April 11, 2012

Out-of-Doors Yoga for Spring. ~ Anurag Lohia

Renewed hope for a positive life and a sense of beginning.

I live in India, where I run an online yoga and Ayurvedic consultation business called Divine Wellness. Because so many of our clients are Westerners, I hear about the unusually mild and balmy winter that the U.S. has been experiencing. Still, I imagine Americans looking forward to spring, with its longer days and blooming flowers. The sun shining down after weeks of darker days brings with it renewed hope for a positive life and a sense of beginning.

Spring is a great time to start to shift a yoga routine. Just when you thought you’d failed at your new year’s resolutions, you have a chance to recover!  So why not take your yoga routine out-of-doors in these increasingly luminous days?

Outdoor yoga isn’t a new concept. From my trips abroad I’ve often seen yoga classes being held in parks, on the beach, and on rooftops, sundecks and terraces. And this is not an Americanization of yoga, either. In the historical literature you won’t find much mention of whether yoga should be practiced indoors or out. But in fact, yoga was originally done out-of-doors, at least as far as the ancient yogis in India were concerned. They didn’t have the luxury of modern yoga studios or shalas, and they didn’t even have  a lot of room in their houses—if they were even lucky enough to have houses.

So when you see illustrations of yogis from centuries past, they are often depicted sitting under the shade of a tree or on the banks of a holy river—close to nature. Even now, in India, you’ll see clusters of yogis in deep meditation, spaced a few feet apart, on the banks of our holiest rivers and other public spaces.

Unification with nature is one of the goals of yoga: to denounce material attachment in pursuit of  a state of harmony with nature and its offerings.

There are obvious physical advantages to practicing yoga in the wide open: fresh air, direct alignment with the sun (as in sun salutations), more space to stretch out. But from personal experience, I can share that the real advantage is the change in self-awareness that happens when one is in an environment one can’t control.

When practicing at home or in a studio, the temperature, lighting and background music can all be manipulated for the yogi’s comfort. But outside, there are a hundred little distractions like wind, insects, traffic noises, shifting clouds. The practice of working with these distractions is a yogi’s task. Overcoming them and focusing on the self gives the practitioner a chance to develop real inner harmony and equanimity.

To pursue a yoga practice, the most important thing you need is simply the desire to feel better and to think clearer. And I can’t imagine a space that enables these qualities more than being out in nature.

Of course, practicing yoga inside has its advantages, too. And really, yoga anywhere is a good thing. But if you have a chance this spring, and the weather supports your cause, try bringing your practice outside.

Some poses that are especially suited for the outdoors are:

Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutations)

What better way to salute the sun than actually facing the sun? Traditionally practiced at sunrise, facing east.

Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand Pose) or Vipareet Karani (Inverted Pose)

When turning upside down, find a tree to support your legs. I believe that inverted poses are best practiced out of doors.

Other great poses to try outside:

–        Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)

–        Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose)

–        Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Lateral Angle Pose)

–        Eka Pada Pranamasana (One-Legged Prayer Pose)

–        Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Spinal Twist)

–        Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

Read more: The Questionable Commoditization of Ashtanga Yoga.

Anurag Lohia is the founder and principle of Divine Wellness, a web site offering live interactive and personalized one-on-one yoga classes and wellness consultations with real teachers via webcam. He is based in New Delhi, India and is a lifetime advocate of yoga from a traditional Indian perspective.



Editor: Tanya L. Markul

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