You need nature. Nature is not just a vacation destination or a place you visit as a hobby. Nature is necessary for your health.
A few years ago, an author named Richard Louv wrote a book called Last Child in the Woods, in which he coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder.” He developed the concept after noting how children with attention and behavior issues responded positively to time in nature. Based on these observations, he theorized that changes in how children play—more indoor, highly monitored activities instead of free-ranging play outdoors—was resulting in an increase in behavioral and attention issues. Since that time, much research has confirmed Louv’s theory, and it has shown that the same is true for adults as well. Frequent time in nature has been found to reduce people’s stress and to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
For adults, it’s not only important to find time in nature, but to take the right mental attitude when there. Children naturally play when outside, but adults often remain caught up in their own minds, thinking non-stop about undone responsibilities and unresolved problems. That’s why you should view time in nature as a form of meditation, a chance to turn off the thinking mind to unwind and rebalance. Here are some tips on how to do that on your next hike or during your next visit to a national park:
- Turn off your naming mind. When you are out in nature, resist the urge to identify and name everything that you see. It can be fun to know the names of all the birds, flowers, and trees, but that won’t help you experience nature in its purest form. Instead, just approach nature as a small child would, without any preconceptions and without the need to analyze and divide one thing from another.
- Breathe. Everyday stress can cause our breathing to become shallow and our chests to become tight and constricted. When out in nature, whether walking or sitting, focus on deliberately relaxing the chest while breathing more deeply. You should not force deep breaths, but if you relax, you will find that your breath will slowly but surely return to its natural state—deep and into the abdomen.
- Feel the rhythm of your steps. As you are hiking in nature, try focusing on the sounds and pacing of your steps. This can function a lot like the counting of breaths in many traditional meditation practices, diverting your attention away from your busy mind. Because walking is naturally rhythmic, like a slow and steady drum beat, it can help induce a mild trance-like state that is ideal for deep relaxation and meditation.
- Open all your senses. In our modern world, we are highly visually oriented. We spend a lot of time with our eyes glued to digital screens, watching streaming videos, checking social media, and reading blog articles. Our eyes have become the conduit through which we try to satisfy our insatiable hunger of information. Unfortunately, our other senses are then left under-stimulated. Nature is a good place to rest your eyes and to reengage your other senses. The next time you are in a beautiful place, try sitting down, closing your eyes, and using all your other senses. Feel the wind on your skin and the earth beneath your feet. Smell the scent of grass and the smell of moss at the banks of a stream. Hear the breeze rustling the leaves, and even open your mouth and taste the crisp, fresh air. Then, when you open your eyes again, continue to gather all the information from these other senses as you walk.
- Feel the energy. In addition to your five senses, don’t forget about your sixth sense—your ability to feel energy. The best place for this on the body is your palms, because they are very sensitive. As you walk, turn your palms parallel with the earth, so that you can feel the vibrations of the earth as you walk along. If you cannot feel this at first, consider trying some feeling energy meditation, such as that presented in Mago’s Dream: Feeling the Soul of the Earth, to develop your senses. Eventually, you will feel consistent vibrations and will fully realize your connection with planet earth.
Approaching your time in nature as a form of meditation is a great way to deepen your experience of the outdoors, as well as to get the most benefit possible. Ultimately, you are a creature of nature, so it is critical to reconnect regularly. If you do, you will become a more peaceful and balanced—physically, mentally, and spiritually.