Yoga, Nature and the Magical River Room Studio

City Life vs Country Living

We all instinctively know that spending time in nature is good for us. Not a week seems to go by without someone saying living in the countryside is better than the city for both your physical and mental wellbeing.

In reality, the evidence is surprisingly scant and not as clear-cut as you might think. We city dwellers tend to be more active (and therefore less obese) than our country cousins and are happier and more socially engaged (perhaps through proximity) with one another.

But there is no doubt that contact with nature is good for one’s mental health and wellbeing. So where does that leave us city dwellers? Those of us who either have to live in a city for work or choose to because we like it here? Even in the most built-up of areas, it might take a little more effort, but there are ways to get our daily dose of nature.

yoga and nature3 Yoga in Bristol

For me, I feel so much gratitude for the River Room studio and the team at Westbury-on-Trym Wildlife Park, just for existing and allowing me to use this beautiful space to teach yoga classes. I get to live in an amazing and dynamic city that I love (Bristol) yet teach yoga to the sound of the River Trym and birdsong, all in the magical setting of a wildlife park. And I’m so excited to be able to share this with you. But more of that later.

Antidote to Overstimulation

Despite the many benefits of urban living, we city dwellers are at higher risk of overstimulation. Living and working in a city and having to constantly attend to traffic, people, technology and other stimuli on a daily basis can cause a sensory overload, resulting in a neurological state that researchers recently dubbed “directed attention fatigue”. It’s distraction on another level altogether and added to the universal demands of modern life – social media, time pressures, constant distractions ­– contributes to our bodies being in chronic state of arousal or “fight or flight”. However far we may have evolved, ultimately we are still systemic beings, still part of nature. And because we are essentially, physiologically, animals, and because our bodies can’t tell the difference between the physical threat of a sabre-toothed tiger and the psychological stress of a constantly-pinging iPhone, physiologically speaking we are often in a state of constant alert.

yoga and nature2

To step out of this, we all know that some fresh air can clear your head and give you a sense of wellbeing. Being outside in greenery is directly linked to reduced physical markers of stress – even just sitting beneath a tree can lower both our heart rate and blood pressure. Being in nature has a physiological affect on our bodies in lowering our cortisol levels and reducing depression and anxiety.

Research conducted by King’s College London used a specially developed smartphone app called Urban Mind to look at how the mental wellbeing of those who live and work in cities is affected by exposure to different elements of the natural world.

Results confirmed that people’s moods improved just by being outdoors, but the further news was that effects did not dissipate once they had returned indoors. And after exposure to trees, sky and birdsong, the benefits were more long-lasting – sometimes for up to several hours.

Yoga also offers a direct route to calming the nervous system. By actively stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system allowing your body to know it is safe (no sabre-tooth tigers – or iPhones for that matter – to deal with) it cultivates your body’s “rest and digest” response, also lowering cortisol levels.

Yoga in Westbury-on-Trym

Which is why I love teaching classes in the magical River Room studio. It’s a small but perfectly-formed studio overlooking the River Trym, a short stroll through the park. As soon as you step through the entry gates you can begin to relax, get your fix of nature en route and know that the next hour is just for you alone. The studio is nestled in the park, its doors opening out over a small weir on the river.

Practising mindful movement to the sound of running water and birdsong, you get a double dose of calm through nature and yoga. I can’t think of a better way to immerse yourself in nature and soothe your nervous system than that.

And if that sounds like something you’d like to try, then I’d love for you to join me.

Current weekly classes run Wednesday 10-11am, with occasional weekend sessions (see Events).

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