It's undeniable that spending time in nature is great for our mental and physical health. But with our busy lifestyles and competing demands it can be difficult to spend enough quality time in natural environments. This makes it difficult to fully experience the restorative and energising effects of nature. Below are five tips on how you can benefit more from the time you spend in nature and magnify your experience.
1. Pause…. We are always on the go and rarely stop to take notice of our surroundings. If you’re walking with a friend you may be too busy talking to hear the sounds of birds, the wind blowing through the trees, or the trickle of the stream. If you’re distracted by your phone you may not notice the squirrel run across the path in front of you, you may miss an incredible sunset, or the dragonfly glistening in the morning rays. Next time you go for a walk or spend some time in a natural environment take a few minutes to pause. Stop where you are, put your phone away, put your conversation on hold and take in your surroundings.
2. Engage your senses…. First close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose. Try and identify the smells which you are presented with. Hold on to that breath for a few seconds and slowly release, feeling your body relax as the breath leaves you. Repeat a few more times and see if you can identify different scents each time. Keeping your eye closed draw your attention to what you can hear. What do you notice initially? Now tune in to all the other sounds, perhaps those quieter and further away. Are there different tones? Do some come and go? When you are ready open your eyes and slowly start to look around you, taking in all your surroundings. Can you identify the sources of the smells and sounds? Observe the different colours, perhaps in the leaves or grass. Look up to the sky. Are there any clouds? Continue to observe until your surroundings begin to feel familiar and you feel a greater sense of connection with them.
3. Create… It’s easy to forget that we are a part of nature. We have shut ourselves away, building walls to protect us from wild animals and roofs to protect us from the elements. This has given us a sense of disconnection which has significant effects on our mental health, but it’s not too late to start reversing it. The next time you visit a natural environment take a step closer and instead of simply observing, get hands on. Collect some fallen materials such as leaves, or nuts and twigs and create a collage on the ground. Mandalas work well, or you can create a natural representation of yourself. Explore how you relate to the different materials, what they mean to you and what they represent in your collage. What colours and textures have you chosen and why? Once you have finished, choose whether to leave your collage as it is or if you would prefer to break it up. Perhaps you would like to take a photo of it?
4. Switch off… Yep, you’ve guessed it. Switch off those phones! I challenge you, next time you go for a walk, to turn off your phone. Or at least mute it and resist temptation to sneak it our of your pocket and check your notifications.
5. Meditate… Spending time in a natural environment can have similar benefits to those gained through meditation. This includes reduced stress and anxiety, improved attention span, and a lowering of blood pressure. Therefore if you meditate in a natural environment these benefits are amplified. The next time you are in a natural environment try out this simple meditation from The Nature Mind programme.
· Begin by walking mindfully. Paying attention to your breath, the sounds you can hear, sensations such as a breeze and the ground under your feet. What can you smell, what colours can you see?
· As you walk try and notice if anything you are passing gives a sense of calmness. It may be an old tree, a big rock, or a collection of flowers. Whatever you are drawn to.
· If you can move closer to the thing which is emanating calmness, perhaps sit down near it.
· Allow the calmness to move through you so that you are embodying it and allowing it to relax you.
· Notice how you feel as the calmness moves through you. Does your muscle tension change? Do your thoughts change?
· Remain sitting for as long as you need, continuing to let the calmness move through you.
· If you become distracted gentle bring your awareness back.
· If any worries arise allow them to be enveloped by the calmness.
· When you feel ready resume your walk, taking an element of the calmness with you.
If you have found these tips helpful check out some of the activities available through The Nature Mind's programme. You can start a free 7 day trial here.