Thinking back on your first ever yoga experience, where was it? Most people you ask will say indoors, at either a yoga studio or gym. But can outdoor yoga yield more benefits than simply thinking, “Well, it was nice to get outside?”
Simply put, yes! Outdoor yoga has many added benefits!
PokPok the hedgehog practicing at Main Street. Photo by @jc_yvr.
The obvious things
You get to practice in beautiful scenery, surrounded by breathtaking backdrops. Your surroundings influence your energy in class, and can lift you up yet calm you down all at the same time. As stated in and article in Yoga Journal, practicing outdoors, "can help to remind [you] that a breeze can deepen your breathing, the warm sun can deepen poses by making muscles more pliable, and a ladybug can invite you to focus on something small and still."
Inhaling and exhaling fresh air, and the familiar scents of flowers and plants, can help to relieve stress and anxiety according to Benenden Health. In addition, oxygen is said to affect the levels of serotonin released in the body, in turn, contributing to feelings of happiness and relaxation.
Kitsilano Pool at sunset. Photo by @rebeccah0lgate.
In Vancouver, you have the added benefit of practicing in all varieties of locations. Whether it's in sea breeze from our beautiful beaches (think our Kits Beach spot!), to the freshly cut grass of public parks (like our Main Street location!), the energy from your surroundings is evident in every class. As yoga teacher Angela Jackson puts it; “When I practice yoga outdoors, there is this amazing energy. I feel more connected to the earth, the sky, the birds, the animals, and to myself. We spend so much time indoors seated in chairs and cut off from our natural state. Yoga outdoors just feels great.”
There are also endless post class activities; take a stroll along Kits Beach, watch the sunset with a picnic, or take a dip in the pool! If you are downtown, grab a bite to eat or head straight into the Vancouver Art Gallery, which is entry by donation on Tuesday nights, the night of our class down there. The opportunities for fun, relaxing and unwinding are endless. Just finished a yoga class at Granville Island? Rehydrate at Granville Island Brewing post class, take a stroll along the seawall, or grab a Mobi bike and marvel at all the fabulous boats along False Creek.
A furry friend at a Kits Beach class. Photo by @laurelwindover.
Some not so obvious things
Green exercise, referring to physical exercise undertaken in natural environments, is being largely studied in the scientific community as a way to reduce and cope with stress. As highlighted by Alan Logan, a Toronto-trained naturopath, ''Green exercise represents a low-cost way to lower stress and recharge the mental batteries. The health implications extend from depression and diabetes to workplace stress and cognitive decline of older adulthood." It has also been shown to reduce mental fatigue and improve concentration and cognitive function.
Awaken your sense of touch. When transitioning from pose to pose, your hands and feet can embrace different textures beneath your yoga mat; whether it be soft padded grass, to concrete pavement within the city core. Rebecca Holgate, co-founder of Mat Collective and one of our yoga teachers, says, "I embrace the grass beneath our mats! I teach with it, and often use it as a tool or prop in classes to help deepen postures." Pete McCall, another fitness and health expert elaborates on the benefits of doing this; ''A constantly changing surface can enhance the strength of your connective tissue, which may help you avoid certain injuries.''
Mini yogis all welcome to join in too! Photo by Mark F.
Outdoor yoga is fun for all the family! Kids are welcome to join in, or, while mom and dad are practicing, kids can hit up nearby playgrounds. Our Main Street spot, for example, has a playground right next to it, so you can watch over your kids while you flow. Even furry members of your family (dogs or other fur balls) are welcome. Many of our own yoga teachers have been spotted with their own puppies and kids at classes.
Lastly, with no walls surrounding you, an abundance of green space to put your mat on and a true foot-to-earth connection, physical barriers of space become non-existent. This enables you to enjoy the power of sun salutations under actual sun rays and the grounding of a tree pose while focusing on a real tree.
Downtown Vancouver from Kitsilano. Photo by Mark Jaxx.
With the days starting to become longer and warmer, it's a great time to head outside. Rather than heading indoors to the gym or yoga studio post work, try something new and stretch outside with us. Be sure to bring a mat or towel, a reusable water bottle, maybe a friend, and a smile! Remember to take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.
Have you ever practiced yoga outside before? What was your first yoga experience like? Was it indoors? Leave us a comment below with your story!
The Mat Collective Team