By Janna Stanistreet
(Sometimes 1-10. Sometimes 1-5, then skip to 10. Sometimes 10 only! Sometimes make it up as you go along.)
1. Pranayama - Lots
2. Standing forward folds
3. Standing side and back bends
4. Rag doll - Take. Your. Sweet. Sweet. Time.
5. Downward facing dog
6. A) Flow together:
B) Repeat A) on second/other side
C) Downward facing Dog - If you’re feeling energetic add in a high plank, a low plank and an upward facing dog
7. Child’s pose
8. Supine eagle
9. Supine twist
Take all the time you have. Revel in the healthy forest air. Savour the experience. Thank the forest. Then take that little peace of mind with you as you walk back through the forest on your way home.
Peace, love and trees.
It’s spring in Ontario and warming up outside. Now is as good a time as any to try taking your yoga outside. Not being able to practice yoga together in person right now means modifying and adjusting our personal practice to meet our needs in the current circumstances. That could include taking guided video classes, virtual classes, and/or developing a self-led home practice. Fully committing to these practices at home can be a challenge in terms of space and all of the day-to-day distractions and interruptions of life. Get away from those distractions and take yourself to the forest, if you can. Finding a sweet little spot of nature to immerse yourself in can give you the space to get still and quiet, to become more aware of and reconnect with your own breath and the natural world around you right now.
In Love Letter to the Earth, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about “breathing with the planet.” He says, “We can get so caught up in our plans, fears, agitations, and dreams that we aren’t living in our bodies anymore and we’re not in touch with our real mother, the Earth, either. We can’t see the miraculous beauty and magnificence that our planet offers to us. We are living more and more in the world of our minds and becoming increasingly alienated from the physical world. Returning to our breathing brings body and mind back together and reminds us of the miracle of the present moment. Our planet is right here, powerful, generous, and supportive at every moment. Once we recognize theses qualities in the Earth, we can take refuge in her in our difficult moments, making it easier for us to embrace our fear and suffering and to transform it.” Current events have us living more and more on electronic devices and online in a “virtual” environment, becoming increasingly disconnected and alienated from the natural world. Getting into nature and physically touching the earth in person can help remind us of its ever-present beauty, power and support. It can help us find the space to breathe, release our fears, judgements and expectations, and be as we actually are.
If getting to a forest isn’t possible, improvise and find a park, a tree or whatever little patch of outside you can to practice a little closer to nature. Ideally find a place directly on the ground, touching the earth. Your outdoor balcony, where you can feel the fresh air, will do in a pinch, but if you get the chance, take it to the trees.
Why the trees? In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben talks about the healthy forest air and how “Walking in the forest improves blood pressure, lung capacity and the elasticity of arteries.” That’s right, simply breathing and moving through the forest with ease provides health benefits for your heart, lungs and other organs.
“Shinrin-yoku” is Japanese for “forest bathing”, the practice of taking in the forest atmosphere. Studies confirm the physiological effects of this practice. In This One Wild and Precious Life, Sarah Wilson notes that “Shinrin-yoku is integrated into the medical system and covered by health insurance in both Japan and Korea. Since being introduced in 1982, studies have rolled in to show the healing effect of trees for both emotional and physical health. One study showed that a mere 20 minute walk among trees lowered levels of salivary cortisol (the stress hormone) by 53%.” If merely walking through the forest for 20 minutes can have this effect, imagine how beneficial the forest can be to your yoga practice as you consciously breathe and move amongst the trees.
If you don’t have a lot of time, your practice could be as simple as a walk into the woods to sit or lay on the ground in savasana/corpse pose for a few minutes becoming more aware of your breath and the forest alive around you. You’ve already increased the physical and mental benefits of your practice just by doing it in the forest.
Wherever you go find a safe, comfortable, relatively flat spot. Submerge yourself into nature and become more aware of your personal connection to and interaction with the universe directly around you. Even if it’s only to notice the way the wind moves around you or the ants crawl over you. You might try practicing barefoot, if your location is suitable, so you can touch the earth directly with your feet as well as your hands. Lie down, sit down, stand, hold a tree - whatever works in the moment and allows you to feel relatively at ease and connected to the earth.
Your practice can be very simple - more about connecting with your breath and the living world around you and less about moving through specific postures. Modify to suit your surroundings - uneven ground, branches, etc. Consider doing less balancing and more grounding. Less structure, more flow/response to what is in the moment. Practice less restraint and more authentic expression - nobody is around to see or hear you except the trees and they are an exceptionally supportive crowd. Enjoy less outer distractions/notifications and more inner/self awareness. Notice how it feels to deliberately breathe with the planet you’re an intricate part of.
Start by noticing your own breath. When you’re ready, start noticing your immediate surroundings: what is going on in the natural world around you right now? Sounds: birds singing, wind rustling leaves, the flow of a stream, raindrops? Smells: Leaves, blossoms, Cedar trees, fresh cut grass? Sensations: Warm sunlight, breezes moving over your skin and hair, the softness/firmness of the earth beneath you? Sights: Blue skies, shapely clouds, birds flying, branches swaying in the wind? Tastes: What can you taste in your mouth right now?
Whenever you’re ready, move your body and breath through any poses that inspire you, or try some or all of the following postures that I like to play with in the forest. As always, modify and adjust to suit your self and the location at the time.
Taking it to the Trees: Join Janna for a sweet blend of yoga and forest bathing.