Summer Yoga: 5 ways to take your practice outside

We’re in the thick of a gloriously hot summer, and if you haven’t had the chance to roll out your mat underneath the big blue sky and practice with the breeze at your back, there’s still time! Whether that means an extended savasana of staring at clouds or sweaty salutations with the blazing sun in sight, taking your yoga outside into the fresh air is sure to shift your perspective in challenging and rewarding ways.

Yoga is infinitely adaptable, and so are the ways you can move your mat outdoors. Here is some inspiration to introduce nature to your practice:

1. Rediscover your own “backyard”

What you consider your backyard may surprise you! If you’re lucky enough to have a grassy expanse of land behind your home, invite your yogi friends over to share your space. For the rest of us, it may take a little creativity to find a quiet outdoor space that’s not so far from where you sleep. Perhaps you have a small patio or deck? Who said you can’t put up a curtain to turn your front porch into a mini-sanctuary?

Wherever you choose to play, roll out an old blanket under your mat, and sit for several moments to fully absorb and enjoy your new surroundings.

2. Playtime in the park

Yoga by Lake Ontario

A friend captures me at play. That lakeside bench proved the perfect place to practice standing balances. And what a view!

The little park down the street is just calling for some yoga love! And, the bigger park might have more quiet nooks where you can hide out in the leafy shade to practice your vrksasana. If the idea of yoga in a public place makes you uncomfortable, find a friend or two and go together! You can even leave the mats at home and let the park become your playground. Ever tried dancer pose on fence post? Or practice handstand against a tree? Let go and see where your imagination takes you.

3. Pavilions and picnics

Pavilion Yoga Class

Our yoga training reunion picnic was held in an outdoor pavilion at Macedonia Brook State Park in Connecticut. We moved the picnic tables aside to create a breezy outdoor studio.

If you have a chance to get out of town, look for a state park with picnic facilities. You can find state parks nearby that offer pavilions to rent, often which include concrete floors, charcoal grills, and beautiful views. Get a group together and make a day of it! Pack a potluck lunch, bring a cooler full of icy drinks, and if you don’t want to rent a pavilion, go on an off day and see if you can find one that’s open. Even without a special structure to practice in, you’ll likely be able to find a patch of grass where you can picnic and practice. State parks typically charge a nominal fee for parking, so organize a carpool. Or, you may be able to skip the fees entirely by showing up extra early or just after the park has closed. Sunset yoga, anyone?

4. Bring your yoga on vacation

Beach Warrior

Beach Warrior! Vinyasa at the beach in Wells, Maine.

Surely, you must be traveling somewhere this summer? Don’t forget to pack your travel mat, an old blanket, and a fully layered yoga outfit (so you’re ready for any weather!). One of my favorite things to do on vacation is  find new and interesting places outside to experience my practice. Going to a hotel? Get up extra early and vinyasa by the outdoor pool. Camping? Park your blanket on a bed of pine needles under a big tree, and practice in the shade of the forest. Staying at a friend’s house? Scope out their backyard, porch, or patio and enjoy the fresh view.

5. Take an outdoor class

Typically, summertime is slow season for yoga studios. But recognizing that many yogis love to soak up the sunshine, studios are taking their classes outdoors and giving students the best of both worlds: a beautiful, natural environment with the organization that only a teacher can bring.

Last summer on York Beach in Maine, I enjoyed a delicious, early-morning vinyasa class offered by Yoga on York. The studio brought a large tarp onto the beach as well as a sound system, so there was little worry of a sandy mat or struggling to hear the teacher. As we grounded into downward-facing dog, the teacher, owner Rae Lynn, invited us to gaze out to the left, then gaze out to right, and “appreciate all of the abundance that surrounds you.”

Yoga on York - the view from my mat

The view from my mat during Rae Lynn’s class: a gorgeous sunrise over York Beach, Maine.

My teacher, Lara Ward of Lotus Gardens Yoga School, kicked off her 2012 summer season offering yoga classes on the local lake as well as Stand-Up Paddleboard yoga — a truly unique opportunity to play in the water, practice, and test your balance like never before.

And, even in my small city of Kingston, NY, a few local studios joined forces to offer a free, weekly yoga in the park series. Talk to your local studios, search online, and you’re sure to find a unique class that marries asana and outdoor adventure.

Wherever you choose to relocate your mat this summer, remember to be creative and improvise. The interruptions and unexpected challenges are part of what makes outdoor yoga so enlightening.

How do you react when the horseflies decide to invade your warrior 2? What happens to your dristi (gazing point) when the clouds above you are drifting? How do you ride the fluctuations of balance when practicing in the sand? And, can you tune out the couple and their noisy dog walking by? How about the speed boat racing through your savasana?

Inevitably, your outdoor practice will be dotted with moments that pull you right out of your comfort zone, and it’s how you react that opens up introspection and self-inquiry. Life, of course, is always full of surprises and never an even, predictable path. So welcoming the unknown in your practice helps prepare you for the same in your day to day life.

Bakasana on the rocks at a state park

Playing on the rocks overlooking the Atlantic. Height adds a whole new dimension to arm balances!

The best part is that embracing the chaos often results in little gifts you’d never experience otherwise: I remember very clearly practicing by the lake while camping with my family. The sky began to turn gray, and I decided to finish with sirsasana (headstand). Slowly, my world turned upside down, and I made a small wish that the rain would hold off just a few more minutes. As I held my pose and watched the gloriously stormy sky, I felt an immense gratitude for my ability to practice outside. Just at that moment, a small lady bug landed on my mat, right in front of me. As I watched it slowly crawl across my field of vision, a giant smile wrapped across my face. The smile didn’t fade as I snuggled into child’s pose, then carefully rolled up my mat and headed inside, just before the first few raindrops fell. It was a moment I’ll cherish forever!

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