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