“Everything—yourself, your community, your environment—is in a constant state of give and take,” says Steven Leonard in his R&R retreat workshop In Through the Outdoors. What better way to bring home that sense of interconnectedness than a mindful walk in nature? That’s the simple, powerful experience that Steven offers in this workshop—one that’s easy to practice on your own, in every season. “After a little bit of time, you’ll start to notice your mind slow down and your vision open,” he says.
The process of meditation is sometimes described as moving from thinking to feeling, says Steven, a Zen enthusiast, yoga teacher, and Kripalu faculty member. The sights, sounds, and textures of the outdoors—whether it’s the overt beauty of a blooming peony or the subtle crunch of dry leaves beneath your feet—offer bountiful opportunities for shifting the focus away from “monkey mind” and toward the senses.
In our high-tech, fast-moving society, it can be balancing and therapeutic to remember that we are as much a part of the natural world as the grass, the trees, and the clouds above. “You need the air and sun just as much as your heart, lungs, or iPhone, to be alive and to be you,” Steven says.
Four steps to mindful walking
- Before you head outdoors, take a moment to look around your inside space. Take a few centering breaths and notice what it feels like to be inside—how it affects your body, range of vision, and thoughts.
- Outside, before setting off, find a comfortable standing position. Let your shoulders and face relax, and feel your feet balanced on the earth. Allow your eyes to scan the landscape. Now close your eyes for a moment and notice the sensations—the breeze or sun on your skin, the temperature, any sounds that are present.
- As you begin to walk, keep tuning in to your sensations and returning to the body and the breath. Your experience may be of an oscillation between what’s happening in the body and senses, and what you’re observing around you. Shutting off your mind is not the point—simply notice how much there is to be aware of, inside and out. You might want to try focusing on more specific sensations: the balance of each foot as it touches the ground, the feel of the air on your skin.
- As you go on to the next part of your day, bring awareness to the transition. Notice what it’s like to shift from being outdoors to being inside a building, and experiment with bringing the same mindful attention to your “walk” through the day.
Do you try to carve out time to be outside each day? Tell us how you spend time outdoors.