Welcome to Mindfulness Monday! The warmer weather has finally arrived. While I do enjoy getting outside even on a cold day, I find this time of year delightful! To celebrate the lovely weather change, this week I’ll share with you 5 fun ways to practice mindfulness outdoors!
Of course practicing mindfulness anytime, anywhere makes it a super valuable tool for anxiety reduction. Though somehow, for me, practicing outdoors heightens my awareness of my surroundings and keeps me more present. Besides, I am a total nature geek; I love all things nature and enjoy experiencing those sights and sounds. But even if you don’t know anything about nature, or enjoy the outdoors all that much, learning 5 ways to practice mindfulness outdoors will still offer you a meaningful respite.
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”Lau Tzu
slow down, step outdoors
I find it so true that nature does not hurry. Have you ever noticed each year is different in terms of when the flowers in your garden bloom? Clearly each flower or bush has a “time” that they bloom, by season, spring, summer, or fall; or even by the month. However, I have come to notice that the same flowers never bloom at exactly the same time each year. I have some flowers in my yard that “generally” bloom in the spring, but that could mean early or late in the month of May or even early June.
Of course many factors go into the bloom time, like rainfall, sun, temperature; I won’t go into all of that here. I simply want to point out that no matter how much I want to see specific flowers or shrubs bloom in my yard, they will only do so in their time. They will not be rushed! The same is true if you have ever watched and waited for a caterpillar to emerge from its cocoon or chrysalis as a butterfly or moth. Even the same species will not emerge in exactly the same time frame.
“In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.”
When we consider the ways of nature, we realize that just stepping outdoors, we will step into a less hurried atmosphere. This provides us with the perfect setting for mindfulness. I know the moment I step out onto my deck, I feel more relaxed; I feel the shift from frenzied to-do lists to a more peaceful pace.
Once outdoors, I like to practice what I fondly call “preliminary mindfulness”. It’s like a warm up exercise for my mindfulness practice; it allows me to make a smooth transition from my busy world to the peaceful world of the outdoors. I like to start this time by simply seating myself comfortably, and using one of my breathing techniques to settle and ground myself. By taking time to do this, I allow my mind to make the transition to the present, resulting in a more open awareness of my surroundings.
Taking just a few moments to practice a structured breathing technique, slows my heart rate and changes my focus from a “work” mentality to a calmer state of rest. Using my five senses to glance around me, noticing the environment brings me into the present moment. I sometimes will spend maybe 5 minutes just taking everything in. At this point I can consider how to spend the remainder of my time in an enjoyable way. Let me share with you 5 fun ways to practice mindfulness outdoors.
“The earth has music for those who listen.”
5 fun ways to practice mindfulness outdoors
While mindfulness offers a variety of ways to enjoy the outdoors, I have chosen 5 of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness outdoors to encourage you to try it. Give these few a try the next time you want to decompress from a busy day. Once you give these a try, I’m sure you will find a few new ones that you enjoy as well.
- Use Your 5 Senses. This is probably my top choice, and the easiest to learn to practice. Taking one at a time, choose to focus your attention on whatever that specific sense is revealing to you. The sense of sight is easy, but how about your sense of smell? Closing your eyes, see if you can notice one or more dominant fragrances. Some may be pleasant, while others not so much. Linger over each one. The sense of hearing is easy too, but what if you focused your attention on a more distant sound? Experiment with each sense, and notice how each time you do this you notice even more things.
- Take a Hike or Walk. Many people think mindfulness is sitting in one place with your eyes closed, like meditation. Mindfulness is not meditation; with mindfulness you simply choose to focus on the present moment. Try taking a hike or walk through the woods or you garden. Choose to be present and notice textures, colors, and fragrances. Check out the wildlife; bird watching is a favorite way that I practice mindfulness on my hikes.
- Lie Down in the Grass! The benefits of going barefoot in the grass are well known. But have you tried laying down in the grass? You reap the same benefits only to a higher degree. This particular way of practicing mindfulness reminds me of my childhood when I would spend summer afternoons laying in the grass, watching the clouds. Let yourself go; watch the clouds and notice what images you see in the clouds. You can really have some fun with this one!
- Work in the Garden. This is along the same lines as the previous suggestion and has similar benefits. The trick is to do this task mindfully rather than “mindlessly”. Pulling weeds or planting, tends to allow you to do it without really thinking about it. But be intentional; feel the soil, notice the texture, indulge in examining the plants. A vegetable garden provides especially unique opportunities for mindfulness.
- Watch the Sunrise or Sunset. This is also a top favorite of mine. My preference is the sunrise, but I know many people who love watching the sunset. Either way, you will never see two identical sunrises or sunsets. Take the time to genuinely view the colors; they are honestly magnificent.
Benefits of spending time outdoors
I hope you will try these 5 ways to practice mindfulness outdoors and maybe even find a few of your own. But I couldn’t resist sharing a few of the amazing benefits of just spending time outdoors as an incentive! Scores of research demonstrates the advantages of simply stepping outside to engage with nature.
- Improved Short-term Memory. In a study done by the University of Michigan, after the administration of a brief memory test, researchers divided students into two groups. They instructed one group to take a walk around the arboretum, while the second group took a walk around the city. Upon their return, both groups took the memory test again. The group that spent time in the arboretum did 20% better than the first time. The group that spent time in the city showed no improvements.
- Reduced Inflammation. Studies done by biomedical and environmental scientists consistently report lower levels of inflammation in individuals with auto-immune disorders after spending time outdoors in wooded areas. Another interesting study from the Journal of Cardiology showed a marked decrease in chronic blood pressure issues in elderly patients after spending one week on a forest vacation.
- Immune System Boost. While still in the preliminary stages of research, early results show increased cellular activity in those individuals spending time outdoors. BY simply spending time in natural areas you expose yourself to various bacteria which help strengthen your immune system.
be yourself have fun
Sometimes we all need a little inspiration or creative help, I know I do. But, remember, a mindfulness practice is very personal; own it, make it yours. You honestly can’t do this wrong, so emphasis with all of this is to have fun!
Personally, I find practicing mindfulness outdoors genuinely healing. Nothing else seems to heal and silence my inner chaos like this practice. I believe the reason for this stems from my belief that God reveals Himself to us in nature: His Creation. When I engage and immerse myself in nature, I am hearing Him in the birds’ songs, feeling Him in the warm summer breeze, seeing Him in the beauty of plants,wildlife, and the sunrise painting each day. Smelling His fragrance in the breeze and tasting His goodness all around me.
Ultimately, for me, I can think of no better way to have fun! Come join me and share your adventures in the comments below.