Beginning A Mindfulness Practice Outdoors

Being outside in nature is often the best place to start a mindfulness practice.  Taking yourself out of your everyday hustle and disconnecting is often the goal of heading outside—so why not take some time for being present. 

The practice of mindfulness is often known for its health benefits such as reduced anxiety, lower blood pressure, and mental clarity.  Mindfulness is about purposefully paying attention, in the present moment, without judgement.  It’s a practice of noticing; bringing your attention to what’s happening here and now and allowing yourself to settle into more ease than effort.  There are many different approaches to mindfulness and it’s always a practice, so remember, there’s really no way to mess it up!  Below you'll find some ideas to get started.

#1  Seated Practice:  Finding a comfortable place to sit is key for a seated practice!  If you’re just starting out, maybe fold up a blanket and sit with your back against a tree.  You’ll want to feel fully supported so your mind isn’t distracted by being uncomfortable.  When you sit on the folded blanket, sometimes it helps to scoot forward so your seat bones are to the edge.  This position supports the hips and allows the knees to draw closer to the earth.  If you are sitting cross legged, it helps to bring the ankles in line with one foot slightly forward, or even extend the legs if that’s more comfortable. Then lengthen the spine and sit up nice and tall.  Allow your hands to come to a comfortable place on the lap or the knees. 

After you’ve found a posture that’s sustainable, soften the eyes and begin to notice your breath.  Notice the natural length of your inhale and exhale.  Take 5-8 breaths here.  You might notice you are already getting distracted- your mind will draw you away from your breath, remembering your day or anticipating what is next- don’t worry!  Mind wandering is part of human nature for us, that’s why this is a practice- some days will feel easier!  So be patient with yourself.  Each time you notice your mind being drawn away, bring it back to your breath.  If you can, start to lengthen your breath, slow steady inhale, slow stead exhale.

Another form of practice is noticing the space you’re in- that breeze on your skin or the sounds around you.  What does the earth feel like beneath you, or the sun on your face?  When you take mental notes of the space you’re in and you use your senses, you’ll draw your mind to the present moment.  This is also good if it’s hard for you to close your eyes.  You can notice what you see- mentally naming your surroundings.

As you start out, remember not to judge yourself as your mind wanders, and start small.  If this isn’t something you do every day, expecting to sit for 30 minutes just isn’t realistic.  Start with 3-5 minutes, and if after 2 minutes you’re finding yourself uncomfortable or frustrated, notice that too- give yourself grace for starting something new and try another strategy or try again another time.

#2 Walking Meditation:  For the most active adventurers, starting a mindfulness practice sitting might feel impossible.  A moving meditation can be just as beneficial as a seated practice.  If you’re choosing movement, remember the idea of more ease and effort, take your time, no rush!  Walk on a trail, take frequents stops to look at your surroundings.  Refer to the above description of noticing the space around you.  Think about each step you take, the shift of your weight, the placement of your feet on the earth.  Where do you tend to keep your gaze when you walk?  Besides what you see, what other senses can you use?  Consider edible plants!  (Know in advance which plants are edible or grab a pocket guide to bring along, i.e.: Edible Wild Plants) 

When you’re fully immersed in your surroundings, it’s hard to worry about your to-do lists, or feel the need to pick up you phone.  Avoid the urge to take photos!  Often when we are taking photos, we are seeing the space through the lens and not allowing ourselves to be fully present.  If you must, snap a quick one but stay long enough to enjoy the moment too!  Perhaps find a moment at the end of your moving meditation to stop and notice how you feel.

#3 Practicing with Kids:  For some of us, getting time alone can be tough.  Don’t stop life to be present.  Welcome your young explorers to join you!  If you’re sitting, have your child sit on your lap and see if they can feel your breath as you breathe in and out.  If you have older children, sit back to back.  Notice as you slow your breath, they will being to match your energy.  If they fidget or struggle to stay long, don’t force it.  Just like for grown-ups, sitting can be hard for them.  Consider the walking practice and encourage them to observe everything around them!  Kids are naturally curious- we can learn so much from them about how to be present in nature!

Consider keeping a journal each time you practice.  For kids, allow them to draw if they prefer.  Your journal will become a record of memories and you will see the progress of your practice! Most importantly, your mind and body will thank you for getting outside and taking time to be present!

Consider keeping a journal each time you practice.  For kids, allow them to draw if they prefer.  Your journal will become a record of memories and you will see the progress of your practice! Most importantly, your mind and body will thank you for getting outside and taking time to be present!

Written by Guest Blogger: Kwin Kunkle

Kwin Kunkle is the author and founder of Well Beings: Building Blocks for Childhood Wellness. She started her teaching career in 2007 in Omaha Public Schools. Throughout her career in public education, Kwin noticed that many students needed extra support in personal health and wellness as well as social emotional learning skills. She earned her M. Ed. in 2011, a RCYT in 2013 and RYT200 in 2014.  She also studied Mindfulness Fundamentals and Curriculum Training with Mindful Schools. Her varied educational experiences transformed her teaching, and after dedicating time to focus on her own personal wellness, it became a second passion for her to bring those ideas and values to her classroom. Kwin has taught classes and professional development workshops at many schools and community organizations throughout the Omaha area.  For more information about Well Beings and her offerings, please visit www.wellbeingseducation.com.

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