It’s often the simplest actions that create the most powerful results.
Simply being present in nature, senses alive to the stimulus has a remarkable healing effect on our bodies and mind.
Dr. Qing Li, Forest Medicine expert of Nippon Medical School has conducted significant research that shows “spending time around trees, filling your home with plants and vaporizing essential oils, can reduce blood pressure, lower stress, boost energy and boost the immune system.”
As a society, we’ve grown increasingly disengaged from the natural world and the relationship that supports our holistic health.
“The disconnection from nature also alienates us from ourselves. When our lives are insulated from the elements and from the natural cycles, we become anesthetized, deadened to our senses, and finding it increasingly difficult to connect to the sensual processes that allow us to feel joy, delight, and surprise. Our life force is diminished” – M. Amos Clifford (Guide to Forest Bathing)
Mindful hiking is a meditative approach that deepens our connection with the natural world through our senses. A practice to maintain the awareness of the present moment along the trail; a wildflower growing in a peculiar place and the joy that lifts the corners of your mouth upward, the smell of the pines after the rain and the instinctual deep inhalation you take to draw it into your lungs, the different birds that can be heard in the tree canopy above as you too feel the cool wind against your skin, the way the sound of the ocean waves creates a rhythmic pull within you. Bringing awareness to the senses; sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, and proprioception (sense of body movement and position).
Research shows that mindfulness and other forms of meditation practice calm the mind and deepen our connection to the present moment. Anytime we are focussed on our senses, the effect is immediate and long-lasting if practiced regularly.
Stress within our current society is epidemic with our bodies chronically in low-intensity fight or flight mode, and our health starts to deteriorate; mentally and physically. Dr. Qing Li has scientifically proven that time spent in nature helps to reduce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system of rest and digest.
Sharing meaningful experiences not only deepens our connection with the natural world but with each other. We are social creatures and rely on communication with our peers to create a sense of belonging; a sense of safety, security, and wellbeing. Sharing a mindful walk with a friend or like-minded person creates an opportunity for conversation, different perspectives, and insights.
The more time you spend in nature, and natural open spaces, the more the stress response is suppressed. Essentially we minimize the high alert reaction of stressors- regardless of how small and create a balanced nervous system. We create space between stimulus and response.
A study from Stanford University found that profound mental health benefits include:
· Reduced incidence or severity of depression
· A deeper state of mental relaxation
· Increased feelings of gratitude, selflessness, and wonder
· Decrease in rumination
· Less fluctuation in moods
· On a nature walk find a quiet place to sit where you will be comfortable for 5 mins.
· Legs crossed or in front of you, place your arms on top of your legs, palms face up.
· Gentle shut down your eyes, relax your shoulders away from your ears, and relax your jaw.
· Take 3 deep cycles of inhalation – hold – exhalation, through your nose, and audibly out the mouth.
· With your eyes closed, bring awareness to the sounds; can you hear your breathe? The birds in the treetop above? Crashing of the waves on the shore or the sound of the wind through the leaves. How many different sounds can you hear?
· Now scan your body from head to toe; relaxing your jaw, shoulders, and feeling the sensations of your clothes on your skin. The feeling of your sit bones against the ground below. Notice any sensations; temperature, texture, pressure.
· Eyes still closed, be mindful of the smells. Has it just rained? What trees can you smell? Perhaps there is a farm nearby or the ocean even? Pay attention to the different smells you can sense. Can you taste them?
· Licking your lips and rolling your tongue around your mouth, what can you taste? Perhaps you just ate a mandarin and the citrus juice still fresh in your mouth, the mint from brushing your teeth or even the coffee. Think of the taste of these, temperature, texture, sensation.
· Gently flutter open your eyes. Allow the light to flood in, then the colours. Looking around you what is the closest thing that you can see? Step your vision out, what can you notice now? Colours, texture, are they damp, dry? What is the furthest point away?
· Bringing awareness back to your breath and body, how do you feel? Has everything slowed down? Do you feel calm, connected, and relaxed?
"If you use your mind to try and understand reality, you will understand neither your mind nor reality. If you try and understand reality without using your mind, you will understand both your mind and reality."