OUTDOOR YOGA – THE DOS AND DON'TS AND THE WHAT IF?
TIPS FOR PRACTICING YOGA IN OPEN AIR
You might have heard about taking yoga off the mat, but how about taking your yoga mat outside?
Summer is here and opportunities to practice under the blue sky are plenty. Maybe you've already followed a yoga class in the park, on the beach, on a rooftop terrace; maybe you're tempted, but don't quite know how to approach it. Hope the next few lines will help you enjoy your experience even more, encourage you to give it a try, or just offer you some insight on what to expect.
The thought of it is not appealing? Well, guess what? Nobody is here to force you to try! Stop reading, move on, stick with what you know. But the idea of combining two of the best things there are – practicing yoga and open air – is talking to you? I have only a few words to say: Light and fun. Less pressure, more play. Affordable. This being said, let's see how we can prepare and make the experience better.
What do you need to bring for a yoga class outside the studio?
your curiosity and interest to try something different. If you have a regular studio or personal practice, yoga outdoors will not feel quite the same. It's a special way to explore the practice. As we're on an uneven surface, you'll have to explore with different engagement of the muscles, more awareness, slower pace, more mindfulness in getting in and out of the postures. It might add a different dimension to your self inquiry, help you discover weak points or strengths you were blind to.
Mat or no mat? How about props? For a class outside most teachers will not be able to provide you with a mat or props. You might want to bring your own or use a yoga towel, a blanket, or a sheet instead; or, why not, try it directly on the grass/sand/deck. There are people paying extra for doing yoga on special surfaces (have you heard of SUP yoga?). If you prefer a mat, consider it might get a bit dirty, so choose one that is easy to clean. If you're using props, a rolled towel or blanket can help you just the same.
Sunscreen, water, hat. The weather is nice and you would like to work on your tan while enjoying the practice, but you want to stay away from sun strokes, sun burns or dehydration. Consider a reusable water bottle ;) If the class is in the evening, the temperature might suddenly drop and you might feel cold during your relaxation, so a light scarf or shirt to cover yourself for savasana could come in handy.
Money. Most outdoor classes are donation based, sometimes with a suggested amount. The studio organizing and the teacher delivering the class still invest their time and energy into offering the practice. Think about making a contribution according to your possibilities. Even though you are not requested to pay the fee of a drop in class, consider rewarding the teacher.
What you do NOT need: any strong smells (they get stronger with heat, movement and sweat), jewelry (way harder to find if you accidentally drop it in the grass or sand), phone and instant messenger conversations (duh...), full belly (allow at least 2h after a meal). Oh, and you do not need to be late ;) Even though the door doesn't lock when the practice starts, being there from the first few minutes of the practice is important. That's when you get to know the teacher, the theme of the class, establish that connection to yourself before you start moving, settle in. Plus, you don't to disturb the other yogis as you arrive.
THE WHAT IF
What you do not bring, but might be there: dirt, noise, bugs, pollen and possible poisoning plants (nettles, poison ivy, thistles), unpredictable weather (gusts of wind, random rain showers), passers by ranging from just curious, to admiring, to plain rude. If that is the scenery, is your practice going to be any less? Not necessarily. Here's how:
Make sure you choose a spot that is not covered in trash leftover by other “nature lovers” less concerned with environment than you. If need be, pick up what needs to be picked up and consider the good gesture your karma yoga. Clear away stones and sticks, a pebble under your back might feel like a giant rock during savasana. Check the weather forecast and be prepared to finish your session before the designated time.
Bugs crawling all over – well, in all fairness, they were there first, so be respectful of their habitat. Citronella oil or other natural insect repellent, long sleeves and pants would offer you protection.
You find strangers a bit too involved? it's true, people will look. Sometimes comment: “that looks painful” or “that looks like so much fun”. Notice your reactions to one or the other attitude. You're there for your own experience, try to not get caught up in imaginary thoughts about anyone's impressions. Are you there to perform or are you there to practice?
All of the above can turn onto opportunities for your practice: is your focus on your breath? One can always practice releasing attachment to distractions and sounds. All in all, everyone’s comfort levels are different, so you may have to decide which battles are most important and if an outdoor practice works for you. With a little humility, humor, creativity, you can find that sweet spot though, and it will be well worth it.
Questions, comments, disagreements? I'll be happy to hear from you!
Looking for opportunities to practice outside? Drop a line.
You noticed a class going on in the park close to your home/office and you would like
to join? Wait until the class is over and ask the teacher about times and conditions.
YOUR BODY, YOUR YOGA. YES, BUT WHICH ONE?
You have heard it before ( I've repeated it too), you are unique and so is your yoga... But which yoga?
There are so many names out there, so many styles, so many teachers, so many choices, you find yourself paralyzed and not knowing which is which, let alone which might be right for you! Here is a list of a few styles of yoga I've heard of myself. I haven't practiced them all and I have no intention to try them all either, so the descriptions are not based on my direct experience, rather I tried to make a comprehensive list and looked for a short but informative description to offer you enough information to decide for yourself if it's something you might give it a try or not.
So here we go, alphabetically:
AcroYoga: a style of partner yoga that involves ideally three people: one person is the base and another person “flying” in various poses balanced on the base’s feet; the third is he spotter, who assists the other two and makes sure nobody gets hurt. It is a challenging physical practice that blends elements of yoga, acrobatics, performance and healing arts.
Aerial Yoga: combines aerial arts and traditional yoga by using anti-gravity hammocks and silks as props that aid the body in positioning and alignment. The technique also involves aspects of Pilates, gymnastics and contemporary dance.This practice decompresses the vertebrae while shaping body and mind. Apparently sometimes it has the added benefit of making its devotees taller by up to 4cm in height.
Ananda Yoga: this type of yoga seeks to your level of consciousness by reinforcing the natural effects the yoga postures. It comprises a set of 39 individual exercises called the Energization Exercises and each posture is paired with its own affirmation, which one practices silently while in the posture. The affirmation is designed to reinforce the posture’s natural effect on one’s state of consciousness, bringing the mind actively and directly into one’s practice. It is a gentle practice for beginning students, becoming more challenging with experience, but not aggressive or aerobic. The founder of this style is Swami Kriyananda, direct disciple of Yogananda (Autobiography of a Yogi).
Anusara Yoga: often described as Iyengar with a sense of humor, this style of yoga is a more modern form of Iyengar. Created by the aptly named John Friend, Anusara is meant to be heartfelt and accepting. Instead of trying to fit everyone into standard positions, students are guided to express themselves through the poses to their fullest ability.
Ashtanga: a particular way of practicing transmitted by Krishnamacharya; the details of the sequencing and of individual poses seem to have been subject to some modifications over the decades by Pattabhi Jois, who is considered the founder of Ashtanga. It is a dynamic, physically demanding practice that synchronizes breath and movement to produce an internal heat intended to purify the body. It offers a preset series of poses, each held for only five breaths and punctuated by sun salutations / vinyasa to keep up the pace.
Baptiste Yoga: founded in the 1940′s by Walt Baptiste and through his son Baron. The physical aspects of Baptiste Yoga style are inspired by the Hatha Yoga teachings of Krishnamacharya and his students Iyengar and Desikachar, whom Baron Baptiste studied with personally from a young age. The structure of each class is inspired by Baron’s book, “Journey into Power.” It provides a method, organization, and theme for each sequence of poses that are taught in class.
Bikram: a series of 26 basic yoga postures, each performed twice and taught very strictly with no room for interpretation in style, in a sauna-like space. The heat is cranked up to nearly 39 degrees and 40 percent humidity. It’s called “Bikram” after the founder, Bikram Choudhury, who was a gold medal Olympic weight lifter in 1963 and a disciple of Bishnu Ghosh, brother of Yogananda. See Hot Yoga
Dharma: a style of eclectic hatha yoga that incorporates Buddhist philosophies and teachings and a focus on Zen or Tibetan Buddhist techniques of meditation.
Forrest yoga: a modern lineage headed by Los Angeles based teacher Ana Forrest. Her style weaves yogic and Native American/Shamanic teachings. Poses are typically held for many breath cycles. Lots of core-strengthening and fierce balancing poses are integral to the Forrest Yoga practice.
Hatha: a general category that includes most yoga styles. Today, the term hatha is used in such a broad way that it is difficult to know what a particular hatha class will be like. In most cases, however, it will be relatively gentle, slow and great for beginners or students who prefer a more relaxed style where they hold poses longer. It can vary a lot, so try to get more information from the specific teacher before attending the class.
Hot yoga / Hot flow: often confused with Bikram yoga, but here the classes are a lot more lenient, temperature is lower, students may ask questions, up beat music can be played and you can have a laugh; studios don't necessarily have mirrors, classes can be 60min instead of 90mis in Bikram, no one class is the same as postures are always different with each teacher bringing their own style, as they come from many schools of yoga and are usually influenced by more than one style
Iyengar: named after founder B.K.S. Iyengar. Iyengar and Ashtanga yoga come from the same lineage as both teachers who developed these styles were taught by Krishnamacharya. Many postures are the same, but props like blocks, straps, harnesses, and incline boards are used to get you more perfectly into positions and have earned the style its nickname, “furniture yoga.” Appropriate for all ages and abilities, Iyengar yoga is all about precise alignment and deliberate sequencing. Don’t take that to mean easy.
Integrative Yoga Therapy (IYT): brings together asanas, pranayama, mudra, yoga nidra, mantra and meditation into a complete package where they can be utilized for therapy. Founded by Joseph Le Page in 1993, IYT was an attempt to create a training program with the focus on yoga as a healing art, and has designed programs specifically for medical and mainstream wellness settings, including hospital and rehabilitation centers.
ISHTA: developed by South African teacher Mani Finger and popularized in the States by his son Alan, ISHTA (Integral Science of Hatha and Tantric Arts) focuses on opening energy channels throughout the body with postures, visualizations, and meditation
Jivamukti: physical, limit-pushing practice that reintegrates yoga’s traditional spiritual elements in an educational way for Western practitioners. Expect a theme for each class, Sanskrit chanting, and references to ancient scripture. Created by Sharon Gannon and David Life in 1984 in New York City, jivamukti translates as “liberation while living.”
Kali Ray TriYoga: A series of flowing, dancelike movements was developed by Kali Ray in 1980. The practice also incorporates pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation. Kali Ray runs the TriYoga Center in Santa Cruz, California
Kids yoga: due to the shorter attention span of young children, a kids’ yoga class may incorporate games and stories and move more quickly from pose to pose.
Krama Vinyasa Yoga: Krama is a Sanskrit term meaning “succession." This can denote a step-by-step progression or a sequence of events.In yoga, this word is most commonly used to refer to vinyasa krama. Vinyasa krama is an asana practice that flows with the breath and takes a sequential approach in order to achieve a specific goal or intention. Typically, this goal is a more advanced or complex asana (posture). Often, this type of yoga is referred to simply as vinyasa, or flow yoga.
Kripalu: a three-part practice that teaches you to get to know, accept, and learn from your body. It starts with figuring out how your body works in different poses, then moves toward postures held for an extended time and meditation. It then taps deep into your being to find spontaneous flow in asanas, letting your body be the teacher.
Kundalini: features constantly moving, invigorating poses. The fluidity of the practice is intended to release the kundalini (serpent) energy in your body, envisioned as coiled like a sleeping snake at the base of the spine, waiting to be tapped; the practice aims to do just that — awaken and pulse the stuff upward through the body.
Mysore: (See also Ashtanga.) Named for the Indian city where Pattabhi Jois taught, it is a self-paced practice done early in the morning. Students turn up at any time within a three-hour window to do their own practice. An instructor is there for guidance but does not lead the class as in a regular Ashtanga class.
Nata / Natha Yoga: A base of 16 lower body and 16 upper body movements that are done in some sort of mathematical variation; There are a number of special breath exercises that are accompanied by similar movements of arms or legs. The arms are associated with the chest by means of muscles, and the legs are associated with the abdominal cavity, and both participate in the breathing process. This means that breathing characteristics largely depend on the trajectory and movement characteristics of the arms and legs in breathing exercises.
Nidra: a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the "going-to-sleep" stage. It is a state in which the body is completely relaxed, and the practitioner becomes systematically and increasingly aware of the inner world by following a set of verbal instructions. This state of consciousness is different from meditation in which concentration on a single focus is required. In yoga nidra the practitioner remains in a state of light pratyahara with four of his or her senses internalized, that is, withdrawn, and only the hearing still connects to the instructions.
Partner yoga: as you can probably guess, this style involves two people executing poses together. AcroYoga and Thai Yoga Massage are two polar examples of partner yoga.
Pilates: this exercise system is not yoga, but it made the list because it is so often combined with yoga or taught at the same location. Its main focus is on strengthening and developing stability in the core abdominal muscles.
Power yoga: active and athletic style of yoga adapted from the traditional ashtanga system in the late 1980s to appeal to aerobic-crazed Westerners. After having studied with Pattabhi Jois, Beryl Bender Birch and Bryan Kest simultaneously pioneered this westernized ashtanga on the East and West coasts of the US. Power yoga doesn’t stick to the same sequence of poses each time like ashtanga does, so the style varies depending on the teacher.
Prenatal and Postnatal: Yoga postures carefully adapted for expectant mothers and post-partum women. Prenatal yoga is tailored to help women in all stages of pregnancy, and postnatal yoga is modified to help those getting back in shape post-birth. When you keep your muscles strong through your term, they will still have the strength and energy to return to normal. These practices omit deep backbends, deep twists and poses done lying on the belly.
Restorative: Less work, more relaxation. You’ll spend as many as 20 minutes each in just four or five simple poses (often they’re modifications of standard asanas) using strategically placed props like blankets, bolsters, and soothing lavender eye pillows to help you sink into deep relaxation. There’s also psychic cleansing: the mind goes to mush and you feel brand new.
Sampoorna Yoga: the “Yoga Of Fullness” is a traditional style of yoga in the Sivananda lineage. Each session consists of fundamental and energizing breathing exercises, warming up and strengthening exercises, followed by an intelligent sequence of yoga postures and finally, a deep relaxation. Sampoorna Yoga has been developed by Shri Yogi Hari. The basic message is that health, peace and joy are already within you. And Yoga can help you to uncover them.
Sivananda: An unhurried yoga practice that typically focuses on the same 12 basic asanas or variations thereof every time, bookended by sun salutations and savasana (corpse pose). The system is based on a five-point philosophy that proper breathing, relaxation, diet, exercise, and positive thinking work together to form a healthy yogic lifestyle
Svaroopa Yoga: a technique for opening your body (roopa) to find your Self (sva). It has a radically different approach than most modern styles of yoga and can give you a new way to think about asana practice. The practice creates a core opening by releasing the tensions in the deepest layers of your body. Dissolving these tensions allows you to live with ease, both in your body and in your deeper self. This all happens without sweat or strain. New students find this a very approachable style, often beginning in chair poses that are comfortable. Promotes healing and transformation
Tantra Yoga: While most of us think of sex when we think of Tantra Yoga, this ancient practice is actually a powerful combination of asana, mantra, mudra, and bandha (energy lock) and chakra (energy center) work that you can use to build strength, clarity, and bliss in everyday life. By harnessing and embodying the five forces of Shakti, the female deity that represents creativity and change, Tantric Yoga suggests we can move through the world with more confidence and contentment. Tantra yoga may improve your sex life because of what it does to help you get in touch with your own body and your own energy. Tantric practices, including Tantra yoga, work on the subtle energies within the body to enhance spiritual growth and physical wellbeing.
Thai Yoga Massage: this style of partner yoga/massage originated in Thailand. Most of the poses involve one person giving an adjustment to the receiver (who is usually in a reclining position), using his or her hands, elbows and feet. The focus is on energy lines and pressure points as taught in traditional Chinese medicine.
Viniyoga: A highly individualized practice in which yogis learn to adapt poses and goals to their own needs and abilities. Vini actually means differentiation, adaptation, and appropriate application. Instead of focusing on stretching to get strong and flexible, viniyoga uses the principles of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). PNF simply means warming up and contracting a muscle before stretching it. This decreases your chance of injury.
Vinyasa: like hatha, vinyasa is a general term that describes many different styles of yoga. It essentially means movement synchronized with breath and is a vigorous style based on a rapid flow through sun salutations, as it is influenced by ashtanga yoga. You may also see a vinyasa class referred to as a flow yoga, flow-style yoga, dynamic yoga or vinyasa flow, which refers to the continuous movement from one posture to the next. If you're new to yoga, it is a good idea to take a few classes in a slower style of yoga first to get a feel for the poses.
Yin: quiet, slow, meditative yoga practice, also called taoist yoga. Yin focuses on the connective tissues and the fascia, and is meant to complement yang yoga—the dynamic, muscle focused types of practice. Yin poses are passive, meaning you’re supposed to relax muscles and let gravity do the work. And they’re kept for longer, from 2 minutes up, so you’ll practice patience here too.
White Lotus Yoga: A modified Ashtanga practice developed by Ganga White which is combined with breath work and meditation.
Other styles (names are quite self explanatory):
Nude yoga, Canabis yoga, Doga, Goat yoga, Equine Yoga, Broga (yoga for men only), Beer yoga, Yoga Raves, Tantrum Yoga, Laughing Yoga, Karaoke Yoga, S.U.P. (Stand Up Paddleboard) Yoga
You Name It You've Got It Yoga – if it's not there, you can brand it yourself ; )
Most yoga styles I tried left me with a feeling of lightness and relaxation. Some left me completely wiped out, some energized me, some I found intriguing, some less so. I think that in order to get the most benefit and enjoy your class the most, you need to do your research and find a yoga style and a yoga teacher that suit you. For example, if you're already doing lots of strength training your best choice is likely to be a yoga style that focuses more on flexibility. That way, you can balance your fitness routine. Give yin a try, even restorative, try a gentle flow or a hatha class. For those of you who have an injury or live with a chronic medical condition, a good approach would be to have a few sessions with a private teacher with expertise in yoga therapy or consider Iyengar yoga, so you focus on alignment and your unique needs. If you are drawn to experience the spiritual side, you could try jivamukti. Sampoorna, kundalini. And for those who are relatively healthy and want a challenge, ashtanga vinyasa or vinyasa flow might be a good choice.
My advice would be to give everything you try at least a couple of chances. You tried one style of yoga that you thought appropriate but you were disappointed? Try again, maybe a few days later, a different location, a different time of the day. Don't cross it entirely off your list and keep an open mind about it. Your practice is not the same every day, every year, at whatever age and no matter what circumstances you're in. Just the same, every teacher has their own unique focus based on their personality, their own yoga practice and where and with whom they've trained. More so, the teacher you practice with might have an excellent day, might be right back after a training, retreat or immersion, therefore inspired and uplifting, or might have had a death in the family or struggle with some less tragic but irritating issues in their life...
Some classes – marked general or open level – are suitable for all. This is how you can start your explorations. At the beginning you're just watching and copying; you'll feel like you have no idea what you’re doing and you only mimic some motions, but little by little you get a sense of how the body feels in the postures and you become more accustomed to your body, your muscles, but more importantly the breath. As long as you keep your focus on breathing and you try to coordinate the breath with the movement, you’re doing the right thing. I would say that discovering what style of yoga suits you best is just as much a part of the journey as the discovery of your own body, developing self awareness and proprioception.
Have fun and see you on the mat!