The Powerful Ability of Yoga to Connect Us to Nature

by Helen Young

Yoga is a real hot topic at most dinner parties these days though it isn’t necessarily the fervent yogis among us who are bringing the topic up. Once seen as an ‘alternative therapy or practice,’ yoga is now a crucial part of recovery in a variety of settings, helping those suffering from depression, Posttraumatic stress disorder, atherosclerosis, breast cancer, etc., achieve better outcomes. Yoga is also an important component of the world’s top addiction recovery centres, owing to its ability to restore physical strength and flexibility, and to promote mental health. Those battling addiction are forced to face tough obstacles such as anxiety, depression and fatigue and yoga has been proven to improve symptoms in all these conditions. Over the past decade, Westerns societies have come to value a way of life that has always been given due importance in the East: one in which the inexorable link between body, mind and spirit, is recognized and pursued. Yoga brings us closer to Nature—to our own inner world and to the vast outdoor environment all at once; its ultimate aim is to unite us with our higher Nature and with all sentient beings. Those who practice yoga in the midst of Nature will often tell you that there is something uniquely peaceful and spiritual about the experience; these are just some ways that yoga can restore our powerful connection with Nature:

* Yoga fosters our relationship with prakriti: The yogic lifestyle tells us that the entire Universe dwells within us and can be comprehended by our deepest Nature. However, it also requires that we live in close harmony with Nature (or ‘prakriti’). According to yogic philosophy, in order to discover the Cosmic Being within, our outer environment must also be in harmony. Yoga teaches us to make Nature part of our life, because it has a deep wisdom that we can learn from. Many yogis say that outdoor yoga is quite a unique experience; when meditating or doing pranayamic (controlled) breathing in the middle of a pine forest, the fragrance, sounds and sites make it so much easier to disconnect from the worries that interfere with inner harmony. Our daily life is normally about achieving a long list of goals and tasks. Yoga offers us a chance to let go of these demands and work on our inner world, which is so easy to neglect in daily life.

* The yogic lifestyle emphasizes the importance of kindness and compassion to all living things: When discussing the yoga lifestyle, the subject of The Eight Limbs often arises. These comprise yamas (‘abstentions’ which regulate how we relate to the external world) and niyamas (or ‘observances’, which govern how we relate to our inner world). The yama known as ‘ahimsa’ stresses the importance of non-violence, of kindness and compassion to all sentient things as well as to ourselves. This is one reason why so many yogis lead a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. The yama goes beyond our decision whether or not to eat meat, however; it extends to our responsibility to protect the environment and the many ecosystems that house a myriad of animals, many of which have become endangered owing to our irresponsibility and selfishness. Inner happiness is impossible if the world around us is suffering.

* The mindfulness aspect of yoga invites us to celebrate the glory of Nature: One of the most important components of yoga is mindfulness: being in the present moment. This can be a big challenge, especially for budding yogis, who can find it difficult to wrest worries from their minds, or eliminate repetitive and unproductive thought patterns. Yoga in the Great Outdoors makes ‘being in the here and now’ much more achievable, since in Nature, there are so many changes (from cloudy to sunny, dry to rainy, silent to filled with the rustle of leaves or the song of a bird) which can take place in just a few seconds. Nature enables us to forego control over our surroundings and teaches us how to adapt to and embrace change. Many yogis prefer to work in the great outdoors owing to the unpredictability of small aspects of the weather or the irregularity of the terrain. Yoga in the Great Outdoors enables us to overcome our fear of the unknown and find a meaningful connection with the Universes within and without.