Taking an outdoor yoga class in pleasant spring weather sounds like a very zen and peaceful experience. But in reality, it's not always so picturesque. Your downward dog may draw unwanted audiences; an unexpected thunderstorm may force the class to end before shavasana; and loud noises, unstable ground and surrounding people, birds and dogs could encourage you to think about everything but your intention.
That's not to say you shouldn't take your practice outdoors. If you view it as an event, not a class to be taken seriously, it can build community and be fun. Just keep these tips in mind first:
Yoga is a very intimate experience during which you willingly put yourself in vulnerable positions, both physically and emotionally. When practiced with respect in a safe environment, it gives you confidence and inspires trust and compassion for your body and those around you. An outdoor practice can compromise that safe environment and the growth that comes from it. That's why I suggest you practice somewhere where you will not have random spectators. If they don't understand yoga, they could interpret your poses as awkward, provocative or bizarre, making you and everyone in the group feel self-conscious and, in some way, violated. If your outdoor class is a private event or a solo practice in, say, your own backyard, you can better focus on your practice rather than being judged.
If you do not want to get dirty, you should not practice yoga outside. No matter how careful you are to stay clean, inevitably your hands, knees, feet, yoga pants and mat will get mud or grass on them. Either use an old yoga outfit and mat, or accept the fact that your newer gear will get a little blemished. Still, you can take a few precautions to stay as clean as possible. For instance, check your surroundings before putting down your mat. Especially in urban environments, choose an area that is clear of debris. Watch out for cigarette butts, glass and remnants from dogs and other animals. Examine the ground to make sure it is not wet, and choose a grassy area to avoid dust. Pack hand sanitizer and a towel to use after your class.
3. Place your mat wisely.
You might assume nature will provide a calming soundtrack to practice yoga to. But if you are near a busy street or a popular hangout, the background noises may completely drown out the teacher's voice. Also, large, wide-open spaces make it difficult for sound to travel. If you cannot hear instructions, you may get confused, frustrated and eventually be forced to look at the other students to try and understand what is going on. To avoid this, place your mat close to your fellow yogis so the teacher can communicate to the whole group easily. If you cannot decipher the instructor's cues, politely ask him or her to speak up. Otherwise, do your research before you enroll in a class, and make sure it will facilitate a calm and quiet atmosphere.
4. Perform a safety check.
Before you take your yoga practice outside, there are some safety concerns to address. Be mindful to set up your mat on even ground and test your footing with a couple warm-up poses. Make sure that the ground underneath you is clear of rocks, sticks or any other obstacles. For rough terrain, keep your shoes on while you practice. Bug spray is also good to have on hand to help prevent bites and insects on your skin and mat. If you have allergies, take the necessary precautions before class. Make a mental checklist of all the tools you need to have a comfortable outdoor class.
Observe the weather forecast thoroughly before you brave the elements for yoga. Plan accordingly and consider indoor alternatives if there is unfavorable or severe weather like rain, thunderstorms or cold temperatures ahead. Besides extreme weather, strong winds will have a major impact on your balance and alignment. Powerful gusts blow grass and dirt off the ground and could obstruct your vision. Find a spot in the shade to protect yourself from direct sunlight. Bring sunscreen and sunglasses in case you have to be exposed to the sun. Soften your gaze or close your eyes when you are asked to look up toward the sun. Be aware of the changing climate and, if it gets threatening, do not hesitate to pack up your belongings and take shelter.
While practicing outside is not for everyone, keep it in perspective. If you approach the class as an event that brings people together to have fun, it makes it tolerable. It is not a class to find advancement. Instead, it is a great way to socialize, make new friends and have an interesting experience. There is always something positive you can take away from any yoga practice, no matter where it is. When you decide to take an outdoor yoga class, be prepared and have fun.