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Mindfulness in Nature

Using Nature to Enhance Mindfulness

The Harbour at Weymouth, Dorset: This is my own photograph.

I was first taught mindfulness techniques when I was doing a course on Dialectal Behavioural Therapy (DBT) to treat a mental health problem. It creates a sense of inner peace in our minds, quietens loud thoughts, and also can help us to concentrate better.  Many children at school are now taught mindfulness because it has been proven to help them to relax, concentrate, and deal with stress better.  Mindfulness can be achieved in many different ways: listening to music, walking through a park, reading, exercise, looking at a book, and others.  It uses sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste, which are our five senses.  These techniques when used properly can increase our mental well-being.  In this article, I am going to talk about the benefits of doing mindfulness in nature.

Close your eyes and imagine that you are sitting on a beach enjoying the sun.  Picture the image in your mind, sense the waves on the sea rising then crashing down, and listen to the sounds this creates in your mind.  It could be the sound of boats, seagulls, the sound of the waves, or even just the sound of happy children playing around you.  Take the imagery in and add other sights as you do so.  Try to sense the smell of the sea, imagine the feeling of warm sun on your skin and even try to sense the taste of your favourite food.  Breathe deeply through your nose and out of your mouth, then open your eyes slowly.  How did that make you feel?

When I first attempted this mindfulness technique, which I termed "sensory mindfulness" because it involves creating imagery inside your mind and sensing everything within that image, I felt relaxed and peaceful, and I found that it helped me drift off to sleep at night.  I have insomnia, which is a sleep disorder that can sometimes keep me up all night, so I try to use this technique as often as I can because it silences the loud thoughts in my mind and helps me to relax.

Imagery can make us happy, sad, angry or tearful.  You can create images in your mind for mindfulness like the ones above to help you release stress, feel happier, and quieten the mind.  However, when using this technique, it is useful to try and mentally push away the angry thoughts that you may be thinking. Otherwise, you will create angry images that can make you feel worse.  When I feel angry, I use oriental music such as Chinese nature sounds taken from an oriental garden to help me create happier images.

When using imagery, it can be done either in the mind or out and about.  Walking through a park where there are waterfalls and different colourful flowers is also good, as is a walk on a beach or even just walking to your local shop.  Take in everything around you, the streets, people, cars, flowers in gardens, birds, and even the air.  Really noticing these things can help you, and, if there are smells such as cooking present, really focus on them and take them in; you will find they become sharper. Focus on the present moment, what you are doing, and everything that is going on around you, breathe in deeply and take everything in, even the sounds of cars.  You will find that, after just ten minutes of doing this, your mind will become clearer, and you will be more focused.

Mindfulness can help with housework, too.  Just put on some meditation music which is combined with nature sounds such as birds chirping or even a quiet thunderstorm, which help increase your energy levels and keep stress down.  Focus on just one chore at a time; many people try to focus on too many things at once and then wonder why they are stressed out.  When we do this, our minds become full of racing thoughts, and we then lose the motivation to complete the chore we are doing, which then puts us off doing everything else!  This technique takes time and practice, but when you do it often and get used to it, the boring housework will get done faster.

Parenting is a very stressful job for most parents.  It is important to take time out, even just for ten minutes, and do something for leisure, even if your extremely busy parenting can become overwhelming.  When I visit my friend's young children, we like to collect old dry leaves and pebbles and get creative with them.  Gold and red leaves which you can find in the autumn are perfect for creating pictures of birds, trees, even houses, whereas pebbles are great for spray painting and turning into mini animals.  Doing something like this is educative and fun for your children, and you will get some fun out of it, too—as well as spending quality time with your children.

Exercise is good for your brain health as well as your physical health.  When I mention the word "exercise," people think I mean sweating it out in a gym!  However, a ten-minute walk or jog in the fresh air is just as good, as it releases those well known "happy hormones" into your blood and creates a feeling of wellness.  When walking for mindfulness, it is better to separate it from the kind of walking that you do when taking a trip to the local shop or going to the supermarket to do the weekly shopping, otherwise mindfulness will become associated with just another chore.  While mindfulness is great to use when doing chores, mindfulness with exercise is best done alone.  Yoga in a park is another great exercise idea, and you can do this with the children which they will love.  The benefits of combining this exercise with fresh air, is that, not only will it "perk" everybody up, but you can use trees to enable your children and yourself to do balance poses, and, also, should you decide to meditate afterwards to release the tension, meditation in fresh air clears the mind and enables better mental thinking.

Mindfulness techniques are not learned overnight.  You may find, they take some time before they can be done properly.  However, if you practice regularly, you will find yourself and your children doing them without thinking, and you will also find that you and your children, by doing it together, are less stressed and more able to concentrate on the important things that matter.

Please note, this article has also been written with people who do not have children in mind.  Many of these techniques can also be done alone.  I have suggested mindfulness for parents to do with their children, as it is a good way to relieve stress and the burden of parenting, which as I know myself, can be overwhelming at times.  Mindfulness is important and should be practiced by everybody.  Nature is a good tool for enhancing mindfulness because of its natural "mind clearing" properties.  I try to use it every day, as it helps to create a sense of calm in my very chaotic life, and I hope that, after reading my article, you will try these techniques for yourself, and have as much fun as I do in doing so.

Carol Townend
Carol Townend

I am passionate about mental health, reading, writing, and music.  I hold the Basic Certificate in the Humanities, of which I gained by studying the Humanities with the Open University.   I am also a champion for Time to change.

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