The world we live in today is fraught with seemingly endless sources of conflict, uncertainty, and stress, which permeate both our personal lives and the greater social context that surrounds us. To cope with this constant stress, many people turn to mindfulness practices to manage their anxieties and enhance their mental well-being.
Put simply, mindfulness is a practice that asks people to deliberately focus their attention on the present moment. A person in a state of mindfulness is actively aware of the thoughts and feelings that pass through their minds, the sensations they feel in their bodies, and the details of their surrounding environment. They take in this information attentively and non-judgmentally, without labeling anything they perceive as good or bad.
Mindfulness activities take a variety of forms and can be performed in all sorts of settings, including outdoors. If you’re the sort of person who spends most of their days cooped up at home or in an office, bringing your mindfulness practices outside can refresh your mind and give you a much-needed boost. If you like the idea of simultaneously checking in with yourself and communing with your surroundings in fulfilling ways, you may want to try the following exercises:
Seated meditation is one of the more common formal mindfulness practices, but it can often seem intimidating to newcomers. Many people have a hard time imagining themselves sitting still and in silence for extended periods, especially in an enclosed space. Moving your meditation practice outdoors may not only be more comfortable but may help you feel more connected to your own body and the world around you.
As an alternative to meditation, religious individuals may find it meaningful to pray outdoors. Apps like the Muslim Pro app can remind you of the appropriate times to observe your daily prayers. They also often offer auditory prompts, scripture readings, and other features that can provide helpful structure to the experience. Just make sure to set yourself up in a peaceful, quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed.
Listening meditation is another type of meditation that can be extremely rejuvenating to do in an outdoor environment. During listening meditation, you want to focus completely on the sounds around you—whether they’re nearby or far away, whether they’re loud or soft. Notice which sounds stand out to you immediately and which ones exist more in the background. The goal is to pay attention to what you’re hearing and to treat it with a curiosity that you might not normally practice in your everyday life.
Do Breathing Exercises
Most people rarely, if ever, pay active attention to their breathing. Connecting with your body and focusing on this act, however, can do wonders for your mental state. An abundance of psychological research shows, for instance, that breathing exercises can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, encourage positive thinking, and improve your concentration.
What makes breathing exercises so helpful is that you can do them anywhere, whenever you need to. All you need is a place to sit comfortably in an upright position. Doing your breathing exercises outside can also expose you to rejuvenating fresh air and sunlight after being stuck indoors for a long time.
One simple breathing exercise you can try is called “box breathing.” Simply breathe in deeply through your nose while counting slowly to four, holding the breath as you count. Once you hit the count of four, begin to exhale, and continue exhaling for another four counts. Repeat these steps at least three times, or however many times you need to until you feel calm and relaxed.
Go on a Mindful Walk
Most able-bodied people take the ability to walk for granted, simply trying to get from place to place as quickly as possible without really connecting with or even paying attention to their surroundings. Sometimes it can be helpful to slow down and appreciate the pleasure and privilege of walking for what it is.
Walking meditation is an easy mindfulness practice to incorporate into your daily routine. It may be especially helpful for individuals who struggle with seated or otherwise stationary meditation. To get the most out of your next mindful stroll, try the tips below:
- Plan your walk. Decide on a particular route, start time, and duration. Give yourself ample time so that you aren’t rushing from the start to the end.
- Walk slowly, at an even pace. As you move, gently bring your attention to the sights, sounds, smells, and other sensations around you. Acknowledge these details as you perceive them, but don’t dwell on them for too long—simply let them go and keep moving.
- Check-in with your body after a few minutes. Contemplate how the movement feels, how your weight shifts as you walk, and the patterns your steps create.
- Whenever other thoughts arise to distract you, just bring your focus gently back to the rhythm of your footsteps. Use that rhythm to ground yourself in the present moment when your mind starts to wander.
Grounding, sometimes also referred to as “earthing,” is a practice of making direct, skin-to-skin contact with the Earth’s surface. Simple grounding actions include walking barefoot through the grass, submerging your hands in a river or lake, or even lying on the ground. These are all easy ways to reconnect naturally with the Earth and create a mindful moment in which you can appreciate the world around you, as well as your place in it.
Because mindfulness primarily has to do with your mental state, you can practice it anywhere, anytime. The above are just a few mindfulness activities you can do outdoors. Feel free to experiment with different exercises and practices to find the most beneficial and fulfilling ones to you.