Naturally Aligned: How Yoga and Nature Lend Unity to the Soul

Nature and the Relaxation Response

Written by: Capucine Hoybach 

Shadows cast by the leaves of a tree. Traces in the sand left by an ocean’s waves. A rainbow illuminated by a spring shower. Nature. Despite its seemingly endless offerings to engage our senses, in a myriad of ways, some subtle others not, we might miss the opportunity by our very ‘nature’ to blaze ahead. To rush past the elemental, yet profound. That which is always there. In the background of both our realization and attention. In our attempt to perhaps deflect, shield, or dismiss, we can likely forego nature’s capacity to touch the soul.  

Herbert Benson, MD, a pioneer in behavioral medicine, brought to light the millennia-old theory that any activity that triggered the “Relaxation Response, a physical state of deep rest that changes a person’s physical and emotional response to stress,” could be induced by something as simple as taking a walk outside. “Anything that breaks the train of everyday thought will evoke this physiological state.” 

“With less static, less noise, traditional cognitive restructuring enters,”  explained Benson. Through this process, the potential for both mind and body to realign becomes possible. In this vein, nature, devoid of mundane distractions, provides a backdrop where one can cultivate present moment awareness. Much like yoga, where mind and body are linked via mindful movement, breathwork, and meditation, we come back to ourselves-shedding everyday stressors that extend from minor grievances to acute traumatic events. 

Yoga: A Natural Space

As often experienced in nature, yoga lends space for personal transformation. We create moments to become more present, focused, and cognizant. With enlivened senses and a clearer mindset, we are able to restore the essence of who we are and who we want to be. Both nature and yoga enhance clarity of thought and allow us to strip away the layers that can cloud and distort our perception. 

Numerous studies and research have supported yoga as an effective modality in which to regulate the autonomic nervous system, a key component for dealing with various socio-emotional challenges, including anxiety, depression, and PTS(D). Beyond the many physical benefits that yoga presents, this ancient practice grounds us to the foundational in a way that realigns our consciousness. Akin to this,“‘Since the 19th century, the natural environment has been considered important for ensuring a greater level of physical and mental health.” 

In this manner, nature and yoga share in a spirit that invites the individual to walk more lightly, see more clearly, and breathe more deeply to allow for a renewal of self and purpose to unfold and evolve.

VYP and the National Parks Conservation Association Partnership

It was with this understanding that Veterans Yoga Project (VYP) and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) came up with the idea for a filmed series of yoga practices within some of our nation’s National Parks.The series includes sessions presented by a team of VYP Mindful Resilience trained yoga instructors, including Christian Allaire at Joshua Tree, Monica Thorne at Ebey’s Landing National Historical Preserve, and Lisa Jacob at Shenandoah. 

“Our intent was to combine the grounding elements of yoga within the context of the natural environment in order to showcase their mutually beneficial qualities. Much like the veterans we work with, it was a great opportunity to encourage an audience that might not be familiar or initially comfortable with yoga that it is in fact a practice that is accessible to all, irrespective of one’s condition or surroundings This is what is so special about both yoga and the natural environment They can both serve as reminders of the power of simplicity’s lasting effect on mind, body, and spirit. Where something so elemental as doing a breath practice while sitting outside can uplift and inspire.”

Dan Libby, PhD, VYP Founder and Executive Director


To view the VYP and NPCA yoga film series, please click here.

Learn more about Mindful Resilience for Trauma Recovery teacher training, and earn YA and IAYT continuing education credits.

REFERENCES Q.Forest Medicine; Nova Science Publishers: New York, NY, 2012. [Google Scholar]/