By Deborah Wilk, LMFT
“There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter” -Rachel Carson
Spring is here! And this season of new beginnings is certainly welcome right now. Birds are singing, trees are blooming and flowers are adding great bursts of color in every direction. With so many other aspects of our daily lives feeling upside down, Nature provides comfort by behaving just as we expect. As a co-founder of Mindful in the Wild, I have been teaching mindfulness classes at the Bellevue Botanical Garden for three years. I invite you to step out from your isolation and find connection in the healing power of Nature.
Over a decade of research has demonstrated that nature benefits us in remarkable ways. Spending time in the wild helps decrease anxiety and ruminating thoughts, improves cardiovascular and metabolic health, and most important right now, boosts our immune system in significant ways. So find some space from your fellow humans and get outside and breathe deep!
While the Garden trails are still open, Governor Inslee’s latest guidelines lead us to encourage everyone to stay close to home for the safety of our community and ourselves. With that in mind, I want to share some of our mindfulness and forest bathing practices for you to do on your own, either in a neighborhood wild place where you can practice social distancing, or even your own backyard.
I invite you to begin by taking some slow, deep breaths, closing your eyes and noting the burdens that you’ve been carrying—the fears, the worries, the anxieties. See if you can allow yourself to let them go for now and bring yourself right into this moment, feeling your feet beneath you on the Earth. Even if you’ve been in this particular natural place dozens of times, I invite you to imagine that when you open your eyes you will be seeing everything as if for the first time, filled with curiosity and child-like Wonder at the Beauty around you.
Open Up Your Senses
As you begin to walk, open your awareness to each of your senses. Start by noticing what is in motion around you. Look down at insects or squirrels, then up in the trees at leaves blowing in the wind, or clouds moving across the sky. Notice textures, colors, patterns. Next focus on what you hear. There might be birds singing their spring songs, the branches of trees creaking or the sound of water from a nearby creek, or recent rain. Open up your sense of smell by breathing deep the moist spring air, full of new life and aromas. Bend close to take a deep breath of whatever calls to you—bright flower, tree bark or branch. Reach out to feel the texture of anything that invites you to explore further.
As you wander, see if there is a tree that calls your attention. Move towards it, taking it all in with all of your senses. You might like to sit at the base, letting it support your back while you place your hands on the earth, imagining the roots stretching out beneath you, supporting you. Or perhaps stand with your palms on the bark, looking high up into the green branches, inhaling the oxygen that this tree releases as you exhale the carbon dioxide that it needs. In addition to oxygen, the trees release phytoncides which research has shown boost our immune system’s NK cell activity dramatically, helping us fight cancers and infections. The forest is like a healing elixir we inhale. Maybe give a note of gratitude for this beautiful reciprocal relationship that we have with these great green beings.
As you continue to walk slowly, surrounded by nature, keep allowing thoughts that enter your mind to drift to the background, filling yourself up with all that your senses are experiencing. Bring yourself mindfully into each Moment, arriving with each step exactly where you are, held by the Living Beings and Beauty around you. These are challenging times, and I hope you will allow Nature to be the place of sanctuary and peace to replenish and restore you.
In Beauty May You Walk.