Although I have always been an environmentally conscious animal-lover, I was never much of an “outdoorsy” person growing up, or even into adulthood. I grew up in suburbia in a big city, and was never very sporty (unless you count my stint as a marching girl). So my hobbies did not tend to draw me outside. I was a reader, a dancer, and a collector – all indoor pursuits.
At 21, I travelled around Europe with a friend, armed with a list of “Must See” - according to popular culture - sites on the backpacker trail. Yet I quickly discovered that I wasn’t interested in some of the more man-made attractions and heavily populated places. It was the landscapes that called to me. My first recollection of pure contentment was whilst overlooking a mountain range in a verdant Swiss valley.
When I turned 30, I spent a year living in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. To this day, it remains the most memorable year of my life. Even at the height of homesickness, such beautiful surroundings invoked feelings of gratitude, of connection, and belonging. It was this love of nature that drew me to Tasmania, where I feel blessed to have access to some of the most pristine landscapes in the world.
I have learned that being surrounded by nature has a profound impact on my wellbeing. I have never been a particularly religious or spiritual person. But I have always found encounters with nature to fill me with an intense joy, an awe and a peace that no other experience has provided.
As such, being in nature is an important part of my yoga practice. And my yoga practice has changed the way I interact with nature. Just as stepping onto my mat brings me to a state of presence, so too does being surrounded by nature. Both give me the ability to be in the moment, and find all that is good in that moment.
A key tenet of yoga is svadhyaya, or self-study. The yogis believe that when we study our own thoughts, our behaviours, that we can get closer to who we truly are at our essence. Indeed, I have observed that the way I go for a bushwalk is a micro-study of how I go through life. On the easy parts I am cruising, loving life and all that nature throws at me. When I reach the top of a mountain or stand beneath a waterfall, my lungs feel expanded, my body feels light, my spirits are effervescent, and I can't stop smiling. Nothing else matters in those moments.
But in the difficult parts, I must dig deep to find my resilience. My advanced nature-as-yoga-practice comes when I am hiking on steep terrain. A knee issue has taught me to be mindful whilst hiking. To prevent it from occurring, I must pay close attention to my body, and ensure that I am activating particular muscles to protect my joints. But what I really need to be mindful of is my thoughts.
It is here that I notice aversion to difficulty (that’s human!), a desire to escape, self-doubt about my abilities, and a running commentary on every ache or pain. But when I bring my yoga practice to nature, I can be more compassionate, I can use breathing techniques and mindfulness skills, and I can get out of my head and into my body. These tools make climbing a summit or descending through a boulder-field just a little bit easier.
But the biggest lesson that nature can provide goes far beyond the self. Mother Nature is not always kind or benevolent. Not every day is sunny. Not every animal is cute and furry. She can harbor life but she can also destroy it, through flood, fire, famine. Through earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In Mother Nature’s extremes – the seasons, the landscapes, the diverse creatures, the high and the low, the dark and the light – we are reminded that all nature and all life is precious, and should never be taken for granted.