Meditation is a practice that involves focusing or clearing our minds. Essentially, it is quiet communication with the self. Practicing meditation outdoors can enhance the experience because nature has a way of commanding our attention and focus, compelling us to streamline our thoughts and focus on what is directly in front of us and within us. Without the constant distractions that come with our indoor and digital life, we are able to become more present in the moment and we gain a heightened sense of awareness. We begin to connect with the simple things in the natural world; our senses wake up to fully experience the reality of the breeze, light, space, sounds, and smells that surround us.
Many studies have shown that a regular mindfulness and meditation practice is highly beneficial for our mental, physical, and spiritual health, and when we take our practice into the natural world, we can amplify those benefits.
Benefits of an Outdoor Meditation
Meditating outdoors can bring about a more balanced state for our body, mind, and soul.
Being in nature instills a sense of mindful awareness, and our senses are enhanced when our body and mind slow down and relax. We become more aware of our physical presence, posture, and balance as we intentionally notice the sensations in our body — the warmth of the sun on our skin contrasting with the breeze that cools, the layers of nature sounds, the depth of color across our field of view.
A greater awareness of our mind-body connection during outdoor meditation often translates to a greater mind-body connection throughout our day, enabling us to recognize and regulate our reactions to daily challenges.
Mindfulness has long been considered an effective way to decrease symptoms of depression. Through the practice of meditation, the tools needed to step back from intense negative emotions are learned, and it becomes easier to regulate those feelings when they arise which, in turn, enables better coping and management of depression. Recent research has shown that outdoor meditation practices and mindful walks in nature can lead to significantly lower rates of depression, reduced stress, and better mental well-being all around.
A mindfulness meditation practice activates the parasympathetic nervous system, making us feel more relaxed and letting our bodies know we’re not in danger. Incorporating nature and outdoor space into a meditation practice has been proven to yield further health benefits. In addition to the greater sense of energy and better mood, important physical impacts include lowering blood pressure and increasing cardiovascular health.
A recent study on forest bathing, an ancient Japanese practice, found that intentional movement in green environments reduced blood pressure and stress-related hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline.
An outdoor meditation also leads to improved concentration. Constant stimulation from our daily stressors jeopardizes our ability to maintain clarity and focus, but meditating in nature is the perfect remedy that allows us to refocus and re-energize. The effects of this highly restorative experience that positively affect our mental clarity has been confirmed by research showing that cognitive function improved for those who spent time in nature compared to those who performed the same activity in an urban environment.
Sitting on the ground and connecting with the earth creates harmony between our body’s rhythm and the earth’s natural vibrations. When we connect with nature and disconnect from the ambient business of our daily lives, our hearing feels sharper, our skin receptors feel more sensitive, and our sense of smell is enhanced.
Techniques for a Meditation in Nature
Mindfulness meditation and walking meditation are both great ways to incorporate the outdoors, and the acronym NOW — Notice, On purpose, Without judgment — is a useful guide for beginning your practice.
Mindfulness is a commonly used term that refers to present-moment awareness. During mindfulness meditation, you connect to the present moment by anchoring the mind to a single point of focus, which can include the breath or physical sensation in the body. From a comfortably seated position, you can focus your attention on various senses, such as the sound of an insect or bird, the feel of the air on our skin, the support of the earth beneath you, or the view of the landscape or the sky. As you observe a feeling or sensation, simply notice, quieting the commentary of your mind. When thoughts start popping in, acknowledge them without judgment and then direct your attention back to the point of focus.
A walking meditation incorporates movement into the practice. Find a place where you can walk slowly and deliberately without obstacles and then begin by taking a minute to breathe deeply as you bring your full attention to your body. Notice how stable the ground feels beneath your feet, and then direct your attention to the rhythmic movement of your feet and legs. You might notice the sound of your steps, the feel of your feet as you walk along a path or across a meadow, or your place in the environment among all other living things. If you notice that your mind has veered off, acknowledge your thoughts without judgment, breathe, and bring your mind gently back to walking.
If you are new to meditation, start small. Just 5 to 10 minutes at a time, a few times a week, is plenty of time to reap the mental and physical benefits.
For many of us, we love the outdoors for all the things we can do in nature, but we are human be-ings. Giving ourselves the time and space to just be in nature — noticing, on purpose, without judgment — will nourish our body, mind, and soul and can be a valuable complement to all our doing.
Author: Missy Phegley is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Top Image: The author meditating in nature. (Justin White)