How my yoga practice found its way into the forest. And how you can use the healing presence of the trees to transform your yoga and meditation practice. By Louise Neicho
When I became a yoga teacher in 2013, I was knee-deep in planting trees to create Heartwood Forest – England’s largest new woodland. We had just completed another 90,000 trees, all with volunteers and my sense of connection with the land was deeply embedded, as if I’d planted a part of myself there too!
I knew I wanted to combine my love of trees and yoga and felt a deep yearning to share the experiences I’d had and the benefits I’d found through spending time in nature and finding a regular yoga and meditation practice.
It seemed the obvious choice to combine the two and I began to create ‘Woodland Yoga’ which has grown into a place where people can connect with nature through regular yoga and meditation classes, workshops and retreats that witness and honour the seasonal changes and the magic and wonder of nature.
Sharing the transformational benefits of Woodland Yoga is now one of my main purposes in life. Consider taking your practice to the forest to experience some of these benefits too.
We know that yoga is all about the breath but when you practice among the trees the benefits are multiplied. Nature reminds us to take full, conscious breaths that connect us to parts of ourselves that often go unnoticed in everyday life. The trees give our pranayama (breath work) an added boost and we sense they can hold however we are that day, without judgement.
Fire up your senses
Firing up all your senses effortlessly brings you into the here and now, reminding you what is good in this present moment.
And the best part may be listening to the birds, insects and rustling of the trees as we lie in savasana.
Feel all the elements
Yes, we sometimes get caught in a summer shower but that adds to the experience and makes you feel alive!
Sometimes it’s too hot or too cold which is a reminder to practice acceptance and be with all the sensations, emotions and moods that rise and fall without grasping or pushing away.
Challenge your practice
Taking your practice to the forest means you won’t have a smooth, even floor to practice on. It challenges your balance, you start to find muscles you didn’t even know could help you in a pose, with the added benefit of having a soft, comforting ground to support your knees, so no need for added support!
A grounding presence
When we practice yoga in nature, we’re physically so much closer to the earth so we have a unique opportunity to draw on Mother Nature’s stability, strength and presence. These qualities then begin to translate into everyday life, and we can maintain that sense of calm, peace and tranquillity whatever life throws at us.
Perspective and appreciation
With the trees towering above, we gain perspective on our daily troubles that seem to drift away with the breeze. We also gain a deep understanding that we are part of nature, nature is part of us and the interconnectedness of all beings on this beautiful blue planet.
We begin to offset our habitual negativity bias with a profound appreciation for nature’s ability to supply us with all that we need.
Find your soul
As John Muir, founder of the modern conservation movement says, “And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”, practicing in the forest will effortlessly quieten the mind, bring you home to yourself, your deep desires, the whispers of the soul that often go unheard until we get quiet enough to hear them. Tapping into this place within reminds us that we are already whole; nothing to fix, nothing to change, a reminder that all is well in this moment.
Open your heart
Deforestation, habitat loss and the destruction of the earth’s ecosystems can be difficult to bear but our practice can show us how to hold this grief with tenderness, allow our hearts to open and for compassion to grow. This fuels our motivation to take action, to take small steps every day towards being protectors of this earth. It builds our mindful awareness of the choices we make so that we do all that we can to alleviate the suffering of all life on this beautiful, wonderous planet.
Founder of Woodland Yoga (woodlandyoga.co.uk), Louise Neicho shares her passion for nature through yoga (online and in the forest) as well as continuing to plant trees and create precious native woodland and is currently studying MSc Studies in Mindfulness at University of Aberdeen. Find her on Instagram @louwoodlandyoga