Fresh Ways to Bond with Nature This Summer

You’ve probably heard the news by now—research confirms that getting outside is good for you. Spending time in nature decreases stress hormones, improves concentration, counteracts depressive symptoms, and enhances immune function, among other benefits. It’s also one of the easiest ways to practice simply being in the moment.

Whether you’re a flower child or “two with nature,” here are a few ways to get closer to the great outdoors this summer.

Try mindful walking.

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. To take the first step (pun intended), check out these instructions for a mindful walking practice.

Do a nature meditation.

Find a spot in your backyard, a nearby park or protected area, or even on a porch or balcony, that you can visit daily (or as often as possible). Use this “sit spot” as a place to hone your sensory awareness and tune into the changes that take place in the environment around you with the passage of time. Sarajean Rudman, who teaches yoga and R&R workshops at Kripalu, suggests consciously activating your senses while taking in your environment. For example, you might say to yourself, "I’m aware of the trees swaying in the breeze. I’m aware of the birds chirping. I’m aware of the smell of lilacs.”

Give yourself booster shots of nature throughout the day.

If your time for being outside is limited, Sarajean recommends getting out in smaller spurts throughout the day, rather than one block of time, to continuously give the body messages about where it is in the light-dark cycle. Ideally, get outside for a little while in the morning, around noontime, and again in the evening.

Watch birds.

You don’t have to be an experienced birdwatcher to find pleasure and relaxation in observing the activity and color of these small creatures as they flutter on your feeder. Observing birds in nature shares many qualities with mindfulness—the focused awareness and calm observation of both practices helps to soothe the mind and enables you to connect to the world—and yourself—in profound new ways. “Being mindful is similar to birding, when you’re going out to the dawn chorus with the birds singing their hearts out and letting it wash over you,” says Becky Cushing, Kripalu presenter and director of Mass Audubon’s Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Play more.

What outdoor summer activities lit you up as a kid? Did you enjoy swimming in the creek? Riding your bike to a new destination and having a picnic once you arrived? Going for a long walk up a tall mountain? This summer, revisit that experience. The simple relaxation that results from having fun is a profound gift, as is the connection we feel while letting go into fun and nature. “Play relieves stress, unlocks creativity, forms new neural pathways, nurtures connection, and cultivates empathy,” says Mark Roule, faculty member for the new Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership.

Do yoga on a paddleboard.

Standup Paddleboard (SUP) Yoga combines the fun and relaxation of being out on the water with the practice of asana. “It weaves yoga and nature together in a way that dissolves the boundaries between them,” says Mark, who teaches outdoor programs at Kripalu in every season. It’s a challenging and invigorating way to experience mindful movement from a whole new perspective.

Lie down and look up.

This is an age-old trick for calming the nervous system, says psychologist and mindfulness teacher Elisha Goldstein. “A natural experience of mindful awareness sets in when we simply lie down, look up at the sky, and watch the clouds,” he says. “Experience the wonder of how all things naturally come and go.”

Browse outdoor programs at Kripalu.

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