Spending Time Outside as a Mindfulness Practice
Over my years of practice, most periods of meditation have taken place inside. I sit in my home, inside meditation centers, and in meditation halls on retreat. I’m not sure where or why this tradition started of sitting inside, but we really can practice wherever we are.
Siddhartha Gautama himself was sitting outside under the Bodhi Tree when he awoke, and he often encouraged his followers to practice outdoors. In some suttas, the Buddha specifically encouraged monks to go to the forest or sit under a tree.
The Benefits of Spending Time Outside
Whether you’re just going for a walk outside, sitting in meditation, or practicing some form of moving meditation, there are many benefits of spending time outdoors.
Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett from UEA’s Norwich Medical School recently published an analysis of over 140 studies that included almost 300 million study participants. You can read more about the study here, but here are some of the findings:
Spending time outdoors and living near nature can:
- Reduce risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature death
- Improve sleep quality and duration
- Reduce salivary cortisol, a marker of stress
- Decrease blood pressure and heart rate
- Improved mood and stability
- Greater chance of healthy social interactions
I find it important to look at the research being done on what we’re investigating. We can see the studies support us spending time outdoors, and it is especially relevant with mindfulness practice. Spending time outdoors can offer us a new way to practice, new things of which to be mindful, and different triggers for our awareness.
Meditation in Nature
One of the first things I noticed as I began sitting outside regularly was the increase in stimulation. Whether I’m meditating on the beach or on the roof, there’s a consistent stream of wind moving, birds chirping, and waves crashing. This can be overwhelming if you are accustomed to quieter meditation environments, but I find it rather grounding.
There are many different types of meditation, and many lend themselves well to being outside. Whether you’re sitting in formal meditation or doing a walking meditation practice, being outside lends itself to a few practices.
One of the practices I enjoy while sitting in meditation outside is a general open awareness practice. Sitting outside, you can tune into the feelings of the wind, the smells of nature, and the sounds that may arise. Although there may be human-made stimuli, it can be really interesting to observe experience is a more natural setting.
Another practice I really enjoy taking outside is that of walking meditation. I’ve included one below from our 30 Day Meditation Challenge. Walking meditation is a beautiful practice, and taking it to nature can really enhance it in my experience.
Finally, a practice of metta can be great outdoors. When practicing a loving kindness meditation outside, you can work openly with the different forms of life you see. I often sit with eyes closed, and imagine the birds in the trees or the fish in the water as I extend this quality of metta toward the beings.
Ways to Get Outside
Sometimes it seems we have to drag ourselves outside. As part of our practice, we can really dedicate some time to being outdoors. Maybe it’s just a brief walk through a park, or maybe you can find time to make a trip. Go on a hike, put together a camping trip, or get an RV from a camper dealer in PA. Recently, we left our phones for a day and visited the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve for a day in nature together.
As I work in front of a computer, it’s important for me to really make an effort and schedule time outdoors. When I go outside to be in nature, I leave my phone and work behind to try to just be present. One thing I love to do is to take photos. I bring my camera with me, and slowly walk observing the world. This was especially true when I was doing a photography challenge online.
See if you can schedule some time in to actually go outdoors and be where you are. If you can fit little moments of nature in your life, then try that as well. However, many people live in cities or locations where nature isn’t super easy to access. In these cases, it can be helpful to really pick a time out and get away.
If you’re interested in starting a practice but don’t know where to begin, you can reach out to one of our mindfulness coaches to get some help!
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