Mindfulness has gotten a lot of attention recently as a practice that can help to manage stress and boost our general health and wellbeing. These benefits aren’t just anecdotal — the research on the benefits of mindfulness is abundant.
Unfortunately, the idea of mindfulness and meditation can often sound intimidating, conjuring up images of sitting silently in a room cross-legged for hours. But that is only one form of practicing mindfulness — you don’t necessarily have to be sitting, or even inside for that matter, to practice mindfulness.
What Is Mindfulness?
If you aren’t familiar with the term, mindfulness refers to a way of being that involves an intentional awareness of the present moment. With mindfulness, you are actively aware of what is going on in your mind, body, and surroundings (sensations, thoughts, feelings, etc.) without labeling anything as good or bad.
Why Practice Mindfulness?
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can help you to manage stress, improve your mental health and quality of life, aid in losing weight, improve your quality of sleep, boost your immunity, and more.[1-8]
But mindfulness doesn’t necessarily come naturally — it’s something that needs to be practiced. A common formal practice of mindfulness is seated meditation, but awareness of the present moment can be practiced at any time, even while talking, walking, eating, or doing yoga. And it can certainly be done outside.
3 Outdoor Mindful Activities
If you are looking to exercise your mindful muscles with simple, enjoyable activities that can get you outside while you are at it, then give these outdoor mindfulness activities a try:
Sit Outside and Listen
Listening meditations are type of meditation in which we focus on just one of our senses: hearing. We bring our attention to all of the sounds around us — the loud and the soft, the near and the far. While listening meditations can be done anywhere, nature is an excellent place to practice this type of mindful practice.
What to do:
- Find somewhere outdoors where you won’t be disturbed. This could be on a bench in the park, lying down in the grass, or sitting outside on your front steps.
- Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and then bring all of your attention towards what you can hear.
- Notice which sounds are most obvious to you, as well as those that are in the background. Notice how some sounds come and go, while others are constant. Notice how some get louder and softer. Your goal is to become curious about what you are hearing and to notice the sounds around you in a way that you don’t normally in day-to-day life.
- When your mind wanders, notice you’ve become distracted and then gently return your attention to listening.
- Continue listening in this way for at least five minutes.
- If you’d like to be guided through this process, there are several guided listening meditations available online, such as this one.
Go On a Mindful Stroll
We walk every single day. But generally, we are in so much of a hurry to get to one place or another that we don’t really notice much of what is around us. However, when we make the intention to be really present, we can see, hear, feel, and experience more of our environments than we ever do otherwise.
What to do:
- Find a time and place that you can go for a short walk undisturbed and unhurried.
- Set your intention before you begin while taking a few deep breaths. This is not a usual walk, but a mindful walk.
- Walk your route at a slow, easy pace. When you begin walking, bring your awareness to all the sensations you can notice. Is the air warm or cold? Is there a breeze or is it still? What sounds do you hear around you? Birds? Cars? Voices? What are the colors and textures that you see? How do things move and flow around you? Allow yourself to fall into a state of curious wonder about your environment and all that makes it up.
- Whenever you get distracted by other thoughts, simply return to one of your senses and notice whatever you can about the present moment.
When we combine physical movement with mindfulness, we combine two highly effective strategies for decreasing stress and bringing a sense of calm to both brain and body.
What to do:
- Choose a form of movement to try. This can be as simple as walking slowly back and forth, or it could be something like yoga or Tai Chi.
- Find a place outside where you are comfortable and won’t be disturbed.
- Center yourself before beginning by taking a few deep breaths.
- When you begin to move, do so with an awareness on your body. You may choose to focus on one part of the body at a time, or your body as a whole.
- Become aware of things like how your weight shifts as you move, how your feet contact the ground as you transfer from one foot to another, how your chest or abdomen rises and falls with each breath, how your limbs bend and straighten, how you are holding your torso, etc.
- Continue this way for several minutes, gently redirecting your attention back to your body whenever it wanders.
These are just a few examples of how to practice mindfulness while outdoors. Mindfulness practices can take many forms, whether you do a formal meditation or whether you just take a few minutes to intentionally check in with yourself. Experiment with different strategies and practices to find those that are most enjoyable and beneficial for you.