In this edition of Ask the Expert, senior Kripalu faculty member and yoga philosophy professor Randal Williams answers your questions about bringing awareness to your outdoor activities.
I like to hike and cross-country ski—what are some ways I can incorporate yoga and meditation practices into my outdoor activities?
When you’re physically active outdoors, it naturally enlivens your focus. When you’re climbing over rocks or roots, walking on slippery or rough terrain, you have to pay attention. This is good for sharpening your mind just like meditation does, along with the added benefit of being physically active.
In my own practice, I like to start out slow and take cues from the environment. If I hear a brook rushing or wind blowing, I’ll stop and listen. I approach the experience with a receptive frame of mind. You never know what you’re going to find, and that reinforces the feeling of being part of something bigger. This mindfulness approach is very much an intervention for calming busyness and stress.
I have a really hard time with cold weather. Any suggestions on how to overcome these blocks and enjoy nature even in winter?
The key is to maintain your comfort zone. Aside from choosing an appropriate level of activity, the next biggest thing is having the proper gear—otherwise it will not be a relaxing or nourishing experience. Most important is to stay dry and warm. Consider good boots, perhaps gaiters, an appropriate coat, rain or snow pants, good mittens—and prioritize a good hat. It’s important to reduce sweat, because the perspiration cooling off in your clothing will make it difficult to stay warm. Don’t overdress, and vent your heat as needed.
If it is cold outside, try drinking warm tea with a dash of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, or even some ghee (clarified butter) before or after heading outdoors. Some people put cayenne pepper in their boots—outside the socks—as a way to keep their feet warm. Tune into your sense of playfulness! Spending time in a quiet forest is a great way to clear the mind and relax the nervous system.
How can I get the benefits of nature while living in the city?
It’s challenging, but it’s do-able. Connecting with nature is about being nourished by the elements. To connect with the most basic ether element, find wide-open spaces. To absorb the air element, walk a few blocks instead of hopping on the subway, and take deep, full breaths. For the fire element, celebrate light, warmth, and radiance by lighting a candle, or a fireplace if you have one. You can experience the water element in winter by building a snowman in your yard or in the park, or taking a hot bath. For the earth element, spend some time every day walking barefoot around your home, and try massaging your feet with sesame oil, combined with a pinch of cinnamon, to stimulate circulation.
Get outside this spring at Kripalu with Randal; he teaches various programs that integrate yoga with outdoor experiences.
What do you find most challenging about facing the elements? Are you a insectophobe, or maybe you’re nervous about bigger, furrier predators? Share your story.