We interview two fitness professionals to find out the benefits of doing yoga outdoors and with nature

The ancient and ever-so-popular practice of yoga is rooted in the concepts of mindfulness, respect and discipline. Yoga is all about the union of mind and body, so what better way to centre the soul and connect with your surroundings than unrolling the mat and immersing yourself in nature! We find out what the benefits are of doing yoga outdoors by talking to two yoginis and yoga professionals who have given themselves to the practice.

Marilen Elizalde has had a professional relationship with yoga for 17 years. As an instructor, she used to teach at several studios, and even opened her own brand. Currently, Marilen holds one-on-one classes in her personal studio at her home for her loyal clients. Isabel Dulay-Naval is the managing director & pioneer instructor at Bliss Yoga where she had begun her love affair with the practice. As a student for 12 years and an instructor for 10, Isabel has never looked back! 

These yoga instructors and passionate practitioners share their thoughts on the benefits of doing yoga outdoors and the connection between yoga and nature. 

What are the benefits of doing yoga outdoors? Does it force you to be more mindful or to concentrate more?

Isabel Dulay-Naval: When you practice yoga outside, the four walls of a studio or indoor space, your senses tend to heighten. The outdoor experience makes you more conscious of the scents, sights, and touch. It activates parts of the brain that make you more present. The fresh air from outside promotes deeper breath awareness. You can really feel the oxygen owing through the body. The fresh air and breath awareness clears the mind and empowers one’s practice.

Marilen Elizalde: Developing a yoga practice outdoors is a lovely way to improve one’s daily indoor practice. There are several benefits of practicing yoga outdoors. First and foremost, it helps you improve your inner focus. People are typically accustomed to yoga in a controlled environment where we can adjust the room temperature. Taking the mat outside challenges the practitioner to turn inward because there are many outside elements that are out of our control. It makes it more difficult to focus, so the key is to anticipate the postures you want to do beforehand, while focusing on the present. Practicing outdoors also improves muscle stability and strength because you do not have the extra equipment that may be available in a studio. We tend to automatically rely on these accessories sometimes to a fault.

The practice of yoga deals a lot with energy. Do you think that there is a connection between yoga and nature?

IDN: Yoga means ‘union,’ and when it’s practiced outdoors, you can really feel yourself being one with nature, humanity, and the universe. So many asanas (poses/postures) reflect animals and elements of nature. When our bodies move into the different forms of nature, we are able to embody its essence. We create this deeper connection and understanding of nature.

ME: Energy in yogic terms is called ‘prana’ or life force. When we practice, prana should always be present. The body should always have energy continuously owing on or off the mat. Every being on this earth has prana, including plants and animals. So yes, indeed there is a connection! One important thing that yoga teaches students is to know when to control and when to surrender. The practice teaches me to focus and control the mind from unnecessary thoughts. Human beings need to be able to surrender to Mother Nature as we cannot control the wind, the rain, the storm, the sun. We simply need to accept what she gives us.

What is the connection or purpose of doing yoga with humidity or heat?

IDN: Our yoga practice is usually done without air conditioning. I prefer to do it in room temperature or even with a heater. The heat, whether external, or produced by the body, helps in making the muscles more pliable. The asanas (poses/postures) are easier to execute with heat. The heat also facilitates in detoxifying the body during the practice.

ME: In my opinion, the practice of yoga is best in a controlled environment, when the room is not too cold or too hot. This way, it allows the practitioner’s body to naturally open up and create its own heat as prana or energy ows within. The body opens up more in warmth and natural heat is produced when one practices with proper breathing.

If you could practice yoga at any outdoor location, where would it be?

IDN: Given a choice of an outdoor location, I would choose a garden or an open outdoor space with lots of fresh air and greenery. The fresh air and direct ground makes the mind and body feel alive and rooted to the earth.

ME: My daily practice is normally in my yoga room at home facing my little garden. It is my sanctuary and it keeps me grounded. I love to practice outdoors by the sea when I can!

Aside from yoga, what are the benefits of meditating outdoors vs indoors?

IDN: There are many benefits of meditation in nature simply because it’s where wisdom and perception come alive. Meditating outdoors heightens our senses and makes it more alert and mindful. Many meditators find it easier to let go of their worries and their electronic devices when consciously communing with nature.

Do you personally feel a difference when doing yoga outdoors vs indoors?

IDN: There definitely is a huge difference. Practicing outdoors is a refreshing change for a Yogi. Being outdoors, immersed in nature’s elements brings a different level of body awareness and connection. It also teaches a Yogi to be flexible not just with our bodies but with our minds as nature’s elements can be unpredictable. It’s definitely a luxury to be given an outdoor space to practice in, especially if you live in the city where space and greenery are limited!

ME: Definitely. Indoors is a far more controlled environment and outdoors is less controlled so one must need to try harder to remain focused or look inwards to maintain physical and mental presence.

Are there particular types of yoga that are best when practiced outdoors?

IDN: I believe all types of yoga can be practiced outdoors. All a Yogi needs is a space where one can move and breathe deeply and freely.

ME: In my opinion, meditation and Pranayama, or breath work is lovely when practicing early in the morning and outdoors. Restorative yoga practices are also wonderful options, especially when practiced towards the end of the day.

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