Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pardon me, your Yoga is showing...

I just got back from a wonderful weekend at the beach. Two dear friends from high school, sand, surf, and no responsibility. It was dreamy...although highly unsustainable. I jogged on the beach, read for hours (more later on Wendy Doniger's The Hindus), did a little yoga on the beach. Am in the process of acclimating to Real Life...

Yoga topical, this week. I'd meant to post before I left, because Yoga Spy left an intriguing comment last week about doing yoga in public and I found it inspiring, if a bit confounding. Now, It's All Yoga, Baby also has a post worth considering in this context, too. There's some back and forth about the giant yoga-in in NYC, but I haven't read up on that, seeing as I was "off-line" when it went down.

For me, our little session in the sand was just a quick amuse bouche. A little stretch-and-commune-with-nature, but nothing particularly deep or moving. However, doing it outside did mean we were on view, and one jogger going by was so distracted he wandered into the incoming wave. (n.b. we were 2 middle-aged ladies and one man in sloppy tees and shorts, no hot yoga bods, here) Still, we felt better afterwards and definitely more calm, so benefits were had.

Which gets me to my (and my fellow bloggers') point. Is yoga outside too distracting to count as yoga? Are you drawing too much attention to yourself? Are you too aware of what else is going on? Does this detract from the practice, or enhance it?

I see the point on both sides. I think a traditional practice--a withdrawing from the senses--probably is made more difficult by being outside, or at least in public with passerbys and whatnot. But I think a modern practice (so to speak) is improved; I think you become more aware of what you are doing and you become very sensitive to your environment. Instead of withdrawing from your senses, you withdraw from the distractions of everday life--demands, obligations, to-do-lists--and become more in tune with your body and your place in nature. One living being among many.

I'm all for quieting the monkey-mind, however it is accomplished. I like to keep the tool box filled, if you will. But I'm really interested in what the rest of you think. Wind, waves, and walkers or serenity, screens, and silence?

(Aah, Topsail Beach in North Carolina...)


Anonymous said...

I like a bit of YIP-ing, especially on the beach, but it doesn't do quite the same thing for me as yoga in the privacy of my own home. Or the privacy of a friend's backyard, since I don't have one!
And it does attract a Great Deal of attention, doing it in public. The yoga, I mean.

La Gitane said...

I love to do yoga outdoors, but prefer when I can do it in private of course. What you said about withdrawing from everyday life and connecting with nature really resonates with me - that's exactly how I feel when I practice outdoors. It feels completely natural, and completely liberating all at once. I love being able to see light, and sky, and feel the sun on my face.

I do agree that yoga in public can be distracting. I think it takes a seriously focused practitioner to go ahead with their practice when other people might be watching, and not modify their practice in any way because there are spectators. But hey, we have seen monks meditating amidst the crowds... If they can do it, maybe we can to! It's all about the intention of the thing!

Rebecca said...

I was just recently in Mexico with a group of yogis, and we spontaneously started a practice on the beach that ended up lasting about an hour. It was absolutely delightful. Sure, I would not want every practice to be that way, but it forced me to really engage muscles and concentrate in new ways, especially when some woman came by asking if we wanted massages while we were in a partner Padagusthasana. There was something beautiful about sharing that space, feeling the sand, hearing the ocean, and breathing in the air.

So, I agree that it is nearly impossible to fully withdraw the senses, but yoga is also about a path to survive in this world. My goal is to help people bring yoga to their everyday lives, while keeping true to its teachings, and practicing outside really helped me do that.

That being said, I have only practiced outside a few times. The second time was during the 2-hour border crossing wait. My friend and I just practiced on the road. That got some weird looks, but it was not really yoga - just a chance to get out of the car and move. ;)

Rachel @ Suburban Yogini said...

Yoga in my own garden is preferable of course but I have to say I don't really think about or notice other people when I'm in the park or on the beach doing it. Mind you those occassions are rare. This is England remember ;)

john said...

I guess if you're paying attention to your breath it counts? Will definitely give it a try on the beach! Love your blog!

Eco Yogini said...

I have read, over at Om Shanti, that Yoga is meant to be translated into every day life. And how are we supposed to do that if we practice the skills in the IDEAL environment, quiet, no visual distractions, every day?

It was a good point.

We practice outside every week. and it is a great practice in letting go and turning inward.
Sometimes people stop and observe, squirrels come up and say hello.
but that is life. And we are practicing Yoga in Life.

I think it's a fantastic experience for yogis to take their practice "off the mat" so to speak in a middle ground, supportive way.

Kristin said...

My question back, if I may, why does an outside yoga practice have to be asana based?

I love to ride bike - I delight in finding a smooth road and a spin cadence that takes almost no effort, and settle into some deep breathing.

I love to hit the Lakewalk (I live on Lake Superior) and just allow the wind to blow between the ears so-to-speak, letting my feet take me along and my eyes wander from boats, people, horizon, whatever as my breath just flows.

Perhaps in each case I'll stop, do a few stretches and move on. Or not.

Do folks who practice TaiChi outside worry about how they'll look as much as yogis do?

Just curious. :)

I can see both sides as well - for many of us, summer is so brief we want to be outside enjoying it however we can. To feel the wind, smell the air, and connect with the ground.

But yet, that same wind is blowing the mat around so you have to keep adjusting it. There's a rock right under your heel everytime you do warrior. The mosquitos are making their presence know quite insistently. And OMG! There's a spider crawling across my mat! Drat, the allergies are kicking in because the trees/grass/ragweed/etc are blooming. Sneeze! Sneeze! Oh, look! A couple of ducks just landed nearby. Darn, the runners just scared them off.

Yoga? Or stretching outside?

Interesting post, Brenda. Thank you!

roseanne said...

welcome back, brenda! missed your blogging while you were away.

my practice is strongest and most beneficial when i'm doing it in my own space, but every now and then i like to shake it up by practicing outside. i find while i may not be able to go as deep into my practice, i open up different things within myself and feel connected to nature (and, when being harassed by drunks, to learn something about my mind).

lately, i've been really interested in yoga in public spaces (art galleries, parking lots) ~ not so much as a place to establish a practice, but as a way to reclaim public spaces and push notions of how to use space. in this case, i see yoga as a tool rather than a personal practice.

there's a group called yogahappening in toronto (we're starting a montreal chapter soon) which holds spontaneous public yoga classes as a way to build community. today, they're dedicating their practice as a protest to the G20 summit in toronto. i think this kind of public display of yoga is amazing!

things like yoga on the great lawn in NYC this week, i find less interesting. 10,000 people, corporate sponsorship, crowded mats, long lines, high-profile teachers... all of it turns me off. in that situation, the intention seemed to be about having "the world's largest yoga event." yeah, and so..?

Anonymous said...

very timely indeed as I am going to teach my first out door class tomorrow. I was really excited about this at first b/c I love to practice outside on my deck...and I completely forgot that there might be spectators... now I'm a little nervous
We'll see how it goes.

Brenda P. said...

Cool. I knew you guys would have some interesting thoughts...

@Kristin-I love the Tai Chi analogy. Folks out in the park just doing their thing, most definitely NOT worrying about how they look. Why not yoga?

@Roseanne. Wow, yoga as a political/performance art tool--very intriguing. Maybe not too far removed from some of the intentions of those original ascetics back in the day as a challenge to the Brahmin class (more on Doniger's The Hindus to come...)

@Anon-please don't let this make you nervous. Well, I suppose a little adrenaline about a new setting is okay, but you will be fine. Like John said, at the end of the day, it's all about the breath...

Say, if anyone does do some YIP (to use Nadine's clever acronym)in the next few days with all these comments in mind--let me know how it affected your feelings towards the practice...hopefully only as interesting observations, rather than anything negative...

charlotte bell said...

Each summer I teach a daily yoga practice on a women's river trip. It is wonderful to practice by the river, reminding us all of the reality of constant change. Digging one's feet down into the sand is an amazing way to ground in standing poses. Of course, on the Green or Colorado rivers at 6:00 am, there aren't a whole lot of spectators!

Heather said...

I love to practice yoga in my backyard, but no one is watching there. I actually find myself centering even more in nature than when I'm inside in the summer. It just seems natural to me.

I also teach outside on a college branch campus. The location is rather remote from the rest of the campus and most of the student prefer it to being indoors.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of practice outdoors and have done it a few times, either in an organized fashion or just on my own. The environment provides new things to practice around: stillness of breath and focus of mind amidst new distractions. Even the gaze of passers-by can become part of the practice if it is incorporated as such. The feeling of wind/water/sun on the face/body is lovely, and I feel quite certain that in the early days of yoga, our predecessors were doing it outdoors. However, the whole thing can be shifted into a different dimension REALLY easily if the focus becomes external: look at me!, or cool, I'm part of this hip outdoor yoga thing. Then it's something else. The spirit of the practice is so personal, but it makes all the difference.