Being Mindful in Nature: a January challenge

You may have seen on my Facebook page that for the last part of January I set myself a challenge to spend ten minutes mindfully being in nature.

My reasons for doing this were because quite a few people I spoke to at the time were struggling with the long, cold and dark feel of January, and wanted the month to be over quickly! I felt differently. I had realised half way through last year that, although January seemed to last an age, the rest of the year seemed to be speeding by. I vowed that next time, I would make the most of January. I wondered whether focusing mindfully for a few minutes each day would slow the month down for me, and whether it could put a more positive feel on the month.

So what did I learn? Here are my main reflections:

It’s only ten minutes, right?
It wasn’t as easy to spend ten minutes being mindful as I thought it would be. I really did think “ten minutes, that’s nothing”. It turns out that ten minutes can seem like a really long time! I found it particularly difficult when I was standing still. For example, there was one day when I spent the time in my garden. It took my mind at least five minutes to settle and stop thinking, “how long is left?” Interestingly, once my mind finally accepted the task, I didn’t want the time to end. It made me realise that I can probably achieve more than I think in “only” ten minutes after all!

Make it a habit
It was easy to find time outside whilst in my usual routine. On the days I was dropping and picking my children up from school, it was easy to take a slow stroll through a little patch of woodland, and to linger watching flowers and listening to the birds. But on the days that I was doing something different, it was much more difficult. Having to ask “where can I go to get my mindful ten minutes”? made it much more of a challenge. What I learned was that being mindful, even for ten minutes, needs to be planned until it becomes part and parcel of daily life.

Awaken your senses
Once you tune into the wind blowing, the trees rustling and the birds singing, you really hear them and start to notice them more and more. Being more mindful and purposefully listening out for things really did sharpen my senses.

Calming down
Taking ten minutes out from a busy day made me feel calmer. A slow walk after a stressful school run really helped to clear my head. I was able to let go more easily, felt more relaxed, and was ready for the next thing.

Final thoughts
There is so much evidence that being outside is beneficial for our health and well being. In his book The Stress Solution, Dr Rangan Chaterjee talks about the positive impact that “nature bathing” can have on our mental health, and mentions research which shows that even looking at pictures of trees and nature can lower our stress levels.

I was already a strong advocate for getting outside into nature, but this little challenge served as a reminder to keep on doing this, even in the dark winter months. At this time of year, we probably need it even more.

This challenge for me also reinforces the importance of taking some time and space for ourselves. Being on our own, taking some deep breaths, stopping for a few moments and slowing down are all really important for our well being. This is a topic that I feel passionate about.

Finally, as a Massage Therapist and Reflexologist who spends much of my working time helping to soothe the nervous systems of my clients, it is clear to me that taking these mindful moments out in nature can achieve just that. Time in nature will remain high on my list of self care tools. I hope you feel able to add it to your tool box too.