Mindfully walking and reconnecting with nature
In Japan there is a growing network of trails and walks used for Shinrin Yoku. Shinrin Yoku, translated as ‘forest bathing’ is a practice which helps us reconnect with nature by mindfully walking in forests and woodland. There are some key features to Shinrin Yoku that differentiate it from a normal guided or unguided nature walk.
- There is a specific intention to connect, mindfully moving in ways that open the senses and cultivate being rather than doing.
- Very slowly, one mile in 2-3 hours
- Stopping and paying attention
- Not about finding out about what things are; plants, insects birds etc but rather connecting with nature with a sense of wonder, awe and curiosity.
In addition to the benefits of light exercise and reconnecting with the natural world there are additional health benefits. Trees, especially conifers, and woody plants give off natural essential oils known as Phytoncides. Phytoncides have been shown to lower blood pressure, cortisol and stress levels, a walk in the forest can become a natural aromatherapy session.
There are a number of activities that take place on Shinrin Yoku walks some of which are listed and described below. Many of these activities however can be practiced in the park or at the beach, you don’t need a forest to reconnect with nature. Recently, while consulting on a film with act2cam about mindfulness, mental health and young people, we engaged with some of these practices by the seaside.
- Just walking – Mindful walking, just wandering with no destination in mind. Noticing the physical sensations of walking, the contact with the ground with each step, the movement of the ankles and knees, notice the breath. Look around, up and down, notice the colours and shapes with curiosity. Listen to the sounds, nearby and in the distance, notice the sound of your own steps. Notice the smells of flowers, the sea, the trees.
- Gratitude walking – bring a sense of gratitude to your experience and sensations. Find things to be grateful for: the warmth of the sun, bird song, sound of the waves or leaves rustling in the breeze, fresh air, blossom on the trees.
- Stealth walking – Walk as slowly and silently as possible, putting toes down first and easing onto the heels gently with each step. Stop when something catches your attention, a sound, some movement or just something that catches your curiosity. Give it your full attention as if you are a wild animal and every sound or movement could be your next meal or a larger predator looking for it’s next meal! Focus your attention as if your life depended on it!
- Movement – While walking slowly with an awareness of the breath, focus your attention on the changing perspectives as you move and notice motion around you: birds, leaves, insects, waves.
- Panoramic viewing – We tend to focus on what is in our line of vision, with a relatively narrow range. Hold your hands to the sides and front of your face, bracketing the visual range you pay most attention to. Then move them slowly to outwards to the sides until they are at your maximum peripheral range. Soften your gaze and allow your awareness to open up to your entire visual range. Walk slowly holding your hands out to help maintain a broader visual awareness.
- Zooming in – Find something small, a leaf, pebble, twig etc. Give it your full attention, engaging as many senses as possible and safe. Look at it closely, notice colours, contours, shapes, the reflection of light. Touch it or hold it if safe to do so, notice texture, temperature, weight. If safe squeeze it or rub it, notice any changes and any sounds. Smell it and if you know it is safe, taste it.
- Quadrophonic sound – What can you hear in each direction? Standing or sitting as still as possible, focus your attention in turn to what you can hear to the left, behind you, to the right and in front of you.
- Radar – For one minute, while connecting with the breath, focus on all the sounds you can hear in your immediate vicinity, within say 10 feet, if you get distracted by more distance sounds notice and return to the breath and bring your focus back to nearby sounds. Then double the distance for the next minute and keep doubling until you reach the range of your hearing. What is the furthest away sound you can hear.
- Zoning in – Cup your hands behind your ears, making them larger. Walk quietly and slowly alert to subtle sounds. Notice how it feels to listen in this way.
- Water – *If there is a source of water; a pond, rock pool, stream, river or the sea that is safe to go near. Put one hand in the water, noticing any sensations; temperature, movement. Touch the bottom if you can, and safe to do so, notice what you can feel. Focus all of your attention on sensation in the hand.
- Share the love – Connect with Mother Nature as if it were a loved one. Give it a caress or if it is large enough give it a hug. It be a tree, a rock or just the ground beneath you. Bring a sense of compassion and kindness, maybe saying softly ‘may you be strong, may you be safe, may you be healthy’ or choose your own words. Notice how this feels.
- Body Scan – Find a comfortable place to lie or sit – lying is better if possible. Closing your eyes if this feels safe and comfortable. Begin by focusing on your breath, noticing each in breath and each out breath. It may help to mark each in breath with the words ‘breathing in, breathing out’. Follow each breath noticing gentle movement of the body, sensations in the nostrils and the throat. Just notice what is there for you, not trying to change the breath, just breathing. Starting either from your head or your feet, bring your attention to the parts of your body that are touching the ground, spend a few minutes focusing your attention on each part of the body in turn. Then broaden your attention to your whole body, noticing sensations where the body is not in contact with the ground, notice temperature, sounds, maybe the caress of a gentle breeze on the skin.
- Sniff it – Plants, the sea, the earth, trees whatever catches your attention, with curiosity and without judgement. Crush leaves, petals or berries to release their aroma.
- Taste it – If it is safe, taste it, pop it into your mouth, bite it or lick it. What flavours do you notice? *Only try this if you are certain that it is not poisonous, as a general rule, spit it out rather than swallowing, the purpose is to engage the sensation of taste not to eat it.
Walking in nature helps us to reconnect with ourselves and what it is to be alive. Mindfulness meditation helps us to develop the the tools to live with awareness, to live mindfully is to be fully alive.
To find out more about how to bring mindfulness into your everyday life, check out Mindful therapies events and courses.