It’s human nature to be outside. To play in trees and to stretch wherever you happen to plop down. It’s human nature to run around barefoot, chase fireflies on warm nights, and roll down grassy hills without a care in the world. As adults, we spend a majority of our time inside. We go from house to work to gym to home. As Sydney Duarte, a prominent yoga instructor, muralist, and arts activist likes to say, “we’re basically house plants, but with more complicated emotions”. 

With yoga, practices are often confined by four walls and a ceiling. Below are thoughts from three established instructors on how their yoga practice benefited from taking it outdoors. 

The pros: Sydney Duarte, Anna Levesque, and Victoria Martinez. 

ON RECONNECTING WITH NATURE 

Anna Levesque (AL): In yoga we talk a lot about connection and connecting to nature. When we practice outside and on the water, we aren’t just talking about that connection, we’re experiencing and nurturing that connection in real time. I find that very powerful. Yoga outdoors allows you to connect deeply with nature and remember that you are nature, there is no separation. 

Victoria Martinez (VM): In nature you see a totally new landscape than the studio. When you gaze up at the trees and the sky, it creates a feeling of expansiveness. This helps move you from the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) to the para-sympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). This switch shoots feel-good hormones throughout your body, elevating your mood and enhancing feelings of connectedness. 

U.S. NATIONAL WHITEWATER CENTER

ON CULTIVATING AWARENESS 

AL: When you practice outside you must let go of control and be more aware. Unlike the studio, you can’t control the climate by turning the heat up or the air on. Practicing outside challenges us to get comfortable with discomfort. There may be insects that come say hello and we get to observe our reaction (is it dramatic and stressful, or calm and accepting?). For me it’s a wonderful practice in cultivating greater self-awareness, going with the flow, and feeling the support of the earth beneath and around us. 

U.S. NATIONAL WHITEWATER CENTER

ON CREATING A DEEPER EXPERIENCE 

Sydney Duarte (SD): There’s a lot about earthing and grounding down – when you’re that close to the earth, you’re receiving and soaking up the electrons on earth’s surface. The earth is charging you up. 

AL: If you’re practicing yoga on a paddleboard, it provides us with the opportunity to discover where we ‘cheat’ in our regular practice. SUP yoga challenges us to cultivate a strong base through our legs, balance modifications and an awareness of where we’re placing our hands and feet in all poses. 

VM: Taking my practice outside allows me to see and experience a new perspective. I can expand my vision and that outer expansion leads to inner expansion. As I connect to nature, I feel like I’m a part of it. It lets me dig deeper into my meditation practice and feel connected on a deeper level to all beings everywhere. 

U.S. NATIONAL WHITEWATER CENTER

ON TAPPING INTO ALL FIVE SENSES 

SD: Yoga outdoors simply lets you be more present. You can get out of your mind, let go, be in that moment, and get grounded. You’re hearing the birds, seeing the tress, feeling the warm sun. Who knows what you’ll pick up on? You can reach that deeper state of relaxation. And it’s a good, happy place. 

AL: All the sounds and smells of nature are part of cultivating our connection with nature. At times our senses can distract us, and that is a challenge with practicing outdoors. It provides the opportunity to refine our ability to focus and helps us to remember that we are nature. 

VM: The sounds of nature are universal, it’s a common language we all understand regardless of where we come from. These elements unite us and bring us together. 

U.S. NATIONAL WHITEWATER CENTER

ON TRUSTING COMMUNITY 

SD: In studios, I see a lot of comparison and judging happening. Outdoors, it feels less intimidating and I see people really settle into themselves. Students blossom faster because they’re less worried about what their neighbor’s doing or what they look like. It’s nice to see people light up when they reach the “ah-ha” moment of I don’t have to force myself to be anything other than myself. 

U.S. NATIONAL WHITEWATER CENTER

FLOW FEST 

Awaken your practice outside at Flow Fest. A two-day yoga festival at the Whitewater Center. September 21 – 22, 2019. Free to attend. 50+ classes. 15+ workshops. Vendor Village with local artisans. Live music from JOHNNYSWIM. Learn more at usnwc.org/relax/festivals/flowfest