How can you connect to the earth without leaving your state or even your city? Look closely and you'll find hidden gems right in your own backyard. We did.
For a recent photo shoot, we wanted to examine nature from a new lens – not a remote location but rather a nearby one. Phoenix, Arizona is the 6th largest city in the U.S. that sprawls over and around the mountains and across rocky, neutral-colored terrain. The dry heat is both wonderful and overwhelming, depending on the season. While big cities can leave us without space to enjoy nature, we found the perfect spot to take two friends for a day of sunshine, hot yoga, and a bit of equine therapy.
Yoga teacher Jennifer Rivers and studio owner Victoria Marcell are dear friends that both practice and teach hot yoga in the Valley. While outdoor yoga in Phoenix is H-O-T, it's not the same as the heated practice inside the studio. But that didn't stop these beauties from finding their flow. They soaked in the warmth and settled in for a moment of meditation and let the poses unfold.
What is it about hot yoga that feels so good? We asked the friends to tell us about their first experience with the heated style of yoga:
Victoria: I kept hearing about all the wonderful benefits of yoga, particularly, hot yoga. I remember feeling very nervous to take my first class because I didn't know any of the postures. It only took that one class, my first experience on a yoga mat, and I was hooked. At first, it was all the amazing physical benefits that kept drawing me back to my mat. Over time, it has developed into a deep appreciation for all the mental restoration I receive as well.
Jennifer: I found yoga about six years ago when I was looking for something to balance out the intense dance and bootcamp style workouts I was doing. I heard about hot yoga and decided to give it a try. After struggling through the heat for about two weeks I began to understand the appeal. The practice balanced my body, and challenged me in a way which allowed my mind to focus and slow down. After four months my yoga was no longer confined to my mat, it was helping me in ways I didn't even recognize. I struggled less with anxiety and found I could manage other areas of my life with more ease. After about a year the practice became the space in which I found a connection with myself. It was where I could choose to press on or to rest without judgement. I explored the capacity of my body to do so much more than I thought possible. I found what it meant to be compassionate towards myself and I discovered that sometimes the ability to lay down is a sign of mental strength, not physical weakness. Every day when I go to my mat I make a contract with myself. A commitment to be grateful , to be present and, above all, to be compassionate.
Nature isn't just what grows from the ground, it's also what lives within it. Our ranch provided both as we got to touch and connect with the horses on the property. The spirit of yoga is uniting with all souls and we received this message. If you stay mindful in the presence of an animal, you will feel the kinship to that being. We are all one.
“There is a unique, calming energy about horses, that instantly takes me to my happy place,” says Victoria. “One of the horses was super sassy and Jen was the only one brave enough to get some photos with her before she bucked and ran away.”
Brave Jennifer notes how human-like these beautiful animals can be. "Each horse had their own personality, their own soul, which you could see in their eyes."
As we walked the grounds of the ranch, there were moments of silence, moments of retrospection, and then moments of full on laughter. What a day!
A day on the ranch felt more like a mini-retreat. The time we spent outside soothed our souls, tanned our skin, and made us feel more inspired - as friends, as yogis and as residents in a beautiful big city.
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