Yoga Month Week 2: Exploring Nature

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Crater Lake, Oregon, 2019. Photo by Stephanie Pao.

Growing up in a traditional Chinese household, I remember my mother telling me to drink ginger tea instead of cough syrup when my throat was sore, or take a walk outside instead of taking pain-relieving pills when my head hurt. The way I was raised shaped my current relationship with nature. As we head into the second week of Yoga Month, I start to see a clear connection between nature and the art of yoga and meditation.

Nature to me is the purest form of medicine, entertainment, and nutrition. Being fortunate to move to the Greater Washington area after my first seven years in the bustling cities of New York and Beijing, I realized how much nature affected my own mental health.

To be able to smell rain, to admire the orange sky on a summer night, to wake up to the morning birds singing their lovely tunes, to feel the jagged bark on an aging tree are just a few of the phenomenal beauties nature exposed me to. Sometimes life is too short to be stuck in a busy schedule or hidden behind screens. Nature is out there waiting for us to join it. It all depends on when we will find the time to appreciate its existence.

This year’s Yoga Month strives to underscore the connection between inspiration and nature in correlation with yoga. Read more below about the benefits behind practicing yoga in nature and for some further expert insights from UW Recreation’s Danny Arguetty. If you did not catch the Week 1 Yoga Month Inspiration article, check it out here. To learn more about this month’s yoga activities, register to join UW Yoga Month 2019!


Why Practice Yoga in Nature?

It is always encouraged to practice yoga, but there are many benefits of practicing yoga in nature that go unnoticed. Biologically speaking, surrounding ourselves in nature—especially in forests—allows us to breath natural chemicals called phytoncides which reduces blood pressure and stress as well as improving immune functions by developing cells that combat disease (1).

Spiritually, being present around nature allows one to increase awareness of their body and mind as well as decrease distractions and disturbances, which connects us closer to ourselves and the components around us.

Another 2012 study found that after spending two or more hours outside, one’s memory and attention span can increase by 20 percent. It seems that urbanization is strongly associated with mental illnesses, especially when “The Canadian Parks Council’s 2014 report, Connecting Canadians with Nature, estimates that we spend 90 percent of our time indoors” (2). Even more accurately, many of us spend most of our relaxing and unwinding time on an electronic device.

How to Engage with Nature More?

As simple as taking a nature walk on a trail or around a park can expose you to the splendid earthy aroma from the surrounding trees and plants. Taking your time to breathe in the crisp air and appreciate the beautiful organisms around you comes with many mental and physical benefits.

Our region’s myriad parks and forests make it one of the best places in the world to experience nature and all its attendant health benefits. Here are some places to start your nature journey:

🌲 UW Botanic Gardens
🌿 North Creek Wetlands
🍁 Tacoma’s Prairie Line Trail
🌳 Center for Urban Horticulture
🍄 Union Bay Natural Area
🍂 Faculty Auxiliary Tuesday Trekkers
🍃 Our favorite hikes in WA
☃️ A few cold-weather favorites


Yoga Month 2019—Connect to Yoga through Nature 

Inspiration comes in many forms, but nature is one of the most awe inspiring artist we have the privilege to interact with. Especially here in the Pacific North West, we are blessed to have a landscape that lends itself to so much life and brilliance.

What inspires you about the natural world? It might be trees gently blowing in the wind, clouds taking on diverse shapes, autumn leaves gently resting on the ground, spectacular vistas, dessert blooms, a bee interacting with a flower, the abundance of a late summer garden, a powerful storm brewing, the first sweet scents of spring blossoms, the gentle splash of ocean waves, the blended sharp colors of a sunset or the bright first rays of a sunrise.

So many opportunities to pause, connect, to feel something, to be moved by the way in which splendor and luster are offered to us over and over again.

While the outer aspects of nature have the ability to rouse emotion and feelings, they are often intricately tied to the intelligent infrastructure that underpins the natural world.

Danny Arguetty is manager of the Mindfulness Program at UW Recreation. Read more about his passion for yoga and connection people to its many benefits here.

The way in which a tiny seed holds the blueprint of a massive tree, or that forest ecosystems have mother trees that communicate and support younger trees through their root system. The beautiful shape of birds flying in a “V” formation to optimize aerodynamic-efficacy by taking advantage of swirls of upward-moving air generated by the wings of the bird ahead. Or the various patterns we see in nature from spirals, snowflakes, a honeycomb, and a male peacock’s feathers to name a few.

Each serve a particular purpose from energy conservation, sun exposure, to helping attract a mate. Nature offers so much brilliance in its design and in its execution, and although we are not required to understand the way things work, it can often add an additional layer of awe and appreciation that helps us savor the beauty before us just a little more.

Spend a minute or two with each image below. Look, see, breathe and notice which image speaks to you most in this moment. What do you feel? What is awakened? Does one image nourish you more than another? Do any of the images bring up a memory of an awe experience you have had with the natural world?

Danny Arguetty, Mindfulness Program Manager, UW Recreation

 


Check this space at the beginning of every week in October for more content that will keep you engaged and inspired and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for daily posts about what inspires us—and you—the UW community. Send photos of how you’re marking yoga month as well as any art, poetry, or natural imagery that inspires you to use here wholeu@uw.edu and be entered to win great yoga-themed prizes.


References:

  1. “Sunshine, Wind, Water, Earth: The Benefits of Practicing Yoga in Nature by Mark Roule” by Kripalu Center
  2. “Stress Less With Eco-Yoga: Why You Should Take Your Yoga Practice Outdoors” by Best Health 

To learn more about this month’s yoga activities, register to join UW Yoga Month 2019! Special thanks to our sponsors BECUUS Bank, and AT&T as well as to UW Recreation.