If you really want to relax, take a yoga mat outside. Practicing yoga in a garden, far from the busy world and close to nature, is like going on a retreat in your own backyard.
Almost 40 million people practice yoga in the United States, and 80 million more intend to get started, according to the 2016 Yoga in America study, an annual report for the Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance. Most people practice in groups at fitness studios, but interest in yoga at home and outdoors is growing. Public parks and botanic gardens are engaging yoga instructors to teach outdoors in the gardening season, and garden designers are finding that their clients want places set aside in their own yards to practice yoga.
"A lot of our clients are interested in yoga, and we have created platforms and decks where they can practice outside," says Sabrena Schweyer, a landscape designer in Akron, Ohio, who practices yoga on her own front porch. Sometimes clients make room for a yoga mat on an existing patio or deck, she says, or simply choose a level, grassy spot in a sheltered corner of the garden, and make it their yoga sanctuary.
Richard Rosiello, a landscape designer in New Milford, Connecticut, worked with a client on an outdoor dining pavilion that has turned into a multipurpose room -- part yoga studio, part family retreat -- at the heart of the garden. The pavilion is "close to the house, but far enough away," Rosiello says. "It's surrounded by color and movement, but there is a sense of quietness and an energy about it. It's nurturing."
Rosiello's client, Hillary Lane, practices yoga outdoors from spring through fall. In cool weather, she sometimes wears a wooly knit cap and scarf. "Whenever I can, I practice outside," Lane says. "It clears my head." As she works through her yoga poses, she watches the birds and butterflies at the planter boxes around the pavilion, listens to the wind in the trees, and enjoys the views across the garden. "These are the kinds of distractions you want," Lane says. "The birds, the wind, the air -- it just feels so different from practicing inside."
A standard yoga mat is about 2 feet wide and 6 feet long, and a place to practice yoga only needs to be a little larger than that. A platform or patio eight feet wide and 10 to 12 feet long is generous and comfortable, Schweyer says, and can accommodate two people practicing yoga together. It can also be a deck, a dining area or a quiet garden destination. She suggests placing a yoga platform on the east side of the house, where you can greet the morning sun with traditional yoga sun salutations.
To find the right spot, walk around your garden and look for a place of sheltered tranquility, Schweyer suggests. The place you choose should be accessible, perhaps by a winding, meditative path, and shielded by trees or shrubs. "It needs to have some enclosure on three sides, to be a kind of cocoon," she says. Schweyer also suggests placing a step or paving stones at the entrance to a yoga garden, as a physical and psychological signal that you're about to enter a special place.
If you're looking for inspiration, you might try practicing yoga in a public park or botanic garden, where you can experience different settings and surfaces and start to think about adapting those you like to your own backyard. Public gardens from coast to coast are collaborating with local yogis and yoga studios to offer classes, sometimes year-round (held indoors, of course, in inclement weather).
Last year, the U.S. Botanic Garden offered free yoga classes in the garden on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Denver Botanic Garden, Lewis Ginter Botanic Garden in Richmond, Virginia, and other botanic gardens in Iowa, Illinois, New York, California, Texas -- the list goes on -- all held outdoor yoga classes.
"Yoga is a perfect complement to our gardens, especially since the No. 1 reason many visitors come to the Arboretum is to relax," says Wendy Composto, a staff member at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, Minnesota, near Minneapolis. The outdoor yoga program started five years ago and has been a roaring success: Five yoga studios offer classes at the arboretum. One class last summer had 99 participants practicing their yoga poses together in the rose garden.
"Yoga is a time to reflect and take some time for yourself," Composto says, "and a garden is a great place to do that." Both gardens and yoga classes are good places to meet friends, she says. The connections -- among peace, reflection, the beauty of nature, and people -- are powerful. Outdoor yoga brings them all gracefully together.
-- To find outdoor yoga classes in your area, try an internet search using the words "yoga" and "garden." Or call your local botanic garden or parks and recreation department to ask about the possibilities. To learn more about the yoga programs at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, visit arboretum.umn.edu.
-- Sabrena Schweyer is a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) and an owner of Salsbury-Schweyer Inc., a landscape design firm in Akron, Ohio. The business specializes in sustainable landscapes and designs that capture the spirit of place in every garden. For more information, visit salsbury-schweyer.com.
-- Richard Rosiello is a landscape designer, APLD member and owner of Rosiello Designs LLC, in New Milford, Connecticut. His garden designs combine his professional landscape training and experience with his background in art. Rosiello teaches design classes at New York Botanic Garden. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- If you're not accustomed to doing yoga by yourself, online classes (video and audio format) will guide you through a yoga practice. Try doyogawithme.com, which has many free classes; bemoreyogic.com also offers free classes. Take your MP3 player, laptop or smartphone into the garden and get started.