It’s really no secret that being in nature is good for us. Even without getting into the research that shows how being outside boosts happiness and helps reduce stress and anxiety, we can catch glimpses of these benefits for ourselves when we’re out in the parks, on walks around the neighborhood or in our own backyards.
When I’m feeling stressed or struggling to be optimistic or just feeling low, anxious and out-of-sorts, I sometimes drag myself to the nearest door just to step outside and take one big, deep breath of fresh air.
Inhale. Pause. Exhale.
For a moment, I experience the tiniest sense of relief. A few more deep breaths and I start to feel at ease, refreshed and focused. I feel the warm golden sun on my cheeks as I watch a crow fly overhead. A chickadee whistles from the maple tree nearby.
That pausing and noticing is really what mindfulness in nature is all about. It’s about engaging your senses and tuning into the environment around you, observing what's happening in a non-judgmental way. It is about being present.
The next time you're in need of a mental or emotional boost, or if you simply just want to connect more closely to nature, find some space outside and try one of these mindfulness exercises.
1. Sit and Notice
The simplest way to practice mindfulness in nature is to just sit and notice. Find a favorite park bench or tree or spot in the yard. I also love a good front stoop or even sitting next to houseplants by a window.
Get comfortable, take a deep breath and look around you. What do you see? What sounds can you hear? Engage your senses and note what you smell, feel, see, hear (and taste if you’re munching on trail snacks!)
If you’re looking for a good spot in the parks to sit and notice, I recommend the benches along Lake Independence at Baker Park Reserve, the picnic table tucked off the Deerwood Trail at Lake Rebecca Park Reserve and the open grassy spaces beneath the trees near the beach at French Regional Park.
2. Record with a Nature Journal
Take your “noticing” a step further and write down what you see and feel. Engage those senses and record what’s happening in nature. What season is it? What signs in nature reflect the season? What kinds of plants or trees are around you? Do you see any birds? Other wildlife? Get curious and write down your thoughts.
Keeping a nature journal is a beautiful way to document daily life around you and connect deeper with the natural world as it shifts and transforms throughout the year.
3. Practice Cloud Meditation
One of my favorite ways to spend time in nature is to lay in the grass (or fluffy snow!) and watch the clouds drift past above me — taking shape, losing shape, merging.
Find a comfortable spot to lay down outside and look up at the sky. What colors do you see? What do the clouds look like? Are they full and thick or are they wispy and scattered? Can you see any images in the clouds?
Then consider how our emotions and thoughts are like clouds — shifting, changing and evolving. Blowing away and rolling right back in on the next gust of wind. When I'm feeling especially frustrated or anxious, I've found that this practice helps me slow the flurry of thoughts in my brain and helps release some of the negativity I've been stewing on. By the end of the exercise, I feel lighter, hopeful and sometimes even empowered.
4. Try Forest Bathing
Forest bathing is the English translation of what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means "forest" and yoku means "bath." This is interpreted as surrounding yourself with the air of the forest or experiencing the forest with all of your senses, which act as a bridge between us and the natural world.
Take a stroll along Minnesota's first certified forest-bathing trail at Silverwood Park. This self-guided trail experience teaches visitors about the health benefits we receive in nature and how to participate in this wellness practice. The trail was designed in collaboration with Motz Studios.
5. Be Curious and Use Your Imagination
Have fun with mindfulness and use your imagination! As you sit or hike or stroll through the parks or in your neighborhood, imagine what it'd be like to be a squirrel running around a yard or up a tree. What do you think the squirrel feels? Hungry? Excited? Or try envisioning yourself as a tall tree leaning over a trail. If you were that tree, what do you think you'd see standing there?
When we imagine ourselves as different animals or plants or elements in nature, we can connect to them more closely by embracing a different point of view.
Learn More About Healing in Nature
Explore the science behind how parks improve our health on episodes of The Wandering Naturalist podcast. Walk Silverwood's certified forest-bathing trail with Brandon and Angela and hear from a Three Rivers volunteer about his commitment to being in nature every day.
Banner and archive images by Lori Lindahl.
About the Author
Alyssa Schauer is part of the marketing team at Three Rivers. She formerly worked as a journalist at a small-town newspaper and volunteered with the Minnesota Conservation Corps to clear and maintain trails in Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters. Outside of work, she spends time in the woods looking at everything up close (especially ferns and spiders!) and enjoys canoeing with her husband, playing Nintendo and raising a pride of four naughty, darling cats.
Here in Minnesota, we try our best to make winters bearable. Hygge may be a way for some of you to crack the code on creating a fun and even merry season despite the arctic temperatures. Read on to learn what hygge is and get ideas on how to start incorporating it into your life.
Could you complete 52 hikes in one year? That's what one Three Rivers employee set out to do in 2019. Learn about her experience taking on the 52 Hike Challenge and why you might want to try it for yourself in 2020.
How do art and nature intersect? For one artist, it involves carefully placing fake birds in trees. For another, it appears as an explosion of colorful paint on canvas. Read on to learn how nature and Silverwood Park have inspired artists Paula McCartney and Kelli Nelson.