Mindfulness and Nature Exercise

This exercise is designed to practice mindfulness in nature by shifting your awareness between your thoughts, feelings, and the natural world around you. The format offered here is simply a guide to practicing mindfulness, but can be modified to fit your needs and the amount of time available to you. The first time you do this exercise, you may need to refer back to this guide or carry notes to prompt you on the exercise. Once you’ve tried it, you can easily implement this practice anywhere in your daily life.

Choose a location in nature where you can go for at least a 20 minute walk. Ideally the location would be somewhat removed from lots of people, traffic, and city noise so you can really connect with nature, however most city parks or quiet neighborhoods will work just fine. As you begin your walk, this guide will take you through a series of mindfulness exercises to practice shifting your awareness while walking.

Venting time: This part is optional depending on how your day is going but if you are having a stressful day or have a lot on your mind, it can be helpful place to start. As you are beginning your walk, give yourself 5 minutes to just vent to yourself about your day. You can say it out loud if no one is around or can just allow your mind to review all the stressful things in your life. “I’m feeling stressed about this…I don’t like that…Life is unfair because…So and so doesn’t understand me when...Etc…” The idea behind this is to give yourself space to feel your frustration and let it out but to put some boundaries around the amount of time spent in that place.

Somatic check-in: Now that you’ve had time to pull up all the stressful thoughts and feelings about your day, check in with your body. You are now shifting your awareness from your thoughts to the sensations in your physical body. Notice if there are feelings of stress or frustration that arise from thinking about the challenges in your life. You might notice your heart beating faster, your stomach in knots or tension in your body. You might have a lump in your throat or notice that you are clenching your jaw. You might not notice anything or have trouble describing what you feel and that is ok too. This check-in is about observing the sensations in your body without judgement.

Deep breathing: Now take 5 deep breaths, making sure to fully inhale, pause for 3 seconds, fully exhale and pause again before taking the next breath. After taking 5 deep breaths, check in with your body again. See if the sensations in your body have shifted from taking the deep breaths. You might notice that some of the anxiety or tension has softened or disappeared altogether. You might have experienced a softening while taking the breaths but find that the tension immediately returned. Just notice without judgement how your body responds to taking deep breaths.

Awareness of your feet: Now shift your awareness to your feet. Spend a few minutes simply observing your feet as you are walking. Notice the feeling of your feet on the ground and the movement of your feet with each step. If you find yourself getting distracted by thoughts, feelings or the world around you, bring your attention back to your feet. You are practicing the shifting of your awareness which is a “practice” so try to let go of the desire for it to be perfect or come easily. You may find that you can only focus on your feet for a few seconds at a time which is OK. An important part of the practice is noticing your awareness shifting away from your feet and then bringing it back again.

Using the senses: Now shift your awareness from your feet to the world around you. The senses are a great way to connect with the external world and allow us to step outside of our thoughts or feelings temporarily. Starting with sight, spend a few minutes just observing what you see in the world around you. You can describe it to yourself in your mind, or simply notice without needing to describe what you see. Take a few minutes to focus your awareness on each of the senses. What do I hear? What do I smell? What do I taste? What do I touch? (Touch includes the experience of the external world coming into contact with your body such as the feeling of the sunshine, rain or wind).

After you are done checking in with your senses, bring your awareness back to the sensations in your body as the exercise is coming to a close. Notice if you experience the same sensations you observed at the beginning of the walk or if anything has shifted. You can name your emotions, but try also to describe the sensations of what you are feeling. Is there any tension or constriction? Is there a feeling of space or expansiveness? Does your breath flow easily and deeply through your body, or does it feel shallow?

Mindfulness, nature, and exercise can all help ease stress and tension in the body, but you may not notice this every time you go for a walk or practice mindfulness. Again, there is no right answer when you are observing what you feel. Hopefully over time you will collect information about how your body feels when you go for a walk, when you spend time in nature, when you take a deep breath, and when you practice mindfulness. The shifting of your awareness is something you can practice anytime and anywhere by simply observing your thoughts, your breath, your feelings, your feet, or the world around you. Please take this exercise and modify it based on your particular needs and what you find most beneficial to you.

Thank you for sharing in this practice.

Megan Miller