Yoga in the Outdoors
Anudha Mittal, Guest Blogger
Tree Pose on a coastal hike in Clearwater, FL. Photo credit: Meenakshi Mittal
I started practicing yoga about two years ago. Initially, it was for fitness and I was taking lessons at a studio. The emphasis on breath led me to think that if breath is so important, why not do it in fresh air. There were other small indications that made me think of the outdoors, such as the names of some of the poses and the way of instruction. For instance, we would begin with Sun Salutations, followed by the Eagle Pose and the Cobra Pose. When we extended the arms upwards for the Tree Pose, the instruction would be, ‘reach towards the sky.’ When we did the Standing Forward Fold, the instruction would be to let your head fall towards the Earth. The imagery reminded me of the outdoors and so I began to do yoga outside. In this article, I would like to share some personal moments of when I enjoyed yoga in different types of outdoor spaces. I have written about my experiences in fragments, and what I really hope to achieve with this piece is to convey the feeling of doing something that is challenging while breathing calmly and taking in the silence.
Wheel Pose in Shenandoah National Park
My friend and I were on a hike at Shenandoah National Park, and several miles in, we reached a stream. I dipped my feet in and then stretched back into the Wheel Pose. Breathing in the fresh forest air, it felt so different from doing yoga in a dimly lit studio. It was similar to the change from a treadmill to a trail or from a swimming pool to a lake. Instead of being in a place with walls and boundaries, I was outside as part of the ecosystem. After that, I started trying yoga poses wherever I went. I attempted a Side Crow Pose on the beach digging my palms into the sand, and it felt much different than being on a mat as the sand made it more difficult. This was a blessing in disguise, as I realized that I no longer had to carry my mat around!
Side Crow Pose on the beach at Clearwater, FL. Photo credit: Meenakshi Mittal
When the summer months faded away and I was no longer able to visit the beaches or go on hiking trails, I walked into the snow and did a Tree Pose. The snow was soft, and I felt stable. I let the cold air fill my lungs. This was the moment when I knew outdoors yoga was for me.
Tree Pose at Colonie Park, Albany, NY. Photo credit: Seema Gupta
I didn’t want to feel restricted to just standing poses though. If I was going to do yoga in snowy lands, I had to be able to get closer to the snow. So I tried laying down and lifting up into the Wheel Pose. It worked. The contact with snow was brief and then it was just palms and feet.
Wheel Pose at Colonie Park, Albany, NY. Photo credit: Seema Gupta
At this point, my courage was building and I wanted to try a headstand. I cleared the snow from a small area to prevent sinking into the snow, and that worked. Later, we came home for hot tea and then stepped out again. Now I was very confident and since I was close to home, dry clothing was nearby. So I calmly enjoyed a Lotus Pose.
Headstand in the snow, at Colonie Park, Albany, NY. Photo credit: Seema Gupta
Lotus Pose in the snow, near my home in Albany, NY. Photo credit: Seema Gupta
Towards the end of winter, I went on a hike in the Catskills. The snow was gone, but the trees were still bare. The trail had some rocky sections so I used my jackets for cushioning. It was great to be able to enjoy a bit of yoga close to the water.
Headstand along a trail near Catskills, NY.
Last year, I moved to California and am continuing my practice here.
Wheel Pose during a hike in East Bay, California.
I hope that by sharing my personal experiences, I have been able to encourage and inspire you to try yoga during long hikes. For me, it’s a great way to take a break from walking and stretch. Recently I have been continuing my yoga practice almost exclusively outdoors. I look forward to reaching milestones during hikes and then spending that time exploring inwardly.
Anudha Mittal started her yoga practice in 2018 while she was working as a Materials Engineer in Albany, NY. Prior to that, she did her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from University of Minnesota. She is now pursuing projects in data science in the San Francisco Bay Area while continuing to explore yoga.
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