Summer is here, so take your yoga outside.
Aaah - glorious British summertime. The time of year when, at the first flash of sunshine, we suddenly think it's a good idea to burn food over hot charcoal; unwisely reveal bits of flesh which haven't seen daylight for months, and remember that wasps are intrinsically evil.
If you’re loving the al fresco life, but your yoga mat is only seeing action as a picnic blanket, combine the two and take your yoga outside. In fact, as you can see from these photos, you don’t even need to shift the sandwiches because for these moves all you need is a friendly tree.
One of the brilliant things about yoga is that you really can bust out an asana wherever takes your fancy, and there’s something about doing it outdoors that makes it an entirely different experience. Yoga is all about finding that sense of ‘union’ and it’s hard to think of a better way to get in touch with our roots (literally and metaphorically).
It’s true that practicing yoga outside can make you feel a teensy bit self-conscious, but that too brings rewards. It encourages you to bring your attention entirely to what you’re doing in that moment; away from the distractions around you and into each breath. Plus, practicing on uneven surfaces adds a brilliant way to make the postures a little more intense. The shoulders, spine, core, thighs, knees and feet will all benefit from a little wake-up call when you’re not on level ground.
I strongly recommend that you warm your body up a little before starting to play with these poses. Some sun salutations would be perfect – after all, they’re the best thing to do if you’re underneath it!
A mountain on a molehill
Stand next to your favourite tree, with your back against it and your heels as close to its base as you can. Feel the natural curves of your spine allow it to comfortably rest the lower back, space between your shoulder blades and the back of your head against the trunk. Find the feeling of putting roots down into the ground through your feet, and a the same time growing up through the top of your head. For an extra feeling of lift, raise the arms up on an inhale and gently clasp the tree. Breathe here for as long as is comfortable. Or until you worry about a dog weeing up your leg.
Align the outside of your right foot with the base of the tree, and raise both arms up to shoulder height. Step the left foot back, so that the two feet are around wrist-distance apart. Take an inhale. Exhale and reach out over your right leg, keeping it straight but with a little softness behind the knee. Allow the right hand to come down your right food or wherever it can comfortably reach. Open through the chest, working towards both arms and shoulder blades lying against the trunk of the tree. Take the gaze up to your right thumb. Stay here for at least five breaths before repeating on the other side.
Stand with your back against the helpful tree. Carefully slide your bum down the trunk (mindful moving is your friend here - otherwise it's really trick to explain how you got the splinters). At the same time walk your feet away from it, so that the thighs and knees come close to a 90 degree angle. Keep the knees gently pressing together. Allow the back of the head to rest against the trunk and if it's comfortable for your neck, gaze up to the sky. Arch your back, and left your heart up to the sun. For an extra dose of opening, take your arms up over your head and grasp the trunk. Close your eyes, and breathe.
Warriors in the Woods
Stand in front of the tree and step your left foot back. Bend your right knee as close to 90 degrees as you comfortably can. Take your arms up to shoulder height, with the right hand reaching towards the tree and the left one reaching behind you. look lovingly at your new best friend: the tree. Grasp the trunk with your right hand, and root down strongly with both feet. Play around with pushing the tree away from you (without hurting its feelings) and pulling it towards you; feel how that changes the activity in your legs, and the shift in where you need to find grounding and strength. Repeat with both hands on the tree, allowing the back hip to roll forwards into your Warrior 2 position. Make sure you do the two poses on both sides, and apologise to the tree for confusing it.
The tree hugger
Sit at the base of the tree, with the trunk up against the outside of your left bum cheek. Bend your left leg, so that your left foot is flat on the groun. Activate your right leg and point all four toes up to the sky. Hook your right arm around your left knee, grasping the trunk of the tree with your hand. Let the left hand gently rest on the ground behind you. Lift and lengthen your spine with an inhale, and exhale gently twist to look over your left shoulder. You can use your grip on the tree to help find a deeper twist - but remember to be gentle with yourself and the tree. Stay here for at least five breaths and repeat on the other side. And maybe with another tree.