
Practicing yoga lowers anxiety and stress.
Odds are, you’ve felt stressed or anxious at some point during this past year. Yoga can help with feelings of stress and anxiety and there are many different styles of yoga that may be practiced virtually, outside, or in a studio. When practicing yoga outside, you have the benefit of fresh air, nature sounds, and feeling the earth under your feet. Yoga pairs breathing and movement together and encourages you to be present in that moment. It encourages you to give yourself permission to let go of anything that does not serve you at the moment. Self-care and letting go of unrealistic expectations are essential for our mental well-being, which lowers anxiety and stress.
Practice: Schedule a time, day, and location to practice yoga outside. Make an appointment with yourself for self-care. Try one of the provided video links, if you need guided practice.
Yoga increases your flexibility, strength, and balance.
Most people have heard that yoga can increase flexibility, strength, and balance and that’s true if practiced regularly. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that adults should perform resistance exercises for each of the major muscle groups, and neuromotor exercise involving balance, agility, and coordination, 2-3 days per week. You should also practice flexibility exercises for each major muscle-tendon group, a total of 60 seconds per exercise, greater than two days per week. When yoga poses or asanas are practiced regularly, you may be able to meet the minimal guidelines provided by the ACSM for flexibility, strength (resistance training), and balance. Here is a 12-minute video for practicing balance and flexibility: Outdoor Yoga Flow 3 video with Carly Hopper.
Remember: Relax your shoulders. Unclench your teeth. Breath. Get outside. Practice yoga.
Carly Hopper is the owner of Sun Moon Yoga, LLC in Mankato, MN, and is employed at Minnesota State University, Mankato in the Campus Recreation Department as the Fitness and Wellness Program Coordinator.