Off the Mat and Into the Woods

Posted on August 4th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights

Where Yoga and Nature Meet

Tresca Weinstein, guest blogger

Each time they co-teach the Kripalu program Yoga and Kayaking, Greg DiLisio and Johnny Snyder lead what they call a “floating meditation.” As the sun begins to rise over the Berkshires, the group rows together toward the center of Lake Mahkeenac, its surface shrouded in early-morning mist. Then they pull in their paddles, close their eyes, and let themselves float wherever the current and breeze carry them.

“There’s a universal feeling that water can provide—a sense of being in the flow, and of being connected to the source,” says Greg, a quigong, tai chi, and yoga teacher as well as avid outdoor sportsman. “We encourage people to touch the water, to sense it around and within them, to appreciate it as a life force.”

Just as our yoga practice on the mat can serve as a microcosm for our day-to-day experience, nature can be a powerful metaphor for life. Confronting and moving through discomfort in the context of nature opens the door to overcoming fear in other areas of life. The offshore meditation in Greg’s kayaking program brings people face-to-face with their fears of being unmoored—literally and figuratively—and alone in the unknown.

“People can be afraid of drowning, or of being untethered from shore,” he says. “Often the floating meditation is transformational for them because they start with a fear of being alone on the water and, when they separate from our little pod, it can be scary. Then the sun comes out and burns off the mist. They had no idea where they were, and then they look around and see each other.”

Michelle Apland, codirector of Flying Deer Nature Center in New Lebanon, New York, and a Kripalu invited presenter, says that the key to gaining more comfort in and appreciation of our surroundings—in both life and nature—is tuning in to our senses and intuition, trusting that they’ll give us the information we need. “As with yoga, it’s about moving into what we see, hear, and feel,” she says. “Whether we’re in a city, or a safe, rural community, or in the forest, it’s the same practice.”

As Kripalu faculty member and yoga teacher Randal Williams puts it, “If you’re able to witness yourself in nature, you can make observations and awakenings that have a ripple effect in your body and mind.” What we tend to forget is that nature is, well, in our nature. “When all is said and done, it’s our home, so we feel a particular resonance with nature,” Randal says. “It’s in our DNA, it’s in our bones.”


Natural Selection: The Health Benefits of Being Outdoors

  • Spending time in nature has been proven to be one of the most consistent remedies for some mental illness; a Dutch study found that people who lived within .6 miles of a park or wooded area experienced less anxiety and depression.
  • The contact of bare skin with the ground has been shown to reduce inflammation and stress, according to the authors of Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?.
  • Studies show that spending several hours in natural surroundings can increase immunity, producing as much as a 50 percent spike in “natural killer cells,” which support immune function.
  • A study conducted in Japan, where visiting nature parks has become a popular practice known as shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” showed that being in wooded areas produced lower concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure.

Tresca Weinstein is Managing Editor of Kripalu Compass and grew up in a little house in the big woods.

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