It has been well documented that the regular practice of mindfulness and meditation is highly beneficial for our mental, physical and spiritual health. But taking your practice into the natural world outside adds another dimension that an indoor meditation setting simply cannot provide. Nature, it would seem, has a way of commanding our attention and focus, compelling us to simplify our thoughts and focus on what’s right in front of us.
The effects of meditating in nature can be as immense as they are immediate. Without the constant distractions that come with indoor life – and in our digital world this would include TVs, computers and mobile devices – we become more present, we gain a heightened sense of awareness. What’s more, as we take in the natural environment, we start to notice the simple things around us: the breeze, the light, space, sounds and smells.
Here are four ways that meditating outdoors can restore your body, mind and soul to a more balanced state of health.
Strengthening of the mind-body connection
While being in nature instils a sense of mindful awareness, these senses are enhanced when our body and mind can relax. Whether we remain seated and still or move our limbs, perhaps through dancing or walking, we become more aware of our physical presence, posture, and balance.
Some meditation methods aim to transcend the body to promote a state of relaxed awareness. However, the Druid Tree Meditation below seeks to deepen your experience of being in your body and in a relationship to the natural world, using the tree as a central symbol: ‘Powerful and peaceful, still and yet fully alive, the tree breathes in and out, acting in service to all of life.’
Easing stress and depression
Mindfulness has long since been considered an effective way to decrease symptoms of depression. Through the practice of meditation, the tools needed to step back from intense negative emotions are learned, so those feelings can be identified and accepted, making it easier to regulate them. This then enables better coping and management of depression.
Recent research, including this large-scale study, have shown that outdoor meditation practices and mindful group walks in nature can lead to significantly lower rates of depression, less stress and better mental well-being all round.
Here is a short sky-gazing meditation with mindfulness teacher and wilderness guide Mark Coleman where the broad expansive view of the hillside acts as the majestic setting for seeing and listening with open awareness.
Lowering blood pressure
Using nature and outdoor space in meditation practice has been proven to yield major health benefits. In addition to the enhanced sense of energy and better mood, the important physical impacts on lowering blood pressure and increasing cardiovascular health should not be underestimated.
There are a variety of exercises that have meditative benefits such as yoga, tai chi and qigong, and the combined impact of movement and meditation promotes still greater relaxation. A recent study on forest bathing, an ancient Japanese practice also known as shinrin-yoku, discovered that physical activity in green environments reduced blood pressure and stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
Below is an example of a labyrinth, an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. The imagery of the circle and the spiral are combined into a purposeful path that is used for walking meditations.
While the constant stimulation from our daily stressors jeopardise our ability to maintain clarity and focus, meditating in nature is the perfect antidote that allows us to re-energise. It’s a highly restorative experience that positively affects our mental clarity, as confirmed by recent research that discovered improved cognitive function of those who spent time in nature compared with those who performed the same activity in an urban environment.
When you sit on the ground during nature meditations, the body’s rhythm is in harmony with the earth’s natural vibrations. Combined with the lack of ambient busy-ness, your hearing feels sharper, your skin receptors feel more sensitive and your sense of smell is enhanced.
Why not make an outdoor mindfulness meditation practice at home a regular part of your day or week? You can create your own meditation garden with these tips, or take inspiration from National Garden Meditation Day, held every year on 3rd May.
As what a host of research has demonstrated, dynamic meditation in nature can improve our mood, lower our blood pressure
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.
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