By getting out of the studio and into nature, you can experience yoga as it was originally intended. "Being outdoors gives you access to a whole other world of sensations. It helps you feel part of a boundless existence, at one with an intelligent and sympathetic universe," says Garrett Sarley Dinabandhu, president of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts's Berkshire Mountains. The pure unpredictability of being outside and exposed to the elements can strengthen an existing practice or inspire a new one, Dinabandhu says. Working with Michelle Van Otten, owner of Ultimate Outdoor Fitness in Los Gatos, California, and E. Barrie Kavasch, an expert in Native American wisdom and author of "The Medicine Wheel Garden," we've developed a unique yoga-based routine that's meant to be an out-of-studio experience. This Four Elements Ritual -- Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water -- is designed to awaken your senses, enhance your focus, and help you reconnect to the natural world.
To refresh your experience when you go outside, keep these four points in mind.
Find Your Place Of Peace And Power: Everybody has access to some spot of natural power. It doesn't have to be the Grand Canyon; it can be Central Park, a river, a stream, a hillside. Maybe it's a place made special by its juxtaposition to what's around it -- an old oak tree next to a housing development or a water fountain in the middle of a city. If you open yourself to it, you can find lots of what Dinabandhu calls "little doorways into the natural rhythms of nature."
Be Present: To most people, the outdoors is a transitional place -- something they rush through on their way from one indoor environment to another; they're not fully conscious of the world itself. The rewards of being present in nature are very fulfilling -- but it's an awareness you have to cultivate.
Start With Your Breath: Do a few ujjayi breaths to relax and slow down. Breathe slowly through your nose, allowing your belly to expand; slightly contract the back of the throat as you inhale and exhale to create the audible sound of an ujjayi breath, like ocean waves rushing over pebbles. Listen for the gentle rhythms of nature and allow your breath to fall in sync with it. With each breath, reach your sensory awareness toward your inner self and out into the world around you.
Go Slow And Slower: When you practice yoga outside, it's not about how many asanas you do, but the quality of movement that enriches your practice. Think of moving from the inside out, following your body's natural inclination and rhythms. Feel the currents of the air across your body and let that direct you. Enjoy the flow of one pose into another. Take your time.
3. Reach your arms as high as you can, with heels planted and feet flat. Next, try reaching higher on the right side, then the left, three times on each side.
4. Round down into a forward fold. Hold this pose for five breaths with soft knees, hands flat on the ground.
5. Bend your legs a little, lowering your pelvis. Exhale as the knees bend; inhale and straighten. Do this three times6. Roll up slowly.
1. Stand in Mountain pose with a slightly widened stance and feet firmly on the ground.2. Begin a spinal rotation, starting at the waist and gently turning the upper body, face, shoulders, arms, and hands from side to side. Rotate the spine like a washing machine, allowing the muscles to release and the arms to flop loosely, patting the body with each turn. Let the movement flow back and forth.3. Breathe in for one complete rotation, then out for a rotation; keep this rhythm going for at least 20 rotations.4. Return to center. Bring your heels together with toes slightly apart, and let your arms relax at your sides.
1. From Mountain pose move into Chair pose by first raising your arms so they are perpendicular to the floor and in line with the back and neck. Bend your knees and lower your tailbone as if you are sitting, lowering until your thighs are almost parallel to the ground. Keep your knees aligned with your ankles, and hold for five breaths.2. Straighten legs and dive into a forward fold as you exhale, then step back into Downward-Facing Dog, hands and feet on the ground, hips raised, heels pressing toward the ground, arms firm, fingers spread, and palms flat. Hold for a few breaths to build heat in the body.
Practice near a body of water -- the ocean, a lake, or a swimming pool. Find a waterfall or fountain. Try practicing in the morning or evening to feel and see the dew on the grass and leaves. Practice meditation. This exercise is inspired by tai chi and includes both fluid movement and balance while standing in place.
1. Stand with heels together, toes apart.
2. Keeping your knees soft, rock back and forth to find perfect center balance.3. With hands together in prayer position, reach up over your head through the air. Open your arms as if you're doing a breaststroke, and push the air away as if it were water. Sweep your arms out and down, returning them to your sides. Inhale as you swim "out," rise up on your toes, and exhale as you gently bring your hands back and lower onto your feet.4. Repeat the motions at least 10 times, gradually working up to 20.