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Work In an Outdoor Workout

Expert tips for creating your own outdoor space for yoga, tai chi or meditation.

By Nancy Erdmann

Everyone needs a way to wind down from time to time. Your escape may be yoga, Tai Chi, meditation or just sitting in a quiet spot to unplug from the world. But doing so in nature can restore you in ways a controlled indoor environment might not always provide and a dedicated garden retreat may just be what you need to take your discipline to a whole new level.

“Just a few moments of quiet contemplation works wonders on health and sense of well-being,” says landscape architect and Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner Donna Winters, who has designed several soothing garden spaces for her Phoenix clientele. “The goal is to create a proper mindset, a place to be in comfort without distraction. The plantings are simple and quiet to encourage you to focus on how you feel when you are in the space.”

Designed by architect Nick Tsontakis, this yoga garden incorporates exposed aggregate concrete and Portuguese limestone tile. Two bonsai-shaped plants—an olive tree on the left and a myrtle bush on the right—bring a calm simplicity to the setting. The clean lines of the metal water feature provide a focal point against the natural desert backdrop.

In a yoga space or meditation garden there is typically an element of privacy, the sound of water, an open area for a yoga mat or meditation platform, and an object or plant to create a focal point, such as a tree, a Buddha or a symbolic sculpture, says interior designer Claire Ownby, also a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, who helped design a Japanese Zen garden for a Scottsdale client. She notes that other embellishments, such as boulders and meandering beds of river rock, can also add a calming presence.

Whatever the size of your yard, there is always room to create a place that promotes mental and spiritual well-being. Here are some tips for creating an outdoor sanctuary of your own.


Location—Whenever possible, choose a quiet spot that’s protected from the wind, sounds of traffic or dogs, and sprinkler heads that may inadvertently go off. “Having the area secluded from other parts of the garden so there is an element of privacy and disconnection from the rest of the home is ideal,” says Ownby. You want enough room to be able to stretch out your entire body. And unless you like to sweat, stay away from bright, sunny areas, as your body can often get heated up during exercise.

If you don’t have a secluded spot, you can create one by planting a hedge of tall-growing shrubs or lining up large potted plants to form a living wall, adding a standup screen or trellis, or even hanging curtains. Remember to orient your setting so that you are looking at something pleasant as opposed to a blank wall.

Plants—Fill your outdoor den with scented bloomers such as lavender, jasmine and chamomile, which are said to ease headaches and tension. Gently flowing ornamental grasses or feathery foxtail fern provide a soothing essence, while shade-loving evergreen shrubs, such as gardenia or Japanese boxwood, keep the look simple. For height, there’s noninvasive bamboo, a strong but flexible grass, or horsetail reed; both have a Zen quality about them.

Finishing touches—Blue and green hues can relieve stress, so consider this when selecting containers, mats, rugs, pillows and wall paint. The natural shades of rocks and pebbles add an earthy element to the setting, while white-blooming plants, twinkle lights and candles provide a soft glow. Add a little music (you can always bring out your cell phone and earphones), and you’re ready to detach from the world and retreat into your garden of serenity.

Note: If you love the idea of practicing yoga or Tai Chi outdoors, but don’t have room in your yard, Desert Botanical Garden offers yoga and Tai Chi classes throughout the year in open-air and covered areas, depending on the weather.

Privacy, minimal visual distractions and room to stretch make this courtyard an idyllic spot for yoga, Tai Chi or meditation. Simple plantings, a bed of river rock and a trio of obelisks add to the tranquil vibe. An outdoor shower provides a refreshing cool-down.


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