Written by Carmen Kuntz.
The path to enlightenment might not be one you ride your mountain bike down. But it is still well worth traveling.
When was the last time you sat outside? Not on a mountain bike or chairlift, but on the ground – with the intention of just sitting there. Outdoor meditation challenges your mind, not your body. It’s an outdoor exercise with a different pace and different rewards.
WHAT IS MEDITATION?
Meditation is an exercise where the participant tries to slow their thoughts and focus on their breath. There are many different types of meditation, but most forms aim to quiet the mind and maintain a single-pointed concentration.
Traditionally linked to religions like Taoism and Buddhism, meditation is now a practice enjoyed by people all over the modern world. A technique of deep relaxation, it can be used to train the brain and ideally reach a level of awareness and inner calm that permeates all aspects of life. Meditation can also help develop patience, compassion, love, generosity and forgiveness. And who doesn’t want more of those positive forces in their life?
Meditation is often thought of as an exclusively indoor activity. However it can be enjoyed outdoors, in any season, as long as you are properly prepared. What better location for peace and relaxation than in a picturesque and calm outdoor setting?
WHY IS IT GOOD FOR YOU?
We know that good nutrition, exercise and lots of sleep contribute to a fit and healthy body. But what makes a fit and healthy mind? Research has proven that regular meditation can reduce anxiety, stress, depression, and brain atrophy. The Journal of Neuroscience found that subjects reported a significant reduction in pain during meditative practice that was comparable to that of modern painkillers. The sense of calm that is cultivated through meditation can seep into everyday life in the form of increased positive thinking and a less stressful approach to everyday activities. It may improve your focus at work, your patience while driving, and your ability to be present in each moment.
Adventure sports demand a type of meditative thinking. Being ‘in the zone’ skiing or climbing means your are totally focused on what you are experiencing – your mind is clear from distracting thoughts. Meditation is very similar to this feeling; the difference is you are not engaging in an activity, but just trying to slow down and manage your thoughts. Increasing the ‘fitness’ of your mind and getting better at slowing things down may bring increased focus to physical outdoor pursuits.
TRY IT OUT.
Find a peaceful location outside, maybe a place you have a connection with already, like a particular tree in your yard, or a spot on the beach. Your meditation space does not need to be completely silent. You can be aware of the barking dog, the conversations of people passing by, and the noises around without letting these sounds dominate your thoughts. Successful meditation means you can hear the noise but not let it distract you.
Get comfy. Wearing comfortable clothes will go a long way in making your experience more enjoyable. Depending on the season, make sure you are going to be warm enough. Sitting still will generate significantly less heat than hiking or other outdoor recreation so make sure you have layers.
Posture is very important as it allows your upper body to expand and take full breaths. Bring a seat or cushion when meditating in the winter or cooler fall months. The slightly raised seated position on a cushion many help prevent lower extremities from falling asleep. Traditional postures involve placing your hands in your lap, palms facing upwards with one hand on top of the other. But resting your hands on your knees or hanging them down at your side works too – whatever position is most comfortable for you.
Eliminate distractions and set a timer. Turn off your phone! Most people carry their cell with them when the venture into the forest. If you must have a mobile device with you, turn it on airplane mode where messages and calls can be avoided. There are free meditation apps that offer timers and gentle alarm chimes so you can be alerted when your practice is finished. Setting a timer not only allows you to manage you time but it also eliminates distracting thoughts like, ‘how long have I been here for?’
Once you are seated comfortably in your safe and happy place outside, draw your thoughts inwards. Try to focus on your breath. And only your breath. Don’t pass judgement on the quality of each breath, or the length. Just take each breath of air in and out. Paying special attention to the rise and fall of your chest, or to the sensation of air coming in and out of your nose can help to focus your attention on your breathing and keep your mind from wandering. If you do catch your mind wandering, don’t worry. Like anything, becoming good at meditation takes practice. Make an effort to refocus your mind on your breathing and try to think of nothing else. Drown out the chatter and attempt to clear your mind.
As you get more comfortable with meditation, there are different practices that can add variety to your meditation workouts. Guided visualization, a body scan and walking meditation are just a couple of the many varieties of experiences possible.
Like any outdoor pursuit, meditation will take practice. When starting off, don’t be concerned with the quality of the meditation itself. As long as you feel calmer, happier and more relaxed at the end of your practice, your meditation was successful.
Making meditation a part of your daily routine means you are more likely to reap the health benefits – mentally and physically. Don’t just give up because you feel like it isn’t working – keep trying, and enjoy the experience and the excuse to slow down and sit outdoors.
Get out there and get lost in your breath, not your thoughts.