I often hear from students and yoga teacher trainers that personal practice is something is of a challenge to begin and maintain. Time constraints, distractions, and not knowing “how to do it,” are usually cited as reasons why s/he hasn’t committed to it thus far. Yes, it can be intimidating in the beginning, but the benefits definitely outweigh the struggle: greater self-awareness, confidence, emotional regulation tools, and the usual gains in strength and flexibility tailored to your needs. If you find yourself in this camp, then perhaps these last few weeks of summer are the time to begin. The summer months provide ideal conditions for yogis looking to commune with nature during their asana or meditation practices. Here are my personal top 8 tips for venturing out onto the deck, the back yard, or even the front yard – be ye brave enough.
- Anchor the umbrella: this is a Wyoming-specific instruction. First of all, I am positively spoiled. I have a huge deck and a freestanding umbrella that tilts and swivels to my taste. Granted, it can be tossed about with ease by the Wyoming wind. I use 3 cinderblocks to hold it in place. This is usually not a concern with an early morning practice. The afternoon can tend to be the time the wind really gets going. No umbrella or tree for your protection? Please see number 2.
- Protect from the sun: don’t forget it’s mighty and awesome power. These are practicalities, but important nonetheless. Sunscreen and sunglasses are a must. If you are hoping to make this a sustainable practice, then you must protect from the sun. You won’t practice if you’re uncomfortable. It’s definitely worth the effort. Also, don’t forget to hydrate.
- Pick a private or semi-private space: the caveat here is if you don’t care who sees you. I’ve grown less self-conscious over time, but I still don’t necessarily want to point my happy baby pose straight at my neighbor’s patio as he grills his evening meal. Whenever my personal practice is “exposed,” or out in the open, I think back to my pre-yoga days when I lived in Vancouver where I would swim at the University of British Columbia pool. Every day during the noon swim, this gorgeous elderly woman would practice yoga poolside wearing a swimsuit, a bandana around her neck, and her ear buds to shut out pop music playing over the pool speakers. She had absolutely zero concern for how she came across to any of the swimming public – and not a one of us cared either. So, this one is definitely up to you. Think of what might happen if we all took our practice to the front yard! Oh, the possibilities…
- 4. Leave the phone inside.
- Give yourself enough time: Maybe that’s 15 minutes. Maybe it’s more like 90. Whatever you decide, keep this time sacred. This is a worthwhile endeavor. Your loved ones will notice what a pleasant person you are to be around if you don’t allow this “me time” to be cut short.
- Listen to your body: let yourself move, stretch, shake, twist, rest in exactly the way your body and breath instructs. This is often a sticking point for students – “I don’t have a teacher telling me what to do!” To which I say, “Exactly!” How often have you been in class and started to harbor resentment against your oh-so-bendy yoga instructor, thinking, “Haven’t we done enough plank for today?” The most amazing gift receivable from any personal practice is the chance to move in a healing, therapeutic way, guided from the inside out. To help connect with that inner teacher, try replacing “I should/shouldn’t” or “I can’t” with “I choose.”
- Don’t skip svasana: the clouds, the blue sky, and the rustling leaves are effective focal points to drop into the delicious meditative state of svasana – a pose we often don’t make enough time for. Open your eyes and focus your awareness on the movement, on the earth/grass/mat beneath you, the breeze on your skin, the sun’s warmth on your face…
- Realize your connection: for me – and for many in our beautiful little corner of the planet, being out in nature provides such palpable evidence of the yogic teaching that we are connected – not separate. It happens as I pause and notice how the breeze blows in time with my breath. Or the half-moon still high in the morning sky overhead – part shadow, part light – just like me. Or the great tree with it’s deep, expanding roots reaching down, and it’s massive branches reaching up. We share so much with these elements. They are reflections of our true nature. They can be our teachers if we open our senses in those moments.
But you don’t have to take it from me. This is a chance for your personal practice to start or expand. Personal is the operative word. Go ahead. Get out there. Connect to nature… and to your Self.