When we think of meditation, prayer and other ways of getting in touch with spirit, we often think of turning inward and shutting out the outside world. This can certainly be helpful when getting established in these types of practices, and it certainly has its place, but many mind-body disciplines allow us to get in touch with our inner selves through the body. A few well-known practices come to mind, such as yoga and t’ai chi.
But we can take this one step further if we expand our paradigm, expand our circle of awareness. Mind-body becomes mind-body-nature. Why should we do any of these things in Nature? A growing body of research tells us that spending time in natural settings improves our psychological and physical health and sense of well-being. That is so, science tells us, because of the increased sensory stimulus from which we evolved, essential oils released from trees and plants, and the natural electromagnetic frequency of the Earth itself.
Of course, all of these can be considered as different forms of energy, or Qi from a Traditional Chinese medical perspective. Some of these practices are beneficial practiced indoors, but why not take full advantage of our surroundings to increase the beneficial effects?
Here are six easy ways to reconnect while spending time in nature:
- Go for a walk. Walking meditation can be slow and formal, like in the Zen tradition, but it can also be spontaneous and natural. Anything from a walk in the park to a backpacking trip. You’ll relax and give your spirit some peace. To enhance your mind-body-nature connection, spend at least a little time every day barefoot.
- Sit. Find a spot in a natural setting that feels comfortable to you, perhaps your back yard, a park or the woods. Sit down and quiet your mind and listen and watch. At first, you may notice very little going on, but as your spirit becomes calm, the world around you will slowly come alive. If you need a more active version of this, birdwatching or stargazing are great.
- Hug a tree. I know, sounds a little cheesy right? Turns out it works. Tree Qigong can be performed while “hugging” a tree or it can be done just standing in front of a tree. Stand in a relaxed comfortable manner and visualize any energy blockages or problems in your body, whether physical or emotional, as dark smoky stuff. Gather it and send it down through the soles of your feet into the earth, where it can be composted and become nourishment. Then you can begin sharing energy with the tree. Smile. Again imagine your energy going through your soles into the earth then into the tree. Energy then cycles out from the tree. Visualize it entering your body through the top of your head and washing down through your body again, energizing you and revitalizing all your internal organs. Smile.
- T’ai chi. I love practicing t’ai chi and qigong, especially when I get to do them outdoors or at least some place with a view. Enjoy the benefits of these practices combined with the experience spent in nature.
- Gathering. This could be “wildcrafting,” gathering edible plants or medicinal herbs, or it could simply be finding treasures like a beautiful stone, leaf or pine cone to bring home with you. Enjoy your natural treasure inside your home to remind you of the calm and peace you experience when in nature.
- Build a snowman, but take it one step further. While there is still snow on the ground, create something that you find spiritually inspiring — something as simple as a cross or a spiral or a yin/yang symbol. Make a snow Buddha or St. Francis. If you’re up for a challenge, I’d love to see you do the Last Supper! The only limits are your imagination (and perhaps your artistic ability). No worries, the quality doesn’t matter here. It really is the thought that counts.