Yoga Practice and Workout Close to Nature – Take it Outside
“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and winds long to play with your hair.”
Whether opening up the cycle room in the quiet light of the early morning sunrise, teaching breath and movement in our open-air beach shala, with the sound of the waves in the background, or taking a moment in between teaching a core or cycle class to watch green jungle leaves move around in a cool breeze, the same two words surface – nature and space.
I have lived in extremely crowded and polluted cities, where the heat is so stifling that it feels as though you stepped into an oven, where the air is so polluted that trees are a permanent shade of beige and you commonly cough or sneeze black soot, where movement outdoor become so limited that you have to resort to a chemical-laden, poorly-circulated indoor gym or studio. During these times, Samahita Retreat became an oasis to visit and after living here for some years, it still feels like perfection.
If you have the chance get to out in any green, natural space where you live, now more than ever is the time to make the shift to the outdoors.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but necessity of the human spirit.” –Edward Abbey
More Reasons to Take Your Workout Outdoors
A new report from the University of East Anglia reveals that people who spend more time in, or live near, to natural green spaces provides a significant health boost. The data from over 140 studies, involving more than 290 million people, in over 20 countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, France, Germany, Australia and Japan, where “Shinrin yoku” or Forest bathing is a popular practice. The research shows that spending more time in nature correlates with a measurable reduction in diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress, along with a reduced risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth and increase sleep duration .
Benefits of Outdoor Exercise
Expanding on these findings, a systematic review in the research journal Environmental Science and Technology, in February 2011 shows the positive correlation between improved mental and physical well-being and exercising outdoors compared to indoor environments. The team analyzes data from eleven randomized and non-randomized control trials, which surveys over 800 adults. Not only did participants report a greater feeling of enjoyment, self-esteem, and a sense of revitalization while moving in green, natural spaces, but they also experience a decreased feeling of anger, depression and tension .
Another study in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology shows that this benefit doesn’t take long to experience. Just five minutes of exercise in nature has a noticeable effect. An analysis of 1,252 people drawn from ten studies in the United Kingdom shows that outdoor activities, such as: walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, horse-riding and farming, all lead to improved mental and physical health. Additionally, green areas with water add even more benefit .
Further Maximize the Benefits of Being Outdoors
1. Grounding – Kick Off Your Shoes
It is easy to be barefoot here at Samahita Retreat. In only a few steps, you can walk the stone paths from your room to our facilities and access the beachfront for some beautiful strolls or runs.
Throughout the day, we build up electrical charges; Think about when long hair rises up after using a plastic brush or putting on a thick fleece sweater, or the shock that is triggered when you slide on socks across a carpet. Electrons travel to a ground through the path of least resistance; Think about when you get a little shock touching something metal after walking across that carpet. The simple act of going outside, away from synthetic fabrics and flooring, taking off your insulating shoes and touching the earth with your bare feet, helps to discharge acquired electrostatic charge and achieve electrical homeostasis.
Emerging research from twelve peer-reviewed reports, in the Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, concede that direct physical contact with the surface of the earth generates a kind of electric support, with significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects .
More specifically, grounding has been shown to help:
- Regulate cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone 
- Reduce inflammation and neutralize free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules that damage healthy cells 
- Improve sleep quality 
- Reduce some risk factors for cardiovascular disease 
This grounding effect can be amplified in areas abundant in negative ions, such as places close to moving water – rivers, waterfalls, crashing waves and being outdoors just after rain showers and thunderstorms. So, there are even more reasons to enjoy that beach walk, touch your toes in the moving tides, or make the effort to go and explore some of the many waterfalls around Koh Samui when you next visit Samahita Retreat.
In the meantime, take your run out onto the beach, bring your TRX to a park and hook it up under a tree, or try a simple, portable five, one-minute plank challenge barefoot in your backyard.
2. Get Out in Twenty Minutes of Early Morning Sun
Being on the Eastern facing part of Koh Samui island, we receive some stunning and subtle early morning light. Furthermore, being so close to the equator, although we do have our rainy seasons, it is fairly easy to find sunlight at some point in the day to indulge in.
Sunlight is a powerful biological signal. Your body requires some UV light to work properly on many levels. Being indoors, under white LED lights and harsh, compact fluorescents limits the full spectrum of light that is present in the sun which we have evolved with. It is recommended to aim for 10-20 minutes of adequate sunlight exposure, on as much of your body as possible, every day. Luckily, in our location, between 33 degrees Latitudinal North and -33 degrees Latitudinal South, between10:30am-3:00pm, we have access to UVB rays when they are the most powerful, yet reducing less tissue damage and offer more biological benefit than other ultraviolet rays .
Sunlight helps to:
- Regulate your circadian rhythm .
- Increase Vitamin D production in your body and also activates vitamin D by turning it into vitamin D sulfate, which gives an extra dose compared to taking supplements. Sunscreen prevents skin from absorbing vitamin D, so leave some areas unexposed during the short time of exposure  .
- Optimize Testosterone, a major hormone for men and women which plays a part in defining muscle tone, body composition and sex drive. (Men, apparently sunlight on your bare chest and back will increase testosterone levels by 120%) .
- Increase Nitric Oxide levels, which causes vasodilation, or the widening of your blood vessels, increasing blood flow throughout your body. This helps to improve performance and recovery by optimizing oxygen and nutrient transport and making cellular waste removal more efficient .
- Release Endorphins, hormones which have been shown to reduce pain, support hormone regulation, and even inhibit cancer growth    
- Increases Dopamine release and the number of Dopamine receptors in your body, which can help symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder .
3. Hydrate and Use Plenty of Electrolytes
When you take your workout outdoors, don’t forget to bring water with you. Drink whenever you feel thirsty and try not to ration your water. For most workouts, following voluntary drinking behavior, it is recommended to drink at least 700 mL (or 24 oz.) of water per hour  
If you are outdoors for extended periods of time, especially in the heat of the summer, it’s important to replace minerals that you lose when sweating. It’s recommended to consume the equivalent of 700 – 1,200 mg of sodium per hour (depending on the temperature) along with other electrolytes such as calcium, magnesium and potassium .
There are many high-quality electrolyte tablets and powders on the market these days. Try to avoid ones with added sugars and chemicals. Electrolyte tablets are extremely portable and can easily be plopped into a bottle of water on the go.
Better yet, at Samahita Retreat, we always offer a special mixture of lime juice and Himalayan pink salt that you can add to your water to help you rehydrate. And of enjoying a chilled, fresh, young coconut at our Juice Bar, gives an effective, natural, sweet dose of electrolytes, that are easily assimilated in the body compared to any sports drinks .
So, get outside. Get near nature and especially water. Kick off your shoes. Feel the sun on your skin. Carry ample drinking water. Take your workout outdoors. You don’t need to do it for long, but do it every day and do it well. It’s all free and available for you to enjoy.
“Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.”
Feeling stuck and robotic in your Sun Salutations? Watch this video with our Yoga Teacher Ara Hwang to improve your mobility and try some new moves to help with difficult transitions such as chaturanga to upward dog and jumping back / forwards.
If you have ever asked why do yoga and fitness? Isn’t my yoga my fitness anyway? What kind of workout goes well with yoga? How to do yoga to fit a workout? Or still don’t know why a longterm yoga practitioner would also embrace other workouts, then please read all, or part, of the following to get an understanding as to the genesis of YogaCoreCycle and how the bigger picture of yoga requires such activity, within moderation. I have gone deep into yoga practice and scientific research, understanding the subtle side of practice and our evolutionary history and how the body works, discussed it with experienced yogis and scientists, all convinced this is a positive step forward for people doing yoga-asana and those involved in fitness.
Nurture the spirit – take care of the body
I have been a dedicated yogi for many years. I recognize life and all its elements, needs of the body and mind. Yoga practice has been most helpful for this. I also appreciate music, food, knowledge, relationships, intimacy, conversation, entertainment and recreation, all the threads in the fabric of life. I avoid that which causes me or others harm, in body and mind, and embrace whatever makes complete sense. The practice of yoga is vital for life, nurturing of the spirit, but we cannot expect it to give all that the body needs. Yoga in a larger sense understands this and advises a combination of activities and guidance in how to perform them. In its original form, yoga-asana separated the workout from the asana. YogaCoreCycle embraces the various needs of the human body by offering a multi-modal program that separates out yoga-asana from cardio and functional fitness workouts, while offering them across a daily program.
Incomplete body-breath-mind development in modern yoga
I have taught yoga practice and the breath to more than 20,000 people over 20 years in many countries around the world. Over time I found many got stuck in a repetitive pattern of how to do asana, limiting the body’s development, were not connected to their core at all though often thinking they were, had not properly refined the breath, and would not really put in the time to sit, breathe, contemplate, look within, self-examine, considering the asana practice as yoga. Without the latter yoga practice is ineffective. Assuming yoga practice complete due to a long asana practice has led some to limit their growth in a yogic and meditative way, while also not fully taking care of the body.
Yoga is more than the physical practice
Yoga is an ancient and refined practice whose physical aspects have become an integral part of the thoroughly modern boutique fitness craze. The physical part of yoga is designed to refine and condition the body’s form and physiology. Those interested choose to live and practice it in different ways. In reality, more people relate to yoga as a physical form rather than its intended purpose as a fully integrated life system that, through internal processes, creates an understanding of who we really are. Body posture, termed as asana, is included within yoga practice and it has been developed as an extremely effective physiological and anatomical management form under Hatha yoga. It is only part of an overall process and, if to be effective within the greater purpose, needs to be done so breath and heartrate are managed. This produces a different body chemistry and physiological profile, in support of a meditative internal growth.
Yoga-asana is not a replacement for exercise
The human body needs different forms of care and stimulation, as our evolution has shown. Yoga and fitness experts have consistently found that asana is not a replacement for exercise. When yoga is undertaken solely for fitness purposes, much of its meaning and effect is lost. It is limited. Yoga does not provide the cardiovascular benefits of a full workout program, such as indoor cycling, and a repetitive asana practice can cause practitioners to lose touch with messages their bodies communicate. Though a physical asana practice, coupled with breathing, can do wonders for the body it is still not designed to push the heart and breath in a workout.
Both yoga-asana and exercise are needed for a healthy body
Changing the way the body moves, as in switching between a yoga-asana, a core, and a cycle class, helps to identify postural concerns, weak muscles, and other issues that may be preventing practitioners from fully performing the yoga poses or finding balance in their bodies. A fitness workout stimulates the nervous system one way that is beneficial, if not overdone, yet different to how yoga-asana affects the nerves and equally the body chemistry.
Exercise is one thing that is essential in people’s lives, yoga practice is another. In addition to that are the yogic practices of pranayama-breath and sitting-meditation. All together these cover the whole person – the body and the mind, the gross and the subtle, the worldly and the spiritual. Great health and wellbeing arises from addressing all needs of an individual.
Yoga-asana and exercise optimize how the body functions
As yoga-asana with breathing stimulates more the parasympathetic nervous system and massages a different hormonal and neurotransmitter profile into the blood stream, benefitting a clearer, calmer state for most of the day, exercise, whether more cardio or resistance-based strength work, is needed to engage the sympathetic in a healthy way, counter to stress-based sympathetic responses, and trigger a different chemical cocktail for a period of time through the body. This ebb and flow, yin and yang, alternated stimulation, optimizes how the body functions. Interestingly this aids the meditative process more due to its greater balancing effects and more robust neuro-physiological operation.
Manage body chemistry between core, cardio, and asana
Functional fitness integrates perfectly as part of any level of a yoga practitioner’s regular routine. It is especially important to build the Core, as that is the system of muscles that supports the entire body. Connecting with the physical Core builds endurance and efficiency, reducing the possibility of injuries. The movement part of an asana practice is ideal to incorporate Core work. The aim is to recruit as many muscles of the body as possible at one time to help strengthen, optimize fat burning, and develop real core support. Such full body strength work can then switch to a restorative phase, that asana can provide, so the chemicals released into the body to build strength and burn fat can now be removed from circulation and the body can have a repair and restore impact, opening body tissue, impacting lymph drainage, nurturing the nervous system, and improving the circulatory system.
Human evolution demands support of our core
The human body has evolved to its current bipedal form, with a unique big toe alignment, based purely on the fact that we Homo sapiens started to actively use our legs and walk everywhere, literally over this entire earth. The human S-shaped spinal column is a direct result of that development and, in consequence, the large muscles the legs use and the nerves off the lower part of the spine to the pelvis and legs. Though strength exists in the upper body too we are pathetically weak there compared to fellow primates but champion them with our legs. Our arms to hands to fingers instead have developed incredible technologies, from basic tools to today’s modern technology. However, this upright stance has led to challenges on the vertebral column support with many of the population suffering from back issues and internal organ ailments. Core support from the lower abdomen is essential for this support and health. A proper yoga asana practice identifies this but many reduce to flexibility exercises. Further core work is essential. Some activity at least a few days a week is needed for lymph stimulation as well as circulation and elimination stimulation.
Recent human history involved a mixture of work and activity
Until very recently, literally within the last decade, without the convenience of modern technology, we moved more and had to more manual activities. In older days a yoga practitioner would also have to walk for miles a day (BKS Iyengar would love to tell the story of how he had to walk 10 miles a day just to teach, on top of his asana practice – now that’s a “workout”), or climb hills if living in mountainous regions of India, or work in the fields given the majority of the population were agrarian.
Still a few questions?
Does yoga need cardio?
Does yoga need more core work?
Is Yoga a workout or not?
What about yoga tradition?
So, is yoga practice still evolving?
Does yoga need cardio?
A yoga-asana practice is not a cardio workout regardless of breathwork incorporated into it. Yet the doing of cardio is beneficial in terms of one’s own overall health and fitness level. Thus, an additional focused functional aspect involving cardio is essential. Cycle at various speeds is one of the most optimal ways to include this. Moderation is key. We have up to two 30-minute cycle sessions a day. You may choose to do all of these or once every second day. Three times a week of shorter intense cardio, especially if not used to being active or older than 35, is a more healthy approach.
Does yoga need more core work?
Absolutely. Or rather your body needs more core work and original hatha yoga has highly emphasized the power of the core. Though a skillful practice of yoga asana will build the “core” region, a yogic core is one of primarily pelvic to spinal steadiness, very engaged work through the lower abdomen predominantly. It is often not quickly grasped by practitioners. To aid in the development of, and to add to, one’s core activity, a yoga practitioner can benefit greatly from core focused activity.
Is Yoga a workout or not?
Many practitioners approach yoga-asana under the banner of fitness but in terms of mere physical exercise, fitness and cardio benefits, yoga is much lower on the scale when compared to functional fitness and cycle activities. People practicing yoga can benefit from a short added period of increased activity that stimulates the metabolism, raising the heart rate and moving the body. Yoga, though also physically challenging at times, has a focus to balance nervous activity, teach integrity of posture, to encourage this through stamina development and holding of positions. Some positions are just too complex for the average person or too intricate to be added to a fitness routine, which current yoga approaches try to do. Traditional asana teaching highlights maintaining even breath, good heart rate, a subsequent autonomic nervous balance. Exercise and fitness promote the opposite. Both are good and both are needed. Here a practitioner can fully embrace and enjoy a workout with core and cardio activity while also benefitting tremendously from yoga asana practices that emphasize inner stability, balance, a supported body with freedom that is based on integrity of posture and mind.
What about yoga tradition?
Yoga tradition is not built on a physical set of practices, meaning an asana method. It is aiming to understand and then embody the principles of yoga which are part of the human experience in terms of our how we handle our relationships, how to manage the body and its metabolic processes, and to develop an attention on the internal aspects of life. Classical yoga tradition will define the nature of asana to be supported and free, done without irregular force yet a mind tuned to the breath and inner experience. This leaves open a myriad of ways to approach asana and how to sequence. Ironically, what is called traditional yoga today has actually grown out of hybrid influences from classical asana, European gymnastics, Indian traditional physical body methods, and even a good bit of early 20th century military style discipline. This is not tradition but just a passing method. Tradition honors the principles, which today we can say are understood and shown even scientifically as they endure across generations, but can still be adapted to changing social landscapes, both geopolitically and demographically. Tradition is based on intelligence not dogma. That intelligence is a clear mind and an open heart.
So, is yoga practice still evolving?
On a personal note, my life feels more balanced with a mixture of sitting, breathing, working on the body in asana, and getting a great functional fitness core strength and cardio workout. To engage in holistic activity for the whole person is not a luxury. It is a necessity. It is part of our living gracefully, aging well, and translates into our relationships and human interactions. No one has figured out how to optimally manage this human body in a whole life. Even with sagely advice and great gurus, it is all still a work-in-progress. Times are changing faster than any other period in known human history. Population levels are beyond anything previously experienced. We need to make some effort to get a handle on a life well lived, not just for the body, but for who we are in this world. One truth in the teaching is everything is in constant change. And so our approach to yoga practice must intelligently adapt to the needs of changing bodies, changing lifestyles, changing society, and even a degree of change in self-understanding.
This is why a full approach to body-mind-spirit is, and has to be, offered here. And what YogaCoreCycle is all about.
For a more detailed discussion around yoga and fitness please read the article Understand Yoga & Fitness