A mindful outdoor experience is an opportunity to connect more deeply with ourselves, the land, and one another. It starts by bringing our awareness to place, body and self.
We continue through mindfully walking in silence. We will not be going on a hike, but we will be walking slowly along the earth. Upon finding a resting spot, we will focus on a pure sensory meditation experience. When you connect to nature through your senses, you access nature’s unique benefits.
Lastly, we gather to listen and share our observations, thoughts, or feelings about our experience. While participating in a MOE, you realize this experience is so much more than a hike, or even meditation. The felt sense of connection with this planet and the living beings within it can be a deeply enriching spiritual experience, an effective method of stress-reduction, and simply an excuse to get outside (as if you needed one).
The Science and the Benefits
As many health professionals are beginning to highlight, stress-related issues have become an epidemic (World Health Organization) and the number one killer of Americans (CDC) over the course of the 21st century. Different than pre-industrial revolution, many of our stressors and “threats” are created by societal norms, unrealistic expectations, needs for perfection, and an unhealthy enmeshment with instant gratification and constant validation. Though initially designed to make life more convenient, modern technologies have seemed to hinder as much as aid, leaving us with only the illusion of connection. Instead, we remain at arms length (or screen’s length) of the world outside our walls. Additionally, our disconnect from the natural world and the multitude of life within it, has led us to a greater desensitization toward the ways we negatively impact it.
When we are chronically stressed, we are more susceptible to automatic reactions, increased cortisol levels, decreased digestion, and a spectrum of physiological and psychological issues. Over time, chronic stress changes our baseline operation, keeping our Sympathetic Nervous System more active than it needs to be. What does this mean? We are more likely to interpret something as a threat, because we’re looking for one. When we interpret a threat, our stress response is activated (fight, flight, freeze, submit). When we later realize our reactions were incongruent with the situation, we may experience shame, guilt, anxiety; more stress.
The benefits and impact to our health from being in nature, specifically in forested areas, has been researched at length in Asia over the past decade, primarily through the Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku, or forest therapy. Trees release phytoncides that, when taken in by humans, are believed to increase production and function of Natural Killer Cells in our bodies (Li, 2010). Research has shown many benefits to spending time in nature, including:
- boosts in immune system functioning (Li, Kobayashi, Kawakda, 2008)
- increased attention and productivity (Song, Ikei, Miyazaki, 2016) (Louv 2006)
- increased parasympathetic nervous system activity, meaning improved ability to reduce stress
- decreased depressive symptoms (Terman et al., 1998; Geol et al., 2005)
- decreases in heart rate and blood pressure (Song, Ikei, Miyazaki, 2016)
- decreased stress and cortisol (Song, Ikei, Miyazaki, 2016)
- decreases in symptoms of anxiety (Ikei, et al, 2014)
- anti-diabetic properties
We came from nature; therefore, it makes sense that we are connected to it, and benefit from that connection. Richard Louv (2006) proposes that much of modern human suffering or disorders is associated with removing an animal (humans) from its natural habitat (outdoors). In the U.S., people spend approximately 90% of their lives indoors and about 11 hours per day on a screen – 77 hours per week. To add perspective, 40-80 hours per week online was determined by the CDC in the late 90s to be indicative of an internet addiction. Recent studies show that children in the USA are spending, on average, 8 hours per day on media outside of school. Additionally, 2.6 million children are believed to experience anxiety or depression in the United States (CDC). One study showed that 75% of children in the UK spend less time outside than prison inmates.
You may notice your body’s stress response kicking in simply by reading these statistics and findings; however, all is not lost. An awakening is emerging toward recognizing and pursuing our natural connection to the earth and life within it. Studies in the UK have shown that spending just 2 hours per week in nature is correlated with statistically significant boosts in physical and psychological health. Even gazing out of a window viewing green space is shown to have benefits in our relationship to stress.
Mindful Outdoor Experiences will be guided in various settings, including urban parks, nature preserves. You do not need to be an experienced hiker or outdoors expert to benefit. All that is required is curiosity and enough physical capability to walk on trails. MOEs range in duration from 1 – 3 hours, or weekend-long overnight retreats. Details about the gear needed during overnight trips will be provided on specific event pages. There will be no need to purchase expensive equipment. For the MOEs, you just need comfortable walking shoes and water. You may even be tempted to take your shoes off to truly feel your connection with the earth beneath you.