A New Book (forthcoming) by Eyal Shifroni & Ohad Nachtomy
This book stems from our long fascination with practicing yoga outdoors, in the open air, and in natural surroundings.
Through many years of experience in practicing on the beach or during hikes in mountains and forests.
We think that practicing in nature adds depth and beauty to the practices of asana and Pranayama. We wish to help you, the reader, to embark on such a practice. For those who already enjoy practicing outdoors, we offer many tools to enrich such a practice.
There are more books about yoga in nature, but this book has some unique characteristics:
- Both authors are long-time Iyengar Yoga practitioners (Eyal is a senior teacher and Ohad is a devoted student). We are accustomed to using props to enhance and deepen our practice. In this book, we show that one need not give up props when practicing in nature. On the contrary, nature provides props that are very effective and can be used in many flexible and creative ways.
- Ohad, being a philosophy researcher and lecturer, surveys in his Introduction. The long history of man’s fascination with nature and the deep and intimate connections between man and nature. This explains, at least to a certain extent, why practicing in nature is so rewarding.
- The book covers seashores, mountains, deserts, and forests, and contains ample photos and tips for the practice.
Here are experts from the Introduction of Eyal:
Don't miss Eyal's books...
With all its technological advances, the modern way of life provides us with many advantages and comforts. Heating and cooling systems allow us to control air temperature; electricity provides us with light; pumps and pipes bring water to our homes; the Internet provides us with a near-endless supply of information and entertainment; and so on.
All this technology saves us a great deal of time and frees us of worries about our basic needs, such as food and shelter. Despite these great benefits, technology also has its costs. We have become isolated from the abundance of nature and its positive effects on our wellbeing. Alienated from a natural environment, we might even become alienated from our own bodies, which are one of the magnificent and majestic creations of nature.
Inside Vs. Outside
This detachment from nature is apparent once we look at modern workspaces. Many people in western countries today work indoors in large production halls. I used to work in such an ‘open space’ when I was a software engineer at Intel. I always felt it is somewhat ironic to call these offices ‘open spaces’. They have no windows through which I could see the sky or breathe fresh air.
These working conditions took a heavy toll on me; sitting all day, I felt my chest collapsing and tension accumulating in my upper back and neck. I never had enough time for my yoga practice. Working on a computer for long hours can, in the long run, even create scoliosis because of using just one hand for the mouse. So, after less than two years, I left Intel and switched to a more relaxed way of life.
In one obvious sense, the project of going back to nature is hopeless. After all, we cannot return to an old way of life when humankind was more integrated with nature. And to what period in human evolution do those who advocate a “return to nature” want to go back? We cannot go back to the African jungle, the womb of our species, or live as hunter-gatherers. We also probably cannot live the lives of the ancient yogis, wandering in the Indian jungles. As Jean Jacques Rousseau acutely observed, once we’ve shifted away from it, there is no going back to our natural condition – whatever is meant by ‘natural condition’. Nor is it clear that we would want to go back.
And still, rather than long to lost past, there is much we can do to reconnect with nature in the present: We can get in touch with our own body, thereby getting in touch with our own nature. We can be more attuned to nature, recalling that it is the ultimate source of all energy and life. We can humbly realize that we are the children of Mother Earth. The conviction we develop throughout this book is that practicing yoga outdoors is an effective way to gain and develop such insights!
This book aspires to help us regain a connection with our bodies and our nature.
It does so by suggesting ways in which we can practice yoga in natural surroundings, ways that enrich our natural resources. Each of its three chapters introduces methods for practicing in a particular natural surrounding:
the seashore (Chapter 1), the woods (Chapter 2), and the mountains of the desert (Chapter 3). In composing these chapters, we have drawn on our many years of regular and dedicated yoga practice in nature: at the Mediterranean beach, near our homes, and in many other natural surroundings, including the desert in the Negev (the southern part of Israel), Sinai (Egypt), and other locations around the world.
Over the years, we’ve discovered that such practice is a powerful way of recharging the body, mind, and spirit. It retains balance and poise, even when facing the inevitable vicissitudes and downfalls of life. We’ve experienced the deep joy of being alone in nature. Absorbed in a deep forward extension or in headstand, observing the waves from surface level – or, meditating near the sea, feeling the soft breeze on the skin, and listening to the rhymical, meditative roar of the ocean. Or, when practicing in the desert. The touch of cool curved rock against our bodies lets our backs arch on top of it.
Practicing in natural surroundings has taught me about yoga more than the safe environment of my studio.
In nature, my body spontaneously opens up, my mind becomes calm and focused, and my practice flows naturally and effortlessly. I can stay in challenging āsanas with less effort and more focus and concentration.
Somehow, and somewhat mysteriously, my body and mind react spontaneously to the rhythm of the waves and the wind. Nature seems to offer an abundance of energy. Sometimes advanced āsanas that I struggle with at home come easily in nature.
Yoga in Nature and Patanjali
I often experience the state Patanjali defines as prayatna śaitilya – a sensation of effortless effort in performing an āsana. According to Patanjali, that is the characteristic of a mature and well-done āsana (Yoga Sutras II.47). It is not entirely clear to me why these natural elements are so conducive to my practice. Yet the effect is clearly felt – I am able to concentrate and connect with myself and enjoy the practice in a way that does not often happen in the studio.
Being in nature, in front of the ocean, in the high mountains, or when watching the night stars, one naturally feels small and loses some of one’s self-importance. Nature is so vast and abundant and, when you are open to it, you become more modest and humbler. This is a good mental state for commencing a session of yoga practice.
However, to be immersed in nature, one needs to quiet one’s mind. Being outdoors is not always enough to acquire a stable and serene mind. If you go out on a noisy picnic, you may not even feel the effect of nature. The noise will probably mask the chirping of the birds or the roar of the sea. Engaging in practice quietens the mind and opens the doors of perception. It is an ideal way for emerging and reconnecting with nature. When you start practicing (in any environment), you need to temporarily cast aside all your projects, tasks, plans, worries, and regrets, and connect to your body and your breathing. Being immersed in nature helps to shift the mind’s focus inwards to find poise within.
The practice of yoga stills the fluctuations and the automatic reactions of the mind (citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ). Going out into nature is a step in this direction. Many people feel that going into the woods or to the mountains helps in quietening the mind. It makes it serene and receptive. And when the mind is quiet, practice flows more easily (sukha).
Iyengar Yoga practitioners (like me) might worry that proper practice requires a flat floor, walls, and most importantly, props. No doubt, these all have great benefits in practice. In fact, I use props regularly and teach and write books about their use in our practice. But practicing in nature need not deprive us from the benefits of props. As the following chapters demonstrate, nature itself provides very effective props. And so, we do not need to give up on the benefits of props when we practice in nature. One of the joys of practicing in nature is the search for natural props. Wherever you are, you can find wonderful props. You only need to look for them with attentive and imaginative mind.
Over many years of practicing in nature, we have devised many methods for using the sand (at the beach), the rocks (in the mountains), and the trees (in the forest) as props. These methods enhance and deepen our practice. I find these natural props extremely effective, often more so than the artificial ones we use at the studio. The sand especially lends itself easily to creating slopes or pits, which give soft and natural support for many āsanas. The sand proves to be even better than the human-made apparatus we commonly use at the studio. (More about this in Chapter 1). It is our sincere hope that this book will help you combine the benefits of being in nature. With those of practicing yoga, without giving up on the benefits of yoga props.