I’m a beach bum during the summer, so it was only fitting that I taught shoreside classes. I was surprised how many people that took my free Friday yoga beach classes had never been to the beach I was teaching at, I was grateful at their openness to experience new things; both a new practice of yoga for some and for others doing yoga outside. My love for the practice was weekly renewed as I would guide the students into their poses with the sound of the waves behind me. Onlookers would smile, some would stop by and inquire or just nod in our way. My own open air practice has flourished under the sun, in the shade and fireside. I have taught classes at the beach, at local parks and in the grassy areas of inner cities. There have been some lessons I have learned along the way if you are an instructor or student these are some things to think about when preparing to practice outdoors.
Poor weather conditions can wreak havoc for doing anything outdoors. It is extremely important as an instructor to consider the population of students you are serving. Rain is also a really tricky thing to manage for creating an outdoor practice schedule. Wet grass can be very slippery, for my classes if it was raining an hour before class and it wasn’t super hot outside I would cancel class so that students were not slipping and falling on the wet earth. Rainy days can also make f0r buggy bends so I learned to take with me bug spray and sometimes even a fogger for the space you are going to be working in. As far as working outdoors during the fall and winter just be mindful of the temperature and the poses you are incorporating. If its cooler outside then you definitely want to include warming poses and pranayama.
For students be mindful of what makes you happy. If the weather conditions are too much for you honor your body and don’t do it. Sometimes it is good to have new experiences and kind of stretch yourself (see what I did there? lol), but it is ok to acknowledge your discomfort. Maybe you are allergic to bees and summer open air practices are not up your alley, maybe you are allergic to pollen and high pollen count days will not work for you….what I am saying is that yoga never should hurt be kind to yourself and catch the next class indoors on a rooftop or a fall class when the leaves are turning.
Time of day
Creating a schedule for outdoors can depend on if the space is public or private. Summertimes practices should consider time of day as noon when the sun is highest in the sky may be creating stress for your students. My rule of thumb is to create classes either early in the morning or late afternoon and early evening as the sun is a little more gentle. Asking people to come to a midnight outdoor practice at the lake may not be such a wise decision. For all of my beach classes I try to hold them during the hours in which there are lifeguards on duty. However beach season in Chicago is like 2 days lol….yet I am very clear on our location and will only have classes during sunlight hours for safety. I also choose spaces that are public enough to see and be seen.
I would never attend nor create a class that would have us outdoors in the dark of night unless it was a very private and secure space. Also if these are summer classes you will be sharing the spaces with the public, so lots of summer campers and tourists during the early and late afternoon be mindful of using public space and how the flow of people move around during the day in the park or area that you really want to practice in. Also remember about the wether early morning the ground is moist and dewy and possibly slippery so think about the quality of the class experience and safety if you are the student or the instructor.
Lets see….this is a total personal choice. I have incorporated music at the bottom of the class for savasana but honestly when the wind is moving or the waves are rolling there is no need for added music. For my own personal practice I have music playing when I pose but when I teach not so much. So if you are solo on the mat do you and be happy, play some ratchet music and shake your asana!
What to bring
Working outdoors can be however you want it to be. Sometimes I have a mat sometimes I don’t have a mat and I have an oversized blanket. I tend to travel a little heavy when outdoors for my practices; for example I bring outdoor pillows and blankets just to make the practice juicier. You always want to have water with you, sunglasses, a layer or two to take off or put on, you may want to bring your own bug spray and whatever props you like to roll with. Make sure you bring your smile with you as well! For the fall what you would bring will likely change. For my students I remind them to make sure they are comfortable and always its easier to take it off versus not having enough layers.
Working outside is very visible if you are an instructor and your students are outside with their eyes closed its so important to remind them that they are safe and that you have your eyes open so they can close theirs. This also means that there needs to be a spirit of
mindfulness of the surroundings at all times. If you are practicing alone as I do sometimes this means not working with headphones in your ear, it may also mean checking in with your surrounding every now and then.
What poses are best
Again this is totally dependent on the season, the time of day and the weather. If it is a super hot August day you may want cooling poses, yet if its a seated fireside practice you may want poses that are warming. Consider as a student practicing what your body needs. Its ok to create a flow that is fat burning for the summer time and maybe that jazzes you up, just be cautious to listen to your body and don’t let your ego highjack your practice.
Cues & considerations
Working outside offers lots of reflective work. Besides the physical practice the many distractions of the day can give one an experience to practice focus when a beautiful butterfly flitters by or to remain present with the breath as a distracting biker rolls across too close to your mat. I have found that the wind is an ever tricky presence and balancing even on two feet can be not so graceful. Pick your cues for the practice based on your theme and use nature as a cue for your class. So when the wind is pushing engage the core to stabilize or root down through the feet. Use nature to energize yourself or your students and create a connection unifying them to their surroundings as if the breeze was an extension of their breath. Maybe embody the environment and feel strong like the wind but be soft in your asana like the grass beneath your feet. You’ll find students appreciate those little connections and you too will begin to see the practice unearth itself before your eyes.
The most important thing to about an open air practice is to enjoy it safely. Be considerate of your bodies limitations and be mindful of your practice space. Sometimes its rocky, or wet, sometimes there is debris beneath you or an uneven surface, so the practice can quickly “go to the left” as we say in Chicago and turn into a not so fun experience. Other than that enjoy your time in the outdoors getting deep inside yourself.