Anyone who has tried yoga will tell you that it’s not an easy practice.
Perfecting this discipline of the mind, body and spirit in a studio is tough, but testing skills in the great outdoors? Now, that’s a challenge.
“Practicing in nature can be challenging,” said AJ Govoni, an active lifestyle coach who has studied and taught yoga all around the world. “It can also really test certain qualities like patience, relaxation and focus.”
That’s why the U.S. national parks are a great resource if you’re looking to add a change of scenery to your yoga practice while on vacation. Public and private organizations offer everything from hour-long sessions to days-long retreats in national parks across the country, from the desert landscape of the Southwest to the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the rocky shores of the New England coast. The following are five national parks that provide inspiring scenic backdrops for handstands and sun salutations.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Throughout the summer and fall, Ohio residents and park visitors come together to enjoy the beautiful forest during one of the free outdoor yoga sessions in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, about 30 kilometers southeast of Cleveland. The fall classes that take advantage of changing colors are particularly spectacular, and these sessions are open to all skill levels.
Autumn beauty at Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona, roughly 360 kilometers north of Phoenix, has long been a spiritual gathering place for the Southwest’s Native American communities. You can experience both the natural beauty and the spiritual importance of this national park by participating in a yoga retreat organized by the Grand Canyon Association, the park’s official nonprofit partner.
Serene moments atop a cliff at Grand Canyon National Park
Joshua Tree National Park, California
The inspiration for your poses can come from this southern California park’s namesake, the Joshua tree. This spiny tree lives all across the 321,000-hectare park 210 kilometers east of Los Angeles. The arms of the trees bend in all sorts of positions that are evocative of yoga poses. You’ll find plenty of positions to try while in Joshua Tree National Park on a yoga retreat organized by the University of California San Diego Recreation.
Meditating on a rock in Joshua Tree National Park
Acadia National Park, Maine
On a multiday retreat provided by several vendors and organizations, you can experience the calm, meditative qualities of the numerous bodies of water in Acadia National Park, Maine, abount 70 kilometers southeast of Bangor, Maine. If you’re confident of your balancing abilities, test your positions while floating on a paddleboard in the middle of a lake.
Reflecting at Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Free yoga classes are offered all summer long in Estes Park, about 110 kilometers northwest of Denver, Colorado, in the foothills of Rocky Mountain National Park. Don’t worry about getting too sweaty – the crisp mountain air is sure to keep you feeling cool and refreshed.
For those who decide to enjoy the USA’s great outdoors while moving from upward dog to downward dog, Govoni offers her advice:
“Go into it with no expectations and be open to the fact that your mind and body are going to be challenged in other ways you may not be used to," she said. "A handstand is a lot more difficult in sand! Yet, these smaller, subtle difficulties and challenges can teach us a lot more. So enjoy the practice of yoga when being outdoors.”