Besides the benefit of simply breathing in fresh air instead of smelly sweat, there are some other legit reasons to take your om outdoors.
One of the best things about yoga is the ability to take your workout anywhere, and as the weather warms up, "anywhere" more specifically means outside. (It's way better than being stuck in a smelly, hot gym for an hour.) We're talkin' mountaintops, beaches, parks, your own backyard, you name it. Here's why you should ditch the studio this summer:
1. The terrain pushes your boundaries.
It's easy to get stuck in a routine, and taking yoga outside helps get you out of that rut. "Outdoor yoga challenges you with uneven ground and varying surfaces," says Krista DeBuhr, cofounder of Power Yoga Retreats.
2. You'll feel connected to your neighborhood.
Most mornings Carrie Torres, founder of WeThePeople Yoga in New York City, leaves her apartment at 6 a.m. and goes to practice yoga in a plaza between the nearby park and a busy intersection. "The first time I did it I felt vulnerable and exposed. I lost the privacy of the wall and all those people walking by could see me," says Torres. "But 20 minutes into the practice I didn't hear the buses, traffic, or people. I just heard the birds and trees and I ended feeling more connected to my neighborhood." She has been doing this for about eight weeks and a handful of other yogis have joined her urban outdoor practice. "I would encourage people to do that in their own parks. You don't need a teacher—just set some time to be outdoors and you will connect to the city and the world around you in a whole new way."
3. There's no competition for floor space.
It's happened to everyone; you get to a yoga class and it's so packed you're finger-to-finger during warrior pose. That's a non-issue when you take your mat outside, says yoga instructor Brad Keimach, who teaches on Santa Monica Beach. "I had 145 people for a class once, and no one was crowded," says Keimach. "Having your feet in the sand is a great way to relieve stress and it's an actual earth connection, there's not a barrier." (Research has also found that "grounding" yourself, or simply having direct contact with the earth—sand, rock, grass—can reduce the risk of heart problems, pain, and stress.)
4. It's beautiful—period.
Sure, some yoga studios try their best to create a zen, pretty aesthetic, but no amount of décor can compare to a stunning vista. "The beauty around you can help inspire your practice," says Pete Guinosso, a San Fransisco–based yogi who teaches an array of classes outdoors. "I ask people to take in the beauty before they close their eyes."
5. You'll be one with nature.
Exercising outdoors has been said to boost your self-esteem, and soaking up some vitamin D from the sun has been shown to decrease the risk of depression. You don't need to sit directly in the sun to reap the benefits, which could actually be dangerous if the temperature and humidity were extremely high. Simply practicing mediation and yoga in the shade will send those feel-good signals to your brain. (You still need to wear a layer of sunscreen though. While daylight will make you feel good, a sunburn will not.)
6. You really learn what it means to "zen out."
Practicing yoga outside means you lose the safe and familiar space of a studio and are vulnerable to what's going on around you. "You're at the whim of what nature brings you," says Cole Schlam, an instructor based in Denver who leads yoga hikes in the mountains. (You know, like that ant that's tickling your arm as you get into downward facing dog or that fly that's buzzing around your ear as you try to control your breath.) This forces you to control your reactions, deepening your practice.