Early on in my journey with yoga, I felt drawn to explore the practice outdoors. Having always found solace in palaces far removed from modern society, I would spend hours getting lost deep in the woods and practice where there was little risk of being seen. For a long time, it was only in those places, that I felt safe to let go and lean into the vulnerability of intuitive movement.
This practice of hiding out in the woods served me for a long time. It allowed me the space I needed to heal from my past and tap parts of myself that I had long lost touch with. As I committed more time to this practice, I become aware of how much energy I was spending on my constant quest for solitude. I began recognizing a recurring pattern of burnout and started questioning why I was putting so much of my energy into hiding my practice.
One morning out on the trail, I asked myself;
What would you think if you came across a person doing yoga along a trail or in the grass at a local park?
I would probably be curious about that person and wonder what their life was like.
I followed up with;
Would it be a problem if someone saw you and was curious about your life?
I reflected on this question and couldn’t think of a single reason why it would matter. I didn’t realize it at the time but along with this simple shift in mindset, I was giving myself the permission I needed to step outside my comfort zone. At that moment, I knew it was time to stop hiding, so I made a personal vow to let go of my need for solitude and focus my outdoor practice on finding freedom.
When I started practicing in less secluded places, there were some growing pains. It was difficult to shake the feeling of being watched, and the sense of vulnerability that came along with it led to bouts of intense anxiety. I relied heavily on music to keep me out of my head, my breath to keep me in my body, and found a strange sense of security in practicing in my sunglasses.
With time, the racing thoughts faded into the background and I was able to tap into my intuitive practice once again. Most days I felt free to get lost in my movement and block the activity around me. Other days I was easily distracted but still able to recognize the opportunity for self-reflection.
One evening I was enjoying some time out on the Appalachian Trail and it felt like I had the whole ridge to myself. Connecting to my breath and feeling in tune with every step along the way my body moved with ease and the hike transformed into a moving mediation. When I arrived at the outlook, I dropped right into a fluid sequence and hardly noticed when two boys stopped to enjoy the view.
I was extremely startled and irritated when realized they were there, so I move further from their view and tried to continue my practice. On that particular day, I couldn’t overcome the feeling of being watched so I decided to shake it off on the trail. As I began the hike, I reflected on how quickly my anxiety shot from 0-7.
I asked myself;
Why are you so intimidated by a couple of boys? Did they disturb you or threaten you in any way?
No, I hardly even noticed they were there.
I followed up with;
Was their behavior inappropriate or malicious in any way?
No...they actually seemed like nice young men who were just out to enjoy the view.
My extreme reaction began to feel foolish and I found myself returning to a practice of mindful movement. As I turned around to head back to the outlook, I wondered if they would still be there. I secretly hoped that they were gone, but knew if they were there I would be ok with it. When I arrived, they were still there, and to my surprise, one of them was doing yoga! As I passed by their practice space I said hello to the friend who was sitting in the grass watching.
I got back on the trail and heard a voice from behind say;
Dude, she totally saw you!
I continued the hike with a smile on my face and joy in my heart for inspiring a complete stranger to explore the practice that has brought me such freedom. It was on that day that I truly understood the power of the energy that comes along with being seen as your true self.
These days my outdoor yoga practice consists of walking meditations, improvisational dance yoga on the side of a trail, a fluid warm-up before a run, or fumbling through pieces of a sequence in the grass as I prep an upcoming class. I still enjoy the occasional let-go freedom flow on the side of the ridge and It is always in the moments after this practice that I ask myself a question I have not yet found the answer to;
How do I inspire my students to find freedom in intuitive movement?
What I do know is that intuition is not something I can cue, so for now, I share my love of the places that inspire my practice through outdoor classes. I hope that one day these places inspire my students to step out of their comfort zone, connect to the deepest parts of their souls and release their energy out into the world.
Until then, I offer the following words to anyone working toward finding freedom in their outdoor practice;
Trust your Intuition
If you don’t know where to start, just get moving with a few rounds of sun salutations. From there you can veer off the tracks as much as you want. Trust in your intuition and step into any pose that calls to you. There is no right or wrong so explore variations you’ve never tried and transitions you’ve never seen. Remember it’s your time; it’s your practice, so give yourself permission to be free!
Step into Your Power
Get one thing straight… no one is going to stare at you! If they are watching at all they’ll do it discreetly and from a distance out of pure curiosity. Recognize that there is grace and beauty in the way we move when we trust our bodies and tap into our intuition. The energy you omit during your practice may draw a little attention and if it does just pretend it’s a superpower you were given to inspire others.
You may be surprised to find that other people are more uncomfortable with you practicing in public than you are. I often get the sense that other trail/ park users feel like they are disrupting my practice or that they have stumbled into a place they don’t belong.
Everyone turns to nature for different reasons, so if you get the sense that you are making someone else nervous or uncomfortable, make a conscious effort to practice compassion. A simple smile or saying hello can go a long way in making people feel at ease. You can also give them the right of way if they seem insecure about passing by or hold them in your thoughts for a moment once they are gone to send them love and kindness.
Quick Tips for Getting Out of Your Head and Into Your Practice
Since the flower bed is close to the sidewalk, I thought perhaps years of salt from winter maintenance had an effect on the soil, so my husband and I dug it all up. We built flower boxes, filled them in with fresh topsoil, ordered bulbs from some fancy garden website and just like that, the problem was solved!
There was little growth in the flower boxes that summer. I tried not to be disappointed and focused my energy on transferring ground cover from my Dad's garden to fill in around the boxes. I assumed the bulbs just needed a season to root and we would have our picture-perfect curb appeal next year.
Fast forward to year four… only 3 of my 15 bulbs took. At this point, my determination turned into an obsession. I walked the neighborhood looking at what everyone else was growing, found the trends, and bought the same plants. I transferred ground cover in batches and pulled every single weed that grew between the tiny plants. I watered aggressively trying to beat the summer heat and took every wilted leaf as a sign of my failure. Maintenance became an obligation that made me feel guilty if I neglected for even a day or two.
One particularly busy week, when I finally had a day off, the flower bed needed my attention and I found myself out on the battleground at 7 am. As I pulled the intruders and pruned the survivors, I tried hard to notice what it was I wasn’t enjoying about the experience. I asked myself, why in that moment did this task feel like such a chore.
I’m a morning person who loves to be outside. My entire indoor space filled with plants, many of which I have emotional connections to and find joy in caring for, so what was the problem? Was someone making me do this against my will? As I reflected on the question, it became clear to me that I had more control over this experience than I realized.
I was the one who chose to establish a flower bed, even though I had no experience with outdoor gardening. I wasn’t failing, I was enriching my life by learning a new skill. I wasn’t pulling weeds, I was making space for a garden to grow! This simple shift in perspective allowed me to view maintaining the flower bed as a ritual I could enjoy and take pride in rather than a chore that needed to be crossed the list.
I did eventually get a few flowers to bloom and was able to enjoy a sense of accomplishment despite the many spaces that still needed to fill in. I may never have that picture-perfect curb appeal but I know in time, I will create something beautiful and for now, that's enough.
This type of mindfulness is not a habit for me yet, but in the moments that I have tapped into it has had powerful effects. The next time you find yourself challenged by something you feel obligated to do, give yourself permission to pause for a few deep breaths, reflect on what brought you to the task at hand, and see if you can turn your chore into your a ritual of your very own.
In any given moment, I can find peace
During the lunar cycle, the changing position of the Earth relative to the Sun causes varying amounts of sunlight to reflect off of the Moon’s surface. This causes the Moon to present itself to the Earth’s surface in the form of 8 distinct phases. Each phase in the lunar cycle has its own set of spiritual attributes or energies.
To get started you will need to know what phase of the lunar cycle you are starting in. There are several moon phase calendar apps that will guide you through the cycle, or you can just do a quick internet search. If you find that you are in the middle of a lunar cycle, there is no need to wait (the moon wouldn’t wait for you) just begin with the current phase.
As you develop a practice in moon planning you may want to further explore the astronomy of the moon and its energetic relationships with the Earth. For now, you can get started with a general understanding of the lunar cycle, and the themes and practices associated with each moon phase.
Phases of the Moon
Once you have identified the current phase consider writing out the remainder of the schedule in a journal or planner. Early on in your practice, the act of writing a schedule will help you learn the timing and characteristics of each phase. Once you become more attuned to the lunar cycle you may find writing becomes a ritual that helps you feel more emotionally connected to the phases.
It may also be helpful to write out any affirmations that resonate with your understanding of each phase. Affirmations can always be added or adjusted as you move through the cycle, but it is nice to start with at least one or two words.
After you learn the lunar cycle, work on developing a strategy to keep track of the phases as they change. This may be as simple as checking your planner or setting notifications on your phone. Alternatively, you may choose to place a visual reminder in an area of your physical space that you visit frequently.
If you choose to utilize visual reminders, you may want to incorporate it into your practice and create your own; otherwise, there are a wide variety of beautifully illustrated cards or wooden blocks available that identify each moon phase. Placing one of these items at eye level in area you spend a lot of time in can trigger a conscious or subconscious connection to the current lunar phase. Consider keeping visual reminders at your desk, above your kitchen sink, or in your car.
As you move through the lunar cycle, focus your awareness the qualities of each phase. Take time to reflect on their spiritual energies, allowing them to influence your intentions and serve as a guide for your actions. Pay attention to your emotional state during the cycle and identify any connections to the changing phases. You may choose to journal, revisiting the affirmations wrote down earlier in the cycle, or just spend your time reflecting through quiet meditation or time in nature.
Like many other practices, in the beginning, you may find comfort in routine, but keep in mind the practice of moon planning does not have to be rigid. As you develop your intuition for the energies of the lunar cycle, you may find the practice of moon planning becomes more fluid and is easy to integrated it into other mindful activates. If you allow it, the moon planning can become a deeply personal practice, so take the time to explore and create your own rituals.
Wherever you are, trust that you are where you need to be. Use this practice to find comfort in your connection to the universe and harness its energy to take you wherever it is you want to be.
I choose to fight back with a regular yoga practice; however, recognizing that my journey with mindfulness is still in its infancy, I am beginning to develop a personal arsenal of stress-busting rituals. Some take time, commitment, and patience. Others, I treat as an impromptu adventure or well-earned treat; for these, I often turn the woods.
I have always found my time on the trail to be therapeutic. I try hard to make it a priority to carve out time to rack up the miles and get lost in the woods. Unfortunately, during extra busy times in my life, this practice is often the first to get cut, and I find myself longing for that afternoon in the woods.
It wasn't until recently that decided to explore the idea of integrating sort but mindful outdoor adventures into my busy schedule. I began committing 20 - 40-minute blocks of time to this ritual, stopping at a trail on the way to or from various commitments.
With limited time, I start hiking a brisk pace while focusing on deepening my breath. Once I link my pace to my breath, I add in a series of arm circles and begin to hunt for the perfect stretching tree. Once I find it, I utilize the leverage of the tree’s trunk to explore areas of tension, playing with a series of passive stretches. I wrap up with few moments of stillness by taking in a few deep breaths of fresh air before a swift trek back to the car. After this time out, I often return to the day’s itinerary with a fresh perspective, feeling restored and reset.
So, the next time you are in the middle of a busy a week and you think there might be an unwanted passenger somewhere in your back seat, allow yourself to take time for a little mindfulness in the woods.
Not sure where to start? Find a tree try these poses!