Are you an avid fan of outdoor yoga? Or do you prefer the comfort and quiet of indoor yoga?
As we enter the height of summer (it is HOT), it’s time to consider the pros and cons of an alfresco yoga practice.
Many of you will be thinking that outdoor yoga is fine on the beach in the Maldives, or on the terrace of a villa in Tuscany, but in your back garden it’s not quite the same.
But what if it’s worth it? What are the benefits of outdoor yoga, if any, and should we give it a go in this unpredictable little country of ours?
Pros of Getting Outside
Even if the natural world that you are practicing in is your back garden, there are multiple benefits to being surrounded by a bit of green. Studies have shown that being outdoors can reduce stress levels, blood pressure, and heart rate. It can also lead to reduced risk of mental health problems, improved mood, and increased life satisfaction.
There are lots of reasons for these health-boosting benefits, but one of the big ones is the importance of being exposed to natural light. For many of us, our working days are spent predominantly in front of a screen. Screens emit a light that is actively unhelpful in regulating our circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are the way that humans (and all living things) regulate their waking and sleeping patterns.
In order to have a healthy circadian rhythm, we need to stick to regular waking and sleeping times, as well as get outside, preferably first thing in the morning, in order to reset our sleep patterns.
Listen to Nature
According to a study conducted by the Natural History Museum, some birdsong can alleviate anxiety. The caveat here is that there are some bird ‘songs’, such as the magpie’s raking chatter that is less conducive to reducing anxiety, but the melodic trill of the blackbird, for example, is a great mood booster.
There’s a reason why many of us noticed the increased birdsong over lockdown, and how happy it made us feel. Birdsong is how our caveman ancestors knew whether the coast was clear or not, so when we hear the happy trills of our garden birds it makes us feel safe.
There are lots of ways that getting outside to do your yoga practice can increase your levels of mindfulness, and being present. When we practice outside, we can (for example) notice the shape of the sky or garden (depending on the pose you’re in) between parts of our bodies.
We can be more highly tuned into the senses of smell and touch. Practice in the morning and you will feel the dew on the lawn, the smell of the earth. In the evening the dusk-scented plants such as honeysuckle and tobacco plants send out their subtle scents.
Practicing yoga outdoors, rather than on the uniform floors of our inside spaces, can help improve our levels of proprioception. The uneven surface of the ground, as well as the differing textures and degrees of hardness all mean our bodies have to work harder to balance, which in turn improves our awareness of our body in space.
The lack of a wall and a ceiling also means that we have to work harder to maintain an awareness of our body in the environment, which is why we find it harder to balance outdoors.
The Cons of Outside Yoga
With the summer we’ve had so far in the UK this has to be the top disadvantage of an outdoor yoga practice. Practicing outside in the rain is not ideal. The ground is slippy underfoot, our mat and props get grubby and need a deep clean after every use, and it’s just downright miserable.
With the weather at the moment, you also need to be careful about practicing in full sun. Traditionally, yoga should only be practiced in a light, airy and shaded space, in order to keep the body from overheating.
Bugs and Pests
Depending on how squeamish you are, this can definitely be a downside to taking your yoga outside. In late summer wasps start to emerge, and getting stung would definitely not enhance your practice.
Then there’s getting close and personal with slugs, snails, worms, and ants during your Savasana.
If you’ve hit a bump in the road with your yoga practice, then any added obstacle to yoga isn’t going to help, and if finding an outside space means you’re less likely to practice, then it’s not worth it. Just roll your mat out next to your bed, and either roll onto it first thing in the morning or roll off it last thing at night.
One of the pros listed above was the increased levels of proprioception needed to practice yoga outdoors. This can also be a con, especially if your balancing poses aren’t the steadiest at the best of times. Taking your yoga outside when you’re not ready could reduce your confidence, so perhaps it’s best to wait until you feel completely secure balancing in the middle of the room.
I think it’s safe to say that having the odd outdoor yoga session this summer will definitely benefit your health, mood, and sleep patterns. So, if you can find a gap in the rain/boiling hot sun, grab your mat and enjoy that downward dog in the local park or your back garden.