Mindfulness in Nature

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There are so many ways to bring Mindfulness into our lives. During the summertime, when many people find it easier to get outdoors, practicing Mindfulness in nature can be a great way to combine active Mindfulness strategies with taking in the benefits of being in nature. How exactly can you incorporate Mindfulness skills in nature, and why would you want to combine the two in the first place? Well, read on!

For starters, an article in National Geographic recently cited research that found people’s brains respond differently while in nature: showing decreased activity in the frontal lobe (the part of our brain responsible for analytical thinking) and increased alpha waves (which indicate a “calm but alert state”). Couple this with research showing that Mindfulness can contribute to decreased activation in the amygdala (the part of our brain responsible for hyper-arousal), and combining the two seems like a winning combination.

What is Mindfulness?

If you are new to Mindfulness practices, you may be asking yourself what exactly “Mindfulness” is.  According to Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness is the act of being in the present moment with awareness, without judgment, and without rejecting or clinging to the moment.

How can we be more Mindful?

There are many, many ways to bring Mindfulness into your daily life.  Most people familiar with Mindfulness are exposed to this idea in meditation practices or in yoga classes.  However, these are not the only ways to be Mindful.  In fact, DBT has developed a number of strategies to take the kinds of skills cultivated in yoga & meditation and take them out into daily life.  According to DBT, being more Mindful is actually really simple, you just need to learn how to: OBSERVE, DESCRIBE, and PARTICIPATE in life on a day-to-day basis. You can read a more in-depth description of each of these strategies on DBT Self-Help.

Ideas for practicing Mindfulness in nature.

So now that you’ve familiarized yourself with what Mindfulness is and WHAT to do to be more Mindful (Observe, Describe, and Participate), here are some ideas for taking these skills outside and into nature:

Ideas for practicing Observing

  • Go outside and sit, lie down, or stand still in an area. Observe as many sounds as you can. Try not to label what you are hearing, but simply pay attention to how many different sounds you hear.
  • Sit on a bench in a public area like at your local park, beach, or outdoor shopping center. Watch who or what go by in front of you without following them with your vision. Just notice people and objects coming and going.

Ideas for practicing Describing

  • Look for things in nature (examples: flowers, leaves, rocks, animals). For each thing that you find, practice describing it in as much detail as you can. For example, what color is the object? Does it have a texture? How would you describe its size? Shape? If you can pick up the object (don’t try this with wildlife please!), try to describe the feel of the object in your hand.
  • Lie down on the ground and watch clouds in the sky. Try to find and describe patterns in the clouds that you see. Do not include interpretations or opinions (such as, “that cloud reminds me of a cat, I hate cats.”) Just simply label and put words to what you see.

Ideas for practicing Participating

  • Go for a hike, a walk in your local park, or a walk in your neighborhood. Throw yourself COMPLETELY into this activity of hiking or walking. Become one with your experience of walking and GO WITH THE FLOW. If you catch yourself thinking or describing what is going on around you, bring your attention back to fully participating in the act of walking. Focus on walking, and only walking.
  • Participate in nature with awareness of your connection to the universe. Find a tree to sit beneath and lean your back against it. Focus all of your attention on where your body connects with the tree. Think about how this tree serves a function in your life and how you and the tree are similar in this moment: the tree is providing support for you to rest your body; you are both being held up by the ground beneath you, taking in oxygen from the air around you, and being warmed (hopefully!) by the sun above you. Take a few moments to fully participate and enjoy this connection.