The benefits of mindfulness, which from reduced anxiety to heightened productivity, tend to get shouted from the rooftops by wheatgrass-drinking yogis and coffee-swilling urbanites alike. It’s good for all humans, no matter what walk of life, and most of us know we should incorporate it into our lives more. Alas, sitting on a meditation pillow is not for everyone and you don’t have to do it if you hate it. You can practice mindfulness in other ways that don’t involve sitting still but still reap the same rewards. Here are four ways to practice mindfulness outdoors this summer.
Mindful walking offers a more grounding, tranquil option to start your day than stuffing in your earbuds and going for a run. Mindful walking requires you to be completely aware of your environment as you move through it. It’ll get you feeling “closer” to nature (or, your environment) and also to your body, giving you heightened concentration and calming your nervous system. Start by standing still and bring your attention to your body. Notice your posture, feel your weight pressing down into the ground, your feet pushing down into your shoes. Become aware of your balance and your body in space. Take a few deep belly breaths, get present and walk on with the same attention to your body as you move.
Mindful listening is a valuable skill to have in work and life. It’s about being able to pay attention to your environment as it is, without judgment. It’s about being able to simplify your surroundings and notice and accept things as they are. Head outside on your balcony or your backyard (or perch in front of an open window) and tune into the sounds of the birds, the cars, your neighbours, your body, and be aware of your own judgement and reactions as they come up. These are your “cues” that can help you become aware of how you might be blocking communication. We generally see the world through the lens of our own experiences and beliefs and when we hear something we’re uncomfortable with, we block it out. Mindful listening can give you power over that.
Being mindfully aware of our environment can provide a well-needed perspective check. It can remind us that we’re a small part of something big, and cause us to accept what little control we have. When we’re not caught up in self-reflection or thinking, we can be reminded that whatever is, is something to appreciate. Sitting outside or while walking, see your environment through a lens of discovery. Watch the sky, wildflowers, the sidewalk, feel the wind blow, feel the sun. Focusing on the here and the now provides a respite for our overactive minds, and cultivates acceptance and appreciation of where we are.
You know when you’re at work, typing furiously, your shoulders creeping up and up until you realize you’re entirely hunched over, shoulders right up to your ears? When you notice this, taking a minute to step away from your work to let go of the tension in your body. Step outside, close your eyes. Let your shoulders, neck, throat, jaw and forehead soften. Become aware of your breathing, feeling the whole body expand and contract. Then focus your awareness on the first area that feels tense. Breathe into it, letting the breath massage it, then breathe the tension right out on the out-breath. Use a mantra like “I breathe in space, I breathe out tension” or whatever works for you. Breathe into each next area of tension, breathing it out, until you feel refreshed.
One other big reason to cultivate mindfulness? It can make your workouts more satisfying and increase the chances you’ll work out again.