When it comes to exercises that provide health, social and mental benefits, it’s safe to say that yoga is right up there. When people think of yoga, they generally think of yogis doing what they do inside a studio. However, yoga doesn’t have to be performed indoors.
One of the many beauties of yoga is that you can do it anywhere, literally. It turns out, doing yoga outdoors has a plethora of benefits than when doing it inside a studio. If you’re planning to do outdoor yoga, one of the essentials that you should have is a yoga mat.
In this article, you will learn the benefits of outdoor yoga and some tips on how to choose a yoga mat.
10 Benefits of Taking Your Yoga Practice Outdoors
If you have been strictly doing yoga indoors, this is a great time to take it to a whole, new level by practicing outdoors.
According to the latest Swedish study, doing yoga with nature provides benefits like improved internal focus and increased wakeful relaxation – two factors that contribute to a rewarding yoga experience. Still not sold on the idea of outdoor yoga? Here are more ways the outdoors can enhance your yoga practice:
- Connect with nature: many people enjoy being outdoors because it allows them to connect with nature. A big part of doing yoga is grounding. It’s essential that you get grounded, connect with your surroundings and get in touch with yourself.
There’s nothing better to make you feel grounded than by laying in savasana outside where the only thing that separates you from the earth is your yoga mat.
- Heightened awareness: once you leave the four walls of a yoga studio, all of your senses will be awakened. Parts of your brain will be activated to make you feel more present.
Studies have proven that being around the beauty of nature releases endorphins – the chemicals that enable you to feel good. For example, touching grass and feeling the breeze on your skin can further provide stimulation.
- Feel liberated: many yogis will agree that practicing yoga outdoors is liberating. When you are outside, there is a feeling of freedom that’s actually tangible: you can see the beautiful blue skies, feel the grass under your mat and feel the cool breeze.
Your practice and sense of enjoyment will surely be enhanced as you feel liberated while flowing and stretching. Your mood will be lifted better as well when compared to a normal yoga class.
- Increased energy and improved mood: did you know that spending time outside can actually improve your mood and increase energy levels? Studies have proven that sunshine increases the production of serotonin which enables increased energy and improved mood because of the nerve impulses that travel to the pineal gland.
- Build confidence: many people are apprehensive to doing yoga outdoors simply because it can feel awkward. True enough, it’s easy to feel self-conscious when you’re practicing outside especially if you’re used to doing yoga inside a studio.
People like familiar things as it brings security but stepping out of the comfort zone once in a while is important as well. Doing yoga outdoors can bring a totally new interpretation to your yoga practice which leads to better confidence.
- Wide open spaces: one of the most obvious benefits of doing outdoor yoga is that you have miles of free space around you. If you have been exclusively practicing yoga indoors, you probably don’t realize just how cramped you are.
Try setting up your yoga mat at the beach or a park and you’ll surely feel the Prana flowing through the great distances. You can stretch your limbs as far as you can without worrying about other people or objects. There’s just so much room to move.
- Shake up your routine: doing the same thing over and over again is a surefire way to burn yourself out. Once in a while, you need something different to shake up your yoga routine.
Changing up the setting of your yoga sessions outside can make things really interesting and fun. You will feel extra refreshed and energized just for experiencing a new, beautiful scenery.
- All about the zen: practicing yoga for the most part is about achieving that zen experience that no other exercises can offer. With that said, there’s nothing more zen than being outdoors where you’re exposed to the beauty of nature.
Birds singing, cool breeze blowing, a stream flowing – the sound of the great outdoors are more than enough to send those bad juju and stress away.
- Stimulates creativity: going to a yoga studio with an instructor is definitely a great experience. However, it doesn’t hurt to just flow all on your own.
Practicing yoga outside allows you to do just that. With no one to give you instructions, you get the chance to tune in to your own body and do poses on your own. Sure, it can be awkward and messy but that’s perfectly okay.
This gets the creative juices flowing with regards to the poses that you can do. Outside, there are no rules and it feels good.
- Boost meditation benefits: meditation has a plethora of benefits which includes having a smaller amygdala – the part of your brain which triggers the fight-or-flight response.
According to field studies, people who are often exposed to a forest environment versus an urban environment had a lower production of cortisol which is the stress hormone. Just come to think of it, Buddha wasn’t meditating in a hall, he did it in the forest.
The union of the body and the mind is what yoga is all about. Adding the element of the outdoors provides a whole new level of benefits and enable you to become one with nature.
If you are interested in doing yoga outdoors, make sure that you bring some sunscreen, bug spray and your trusty yoga mat.
How to Choose The Right Yoga Mat?
Compared to other fitness activities, yoga only requires very minimal gear in order to get started. One of the most important yoga-related gear that one should invest in is a yoga mat. Without the proper mat, doing yoga quickly becomes a practice in frustration and may even lead to injuries.
Sure, you can borrow from studios and gyms but we won’t recommend it since it’s not the most hygienic option. Don’t worry because we have a guide to help you choose the yoga mat that will best fit your personal needs.
Consider your needs
- Body type: the type of yoga mat you need, to some extent, depends on your body type. If you’ve got a slimmer body type, you could benefit from a thicker or padded mats because you have less fat deposits for cushioning.
If your joints sore easily, a thicker mat can be easier on your joints. Also if you’re quite tall, a standard yoga mat may not cut it and you might need to look a super-stretched variety.
- Yoga type: the type of yoga you are practicing can also influence what kind of mat you need. If you’re still new to yoga, a basic, non-expensive mat (like $10 – $20 range) will do because you’re still at a stage where you’re not sure if yoga is for you.
If you’re doing yoga with complex movements, a mat with added traction is recommended to keep your limbs in place. There are also “sweat proof” mats for those who engage in a form of “hot yoga” or any practice with intense poses to prevent damage.
- Location: where you’re practicing has a big difference as to which yoga mat you should buy. If you’re mainly doing it at home, a basic mat should do even if it’s not lightweight and portable.
However if you’re doing it in a studio or you’re always traveling, you should consider getting a lightweight mat so you can carry it around easily.
Choosing the material
- PVC mats: this is a plastic-based material which is the most commonly used to make yoga mats. PVC mats are highly durable, easy to clean and provides excellent floor grip.
However, they can easily become slippery once you start to sweat heavily. It also has a negative reputation in the yoga community because it’s non-biodegradable and hard to recycle.
- Rubber mats: most yogis seem to prefer mats that are made of natural rubber than PVC ones. Rubber yoga mats are fairly easy to find and has a better reputation among yoga practitioners.
Rubber mats are recommended for beginners since they’re easy to find and very affordable.
- Padded mats: for softer and more comfortable sessions, a padded mat might just be for you. A padded mat is composed of two parts: the inside portion that is made of foam, and the outer covering that’s made of cloth.
Padded mats are great if you’re doing a lot of sitting or lying down. The downsides is that they’re not easily washed and don’t provide the best grip.
- Cotton mats: yogis who prefer a more natural material might want to look into getting a cotton mat. The most obvious benefit of a yoga mat is its softness. It also offers a bit more grip when compared to padded mat.
However, cotton tends to retain more sweat which leads to frequent washing. Fortunately, cotton mats are easily washable.
- TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) mats: is a man-made material which is usually a blend of plastic and rubber polymers. Mats made from TPE tend to be more environmentally-friendly than PVC and some of them are even recyclable.
TPE mats can provide good traction although it’s not as durable as PVC.
- Non-slip mat: also called stick mats, these products are designed to enable the user to move into many different positions.
These mats offer superior grip and stick which makes them ideal if you’re practicing rigorous forms of yoga.
Consider other factors
- Texture: if traction is a priority, the texture of the mat should be your primary consideration. Mats come in a variety of textures so consider this before making a purchase.
Stickier mats feature a rougher texture and is ideal for intense poses. If you want something smooth, a PVC mat is a good option although it’s obviously not for the environmentally conscious individuals.
- Thickness: the thickness of the mat makes all the difference when it comes to how comfortable it is. Too thin and your knees will suffer while doing a crescent lunge.
Too thick and you’ll lose that strong connection to the floor which may affect your balance. As mentioned, thicker mats are good if you’re still starting out. Most standards mats have a 1/8-inch thickness and the padded ones can be as thick as ¼-inch.
A thickness of 1/6 would be best if you’re quite petite in frame.
- Stickiness: a sticky mat prevents you from sliding all over the floor and helps with your alignment while you move to one pose or another. The highest sticky factor is offered by PVC yoga mats.
- Portability and storage: if you’re planning to go outside for yoga, you want a mat that’s not cumbersome to roll up and store. It’s a good thing that there are many mats available that are made from lightweight materials and rolls up quite easily.
Keep in mind that you are free to test this when you are buying from a store.
- Accessories: depending on your intended usage, you may need accessories with your mat.
If you are doing outdoor yoga or always traveling, a handle is always a good idea for easy transport. A carrying case is also recommended in order to secure your mat when you roll it up.
- Price: mats are available for a variety of budget range. For the cheapest option, a standard PVC mat sans the thickness and padding should be a good buy. There are mats that are around $10 but don’t expect them to last long.
If you are in this for the long run, don’t hesitate to invest in higher quality mats from reputable sports or yoga company.
- Style: once you have narrowed down your choices with these essential factors, it’s time to go ahead and pick the style that you want.
It’s all up to you which color, pattern or print to choose. After all, you’ll be staring at it as you go for poses like the downward dog.
With these guidelines, hopefully you can pick a yoga mat that fits your personal preferences.
Taking your practice outdoors is a great way to enhance your yoga sessions. However, this also means that you should have the appropriate yoga mat with you.
In general, a thicker mat is ideal if you are practicing outdoors especially on a hard or uneven surface. With that said, we sure hope this guide has convinced you to try outdoor yoga (if you haven’t been doing it already) and helped you choose the right mat for it as well.
Have you tried outdoor yoga before? What is the type of mat you’ve used? Feel free to share your experiences below. As per usual, share this article on social media to help out your fellow yogis.