Off the Mat and Into the Woods

In kayaking programs at Kripalu, participants often practice a “floating meditation.” As the sun begins to rise over the Berkshires, the group rows together toward the center of Lake Mahkeenac, its surface shrouded in early-morning mist. Then they pull in their paddles, close their eyes, and let themselves float wherever the current and breeze carry them.

Just as our yoga practice on the mat can serve as a microcosm for our day-to-day experience, nature can be a powerful metaphor for life. Confronting and moving through discomfort in the context of nature opens the door to overcoming fear in other areas of life. The offshore meditation in the kayaking program brings people face-to-face with their fears of being unmoored—literally and figuratively—and alone in the unknown.

When you’re able to witness yourself in nature, you can make observations and awakenings that have a ripple effect in your body and mind. What we tend to forget is that nature is, well, in our nature.

Natural Selection: The Health Benefits of Being Outdoors

  • Spending time in nature has been proven to be one of the most consistent remedies for some mental illness; a Dutch study found that people who lived within .6 miles of a park or wooded area experienced less anxiety and depression.
  • The contact of bare skin with the ground has been shown to reduce inflammation and stress, according to the authors of Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?.
  • Studies show that spending several hours in natural surroundings can increase immunity, producing as much as a 50 percent spike in “natural killer cells,” which support immune function.
  • A study conducted in Japan, where visiting nature parks has become a popular practice known as shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” showed that being in wooded areas produced lower concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure.

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