I recently read a very interesting book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. He writes:
“Yet, at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association to nature – in positive ways. Several of these studies suggest that thoughtful exposure of youngsters to nature can even be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorders and other maladies. As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.”
This book started me thinking about how our children today interact with nature. It is rare that children have the opportunity to play free in the woods with their friends. It is rare that children are taught the names and purposes of local vegetation. Children sometimes even lack that awareness that the food we buy from the grocery store comes from the earth.
Children today tend to play in organized activities or be attached to the screen (television, computer, gaming, and handheld devices). The dichotomy of these two activities leaves little time for unstructured play where children can use their imagination, creativity, and test out social skills of compromise, forgiveness, and team work. Now couple this thought with the lack of time and interest of children to interact with nature. Simple things like taking a walk in the woods, tending a home garden, building a fort in the woods, and scrambling over rocks are happening less and less.
Richard Louv believes that the lack of connection between children and nature is leading to more learning disabilities and discontentment of the spirit in children.
While I read this book I began to think about how nature interfaces with yoga. Like the quote mention above, yoga links the body, mind and spirit. There are also a lot of yoga poses that are names after objects in nature – tree, mountain, snake, dog, lion, river to name a few. The Ashtanga practice describes its philosophy with the metaphor of the Eight Limbs of Yoga (with a visual of tree limbs).
The marriage of nature with yoga. What could be better for a youngster than to incorporate a deep connection of yoga with nature? Several times now in my class I have held “Yoga off the Mat” classes. This means we leave behind the yoga poses on a yoga mat in a classroom and practice yoga outside! This is especially fun on a beautiful day. We practice mindful walking through rustling leaves in the fall, balance walking on a fallen log, meditating while listening to the sounds of the woods, mindful walking while closing our eyes and using our other senses, and mimicking the trees in the woods with our tree pose. These are just a few activities that can marry the yoga with nature. I believe that this combination allows children to deepen their connection inward and therefore feel more peace, self contentment, and harmony with themselves.