Doctors in some parts of the world prescribe nature to their patients — but we don’t have to wait for a prescription to benefit from all the natural world has to offer.
Mindfulness expert Julie Potiker explains how anyone can practice mindfulness in nature to install positive experiences into the brain and begin conditioning it to experience more peace and joy.
Julie is the author of “Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm In the Midst of Chaos.”
1. Practice staying grounded
You can get grounded any time by focusing on the soles of your feet. Take a walk at a local nature preserve, through a forest, or along a nearby body of water. As your feet hit the ground, send your attention to them. Feel the rhythm of each step. How do your feet feel? Are you they in socks and shoes? Barefoot? Cold or warm? Moist or dry? Focusing on your feet and your steps brings you fully into the present moment, breaking the loop of discursive thoughts that might otherwise take over.
2. Become an observer
Go to a favorite outdoor location where you can immerse yourself in nature. Then, focus on the temperature of the air; feel the breeze where it touches your skin. Notice any smells, and really look at the sights — leaves, flowers, etc. If you are walking, pay attention to how your feet feel hitting the ground, how your legs feel working, how your arms feel swinging at your sides. While you are noticing all these sensations, you are not ruminating.
“As you experience things out in nature that bring you peace, joy, or relaxation,” says Julie, “really take a few minutes to notice that and let it sink in. Let those positive feelings fill up your body, remembering that each time you do that, you are rewiring your brain for more happiness and resilience. That’s experience-dependent neuroplasticity in a nutshell.”
Find yourself a “here and now stone.”
This can be any stone at all that feels good in the palm of your hand. Go out exploring in nature and see if you can discover a stone that you like. Then, feel it, look at it, notice everything about it. Focusing on the stone will break you out of unhelpful thought patterns.