Research has shown, and is continuing to show, the healing and restorative power of nature. Studies have found that spending time in nature can, amongst other things, increase well-being; help alleviate stress, anxiety and depression; promote creativity; assist with recovery from mental fatigue; help restore attention; boost the brain’s ability to think; and stimulate the senses.
I love this time of year in Vancouver! There are days when I probably say: “it’s so beautiful!” several times a day. But it is! Every morning, I step out the door and inevitably, my daughter and I will turn to each other and take a deep breath in and smile. Just breathing in that morning air, and feeling the freshness in the air, enjoying the colours of the trees and flowers in all the neighbourhood gardens is a treat.
Mindfulness classes and practice can happen literally anywhere. There are many health and wellness reasons to take ourselves out of the busyness of our everyday lives to spend some time in nature. Especially in Vancouver, a forested path is only minutes away from our front doors. Setting an intention for planning a mindful hike with the family is a great way to get kids and teens off their devices and into nature.
Set the intention to hike by planning your route
Including quiet, outdoor activities for the summer starts with setting an intention. Everyone talks about being so connected with our devices; in fact, when I ask kids aged 9 to 11 about device usage in their homes, they tell me that their parents don’t “pay attention to them” and are more tech-connected than the kids.
A mindful hike is a great way to connect with ourselves and nature by simply setting an intention to relax, become one with the surroundings, quiet our busy minds, and increase self-awareness.
Where to hike will depend on a few factors, such as your level of fitness, the time of year, difficulty level of the terrain and, if it’s a family hike, the ages of your kids. Try to make it as simple as possible and the best fit for you and your family or friends.
TIP: You can find the best fit for you here http://vancouverhiatus.com/ (or type “hiking Vancouver” into Google!)
Start with breathing
Like all mindful activities, enjoying a mindful hike in the woods starts with self-awareness and mindful breathing.
When you start, first be aware of your thoughts, and deliberately count your breaths in and out as you take the first steps. Notice how your legs, feet, arms move as you walk. Feel yourself moving forward through the path.
Focus your attention
Pick up a leaf, flower, or twig and examine it closely: texture, scent, colour, shape. Just experience your piece of nature without judgment or naming.
Look both down and up as you move. And, every so often, turn around, stop, and look back from where you’ve walked. Acknowledge yourself at the distance you’ve covered, and savour the difference in terrain, from where you started to where you’re standing.
Engage your senses
Instead of talking or making plans for tomorrow, stay in the present moment by focusing your attention on the five senses.
Sight: Stop every now and then, stand, and feel your feet connected to the ground and take in the views.
Hearing: Listen for the footfalls of other hikers, conversations, birds, squirrels and other forest creatures, dogs along the trail, rushing water, and the wind in the treetops.
Smell: Trees give off oxygen, which helps to energize and heighten our senses. The smell of all that “greenery” is at the same time relaxing.
Taste: Bite down on a pine needle or chew a blade of grass! (Unless you are an expert on forest edibles, mushrooms and berries are best left alone.)
Touch: Feel the different textures of the various trees’ bark and leaves or needles and gently touch the other plants. Feel the air on your face as you move.
All the while, be aware of your breathing and just let any thoughts go through the mind-beast without judging or holding on to them. When you get home, notice how truly calm and relaxed you now are!
Mindfulness meditation does not require us to sit on the floor - download this free guide: How to practice mindfulness - 3 simple and effective exercises you can do anywhere.