Playful Spaces

Playing Outdoors

Yes, there are such things as ideal conditions for practice: a windless place, even floors. If you’re going to get all picky about it, you can go for wood floors and a temperature-controlled environment that duplicates the degrees produced by 65 bodies practicing in the shala in Mysore, India between the fall and winter months of the year.

Wherever you practice, you want to be able to cultivate focus and create a healthy platform for the body.

Recently, however, as I traveled between Aswan in Northern Egypt and Naweiba in Sinia, I found that outside the constructs of the “yoga studio”, spaces have a life of their own. They were often outdoors where cold, wind and sunlight  invariably come into the practice. Objects, passers-by, animals come into view, tugging at the focus. Noise calls for attention. In Naweiba, the most even ground was carpet atop gravel.

During the retreat I was teaching, there was one day we thought we had sneakily secured a chance to practice at a sweet spot in the Philae Temple in Aswan. The floor was stone, hundreds of years old. And even. I rejoiced at the flat surface on which we could go over the finer details of jumping forward and back in the vinyasa. That was until the guards totally panicked as they saw us get started on our colorful mats and we were only just standing and breathing. They freaked and ran us (infidels) out of the temple.

As a teacher, I wanted to be able to provide my students with the best learning experience. The space is a crucial part to that experience. And so far, we had no space and our poor logistics had resulted in unnecessary drama. As we chugged along in our boat to another island on the Nile River where our local guide said he knew a spot, I wondered whether I was failing my students in some way.

Said island was amazing. And sandy. Unevenly sandy! I tried not to panic. Instead, we started where we’d left off in Philae, “Aummmm,” getting on with the afternoon workshop program.

It wasn’t what I had planned–as I’d planned for having a nice stable ground to work with. But the result was so much better than I could have planned or anticipated. We adapted to the environment and adopted a sense of fun and playfulness that you can’t help but feel when you are out of doors, enjoying the afternoon sunlight, feeling the sand at your feet. It was probably the most fun class we had that weekend. It was spontaneous, light-hearted, but also quite challenging physically.

Sometimes the conditions for practice is far from perfect. Try not to scoff at it; for all you know it might be better than perfect!

Photo: So successful was our class in this spot that we planned the same outing for the second retreat in Aswan. This is batch 2 retreat participants enjoying their savasana in the late afternoon sun on the slope of this picturesque river beach.

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