Natural Mindfulness is a mindfulness practice that is based in nature. Here we explain its wonderful benefits and how to have a mindfulness nature walk.
Winter walks in the UK are often a cold, dark and very wet experience. Weighed down by endless layers and padded coats, we trudge our way through boggy fields and waterlogged footpaths. Our only thoughts are of our return home to the central heating and a steaming hot cup of tea in front of the telly. But what if there was a way to create a mindset that not only welcomed the winter hardship on these walks, but to have fun with it too?
Natural Mindfulness, as the name suggest, is a mindfulness practice that is based in nature. If practised regularly, it will not only transform your relationship with winter walks, but transform the relationship you have within yourself and the world around you. Through the art of natural mindfulness, we’re encouraged to bring our awareness to the present moment, to really feel into it by utilising our five senses. As our senses heighten, we begin to feel a deeper connection with the healing vibrational energy of the natural world, to feel as if we’re a part of something bigger. This connection can eventually lead to enlightenment and discovery of the true self and potential.
There is no right or wrong way in how we practise Natural Mindfulness, but the more practice you get, the more benefits you will start to see. It is recommended that you practise from between 20 minutes to an hour. But even a brief ten–minute daily practice can transform your mental welfare, lifting your mood and alleviating anxiety and depression.
As with all mindfulness exercises, your mind will drift in the beginning and you will need to bring yourself back to the present moment. Do so without judgement or frustration, remembering that this is an opportunity to embrace your inner child, to be open and inquisitive in every experience.
Natural Mindfulness is about engaging your senses whilst exploring a deeper relationship with the natural world around you. Perhaps you’re called to take a different path to your usual route? Providing it is safe for you to do so, give in and explore it. Splash through the puddles, create snowballs in your hands, let down your hood and surrender your face to the frosty temperatures and torrential downpours. Try investigating the winter foliage amongst the hedges, approach the bare trees. Maybe take a piece of the hedge growth or place your hand on the tree trunks, noticing the contrast in colours and textures. Smell the earth, become captivated by the light and shadows, rediscover your childlike wonder for all things.
To bring yourself into the present moment, it is always helpful to start with some breathing work. Find a spot outside to take a seat and close your eyes, placing your hand over your heart, take some deep breaths. Breathe in the crisp cold air, feel it flow down your throat and down into the body. Become aware of it revitalising every organ, and clearing a way through your thoughts as you exhale and release all the worries, fears and stress that accumulate and weigh heavy on your mind. Set your mindless thoughts free, and remember to smile and welcome nature’s energy. This is your time to reconnect with the natural world, and embrace your inner-self.
Once you feel relaxed and connected with your surroundings, it’s time to engage your senses. It can help in the beginning to keep your eyes closed for a short while with this exercise. We’re so used to relying on our eyes for awareness that they can distract us, hindering our listening work.
Firstly, notice the obvious sounds. The sounds up close, such as the trees moving in the wind, their branches swishing loudly. Perhaps there is a chorus of birdsong or a dog barking nearby. Are you near a river or a park? Now go deeper, listen beyond the obvious sounds and try to pick up on the more subtle tones of nature. Can you hear the pitter patter of raindrops against metal, or the drip drip of melting snow? Does the wind play a tune of its own? Try to count as many different sounds as you can. The more you practice this exercise, the easier it becomes.
Our sense of smell is one of the most powerful senses we possess. A particular scent can transport us back to a time and place, reliving a memory so vividly it is as if we are back in that moment. There are many different indoor smells that we might associate with winter, ranging from the musty smell of drying washing on a radiator, to the homeliness of a warm and comforting Sunday dinner. But don’t forget those smells outside in the natural world just waiting for you to come and explore. So now, open your eyes, engage your senses and begin investigating your surroundings. Much like the previous exercise, it is easier to begin by concentrating on the obvious smells.
Are you in a forest? Perhaps you can smell the elevating and refreshing scent of the evergreen trees? If you are out in the countryside, there might be the sweet–smelling remnants of damp hay or silage in a nearby field; in a city park, the scent of coffee and your favourite warm pastries drifting out of a nearby café door.
Now go deeper. Ask yourself how the air smells. Is it an invigorating fresh scent such as that of a frosty morning? Or the damp, muddy scent of rainfall? As an extra exercise – if you feel comfortable getting your hands dirty – you might like to gather up twigs and discarded leaves, smell them, feel them, connect and relive childhood memories of your carefree days, playing in nature.
Now walk on. Look around at your surroundings, and really see what is before you. Often on our winter walks we keep our heads down as we try to hide from the onslaught of wind and harsh weather, and in doing so we miss the intricate details of the world around us. The small details such as sunlight reflecting off an ivy leaf, raindrops slowly trailing down a shop window, or a robin’s tiny footsteps imprinted in the snow.
Natural Mindfulness invites you to savour the winter delights before you. With practice you might find that the usual drab and grey winter colours suddenly appear more vivid as you connect with the world mindfully. Feelings of joy and gratitude begin to emerge as you behold the visual wonders of the winter world around you.
Winter can be a stressful time for many. From financial burdens over the festive season to the pressure of living up to New Year’s Resolutions, the shorter days and prolonged darkness, it is understandable that our moods dip and anxiety rises. So, it is important that we take the time to nurture our minds, and Natural Mindfulness can be a welcomed addition in our mental wellness tool kit.
With continued practice, Natural Mindfulness gives you the ability to be fully present on your daily walks. By silencing your thoughts whilst discovering an inner stillness that will give you opportunity to relieve some of those winter burdens. Breathe in the fresh air, explore the world through new eyes and heightened senses, and welcome the feelings of love and gratitude. Notice that you no longer dwell on the negative aspects of winter or pick at perceived faults within yourself. Instead, your awareness will instinctively look towards the positives using your new, mindful mindset.
No longer bracing against the bitter wind and sulking over the chill in your bones, you will find appreciation for the cold days. May you reach for your coat with new vigor, eager to explore the hidden gems of the winter world outside. To practise the art of Natural Mindfulness is to open your heart to nature and to realise that we are as one. Nature is as much a part of us as we are with it, and together we can embark on a flourishing journey throughout winter, and all of nature’s seasons.