Taking your mat outside, especially now that there is warmer weather here in the northern hemisphere as we move towards summer, can be a great way to improve your practice and your mood. This article shares some thoughts on why you might want to go outside and brave the elements.
Gain More Physical Balance
We are accustomed to practicing on indoor surfaces, which are level, flat, and smooth. Being outside and on the earth, whether it is in the form of dirt, sand or rock, can help you by requiring your brain to work harder to balance. Over time, stability improves. It may take a few sessions of practice so if you are getting frustrated, be patient with yourself. Be mindful of your thoughts.
Perform Stronger Asanas Outside
Feeling sluggish and unmotivated to practice? Maybe you think you haven’t got the energy for a warrior pose today. The solution may require getting outside the box, literally. Numerous experimental psychology studies have linked exposure to nature with increased energy and productivity. Studies suggest that the very presence of nature helps to ward off feelings of exhaustion and that 90 percent of people report increased energy when practicing outdoor activities.
Boost Your Mood
Time spent outside can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Studies have demonstrated that exposure to natural sensory experiences, like the sounds of running water or the smells of the forest, have marked effects on stress and physiological factors, including lower blood pressure, heart rate and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body’s fight-or-flight response.
Exposure to sunlight is another way to naturally increase serotonin levels. This chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) helps the brain and nervous system cells communicate, stabilizes our mood, and aids in producing feelings of happiness and well-being. Light therapy is one of the main treatments for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the winter blues that may be triggered by a drop in serotonin levels.
In addition, breathing fresh outside air can raise levels of oxygen in your brain, which in turn boosts levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that alters your mood.
Connect with the Elements
Going outside means we get to feel more of what is most present in the moment- our senses. We can feel the heat of the sun (fire element), the breeze on our skin or the smell of the foliage (air element). We see the clouds or we hear the sound of running water from the stream we are practicing at (water element) and we feel the ground beneath us (earth element).
Moving outdoors reminds us of our place within the natural environment, too. It gets us into our bodies and out of our heads by exposing us to the elements. We are no longer in climate-controlled spaces, but are responding to the temperature, humidity, sunlight (or moonlight) and shifts in the wind. Our practice, and our mindset, adapt to being a part of something bigger.
Let Being Outside Stimulate Mindfulness
Because being outside can help us get out of our heads and into our bodies, it has the added benefit of bringing us more into the present. This can be especially true when trying to balance on an uneven surface! We can use this added level of mindfulness throughout our asana practice and in our meditation practice. All the sounds, smells, and sensations that come with being outside offer a great opportunity to deepen our awareness. This can be done in many ways. You could try focusing just on sounds for one meditation – noticing the sounds of the bugs, birds and wind on the trees, or whatever you hear. Another great outdoor meditation is nature gazing – keep your gaze very steady on a point at eye level and resist closing your eyes to build concentration and commune with the object in your gaze.
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