There’s something about taking your yoga practice outside which gives it a whole new feeling. And no, it’s not because you spend your time avoiding stepping on pointy things, frantically wafting your hands at woozy wasps, and wondering if a small dog is going to wee up your leg. Whether you’re in a little inner-city oasis, your own back garden, or somewhere wild and wonderful, have a go going all al fresco with these poses. Do a few sun salutations to warm up first, then resolve to not give a toss about what anyone thinks you’re doing, smile, feel the sunshine…and breathe…!
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 foot 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 (or to the moving branches if you fancy an extra challenge against wobbling). Stay here for at least 5 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 tricky 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 lift 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 to 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 through 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 ground. Activate your right leg and point all 5 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 5 breaths and repeat on the other side. And maybe with another tree.
Barking up the right tree.
Sit at the base of the tree, with the trunk between your legs. (Remember that there’s probably no insect who wants your bum to be the last thing they see before they die, so sit down mindfully. Also beware of thistles; it’s not a fun way to find your mula bandha.) Shuffle yourself back so the tree is arms-length away from you and take your legs wide apart, with all ten toes pointing upwards to the sun. With an inhale, sit up tall to lengthen your spine and at the same time feel like you’re actively rolling your thighs backwards. Take hold of the trunk, and with each exhale see if you can walk your hands a little further down the trunk, so you’re taking your torso closer to the ground. Play around with using the arms to draw your torso gently closer to the tree, but at the same time keeping the thighs grounded and rolling backwards.
I admit that this is by far the most fun one to do! Getting used to being upside down whilst you’re outside seems to make the whole thing a little less scary. Plus the ground is softer should you make an unscheduled exit from the pose. Stand with your back to the tree, and put your hands on the ground. Walk them away from you (again – be mindful of insects and thistles and anything else you wouldn’t want squishing through your fingers). One at a time, begin to ‘walk’ your feet up the trunk of the tree. Keep strongly grounding down through your hands, particularly the base of your thumb and first finger, and be aware of how the texture of the bark feels beneath your feet. If you can, get to where your legs are parallel to the earth. Pause here and get used to seeing the world from a whole new point of view.
Bee and breathe.
After all that excitement, bring yourself to a comfortable seated position. You can rest your back up against the trunk of the tree if that makes it more comfortable. Take a few deep breaths to bring your energy down a little, and settle yourself. Brahmari (or ‘Bee Breath’) is a great way to find instant relaxation and outside is a great place to practice. Take another inhale through the nose, and as you exhale make an ‘mmmmm’ sound with your lips gently closed. Make the sound for as long as your exhale lasts, then inhale and repeat. The sound should be a very soft and gentle ‘mmm’ (think lovely, big and fluffy bumble bee rather than annoyed wasp) so that you can feel the soothing vibrations moving up into your forehead and around your eyes. Repeat for as many breaths as feels good.