Yesterday I managed a run in my local park for the first time in ages. Being around the house all day long means I spend more time sitting down with easy access to my food cupboards! My bathroom scales delivered the necessary wake-up call and what with this wonderful weather, there’s really no excuse, is there?!
So off I went – and it was beautiful. The early morning sun was strong, the light crystal clear and the air smelt fresh and dewy.
The extra pounds on the scales got me out of my chair for sure, but I also know that exercise outdoors does wonders for my emotional wellbeing. Indoors, it’s easy to fall into over-thinking and worrying – missing my “normal life” and all the fun, stimulus and contact with family, friends and colleagues. And it can be hard to turn off all that mental churning when I get into bed at night.
Mindfulness is a great antidote for a spinning mind. It’s a great thing to do outdoors at the moment as Nature is in full throttle – there’s so much of beauty around us. I use a really simple practice where I turn my attention from the inside (my head) to outside (my surroundings).
I switch focus from internal thinking, ruminating, doing, planning, worrying to external noticing and – well, just being. All you do is focus your attention fully on everything around you in your immediate environment, what you can see, hear smell, touch, taste….
On my run there was a lot to take in (how often do we go down the same path or road preoccupied and unaware!) I noticed –
- the trees, the different shades of green, individual branches and unfurling leaves
- the river and how the sunlight glances off its surface
- the bright yellow primroses and white anemones
- the birdsong (so much louder without traffic noise)
- the sudden coolness of the air and the deeper shadows as I passed under the shadow of a huge oak tree
and so much more…
This simple practice trains the mind to be present. After all, when we’re present we can’t be worrying about the future or ruminating on the past.
The nervous system calms, allowing the mind and body to relax and replenish. This not only has physical benefits such as lowering blood pressure, it also improves your mood.
There’s another benefit too. When I wake up at night and my mind starts to spin, I re-create my morning run, recalling everything that I noticed.
And the magic of it is that remembering a happy time is just as beneficial for mind and body as the actual experience. Your imagination is a powerful tool to bring a more calm and equanimity into your life.
Try it for yourself
#1 go for a walk or run or maybe just sit in a natural environment that you enjoy
#2 for 5 minutes (or longer if you can) actively notice everything around you. Become fully aware of sights, colours, shapes, light and shadow, sounds, textures, scents. It can help to imagine that afterwards you have to describe everything in minute detail to someone else
#3 when your attention wanders (as it inevitably will) simply notice that you’ve got distracted and gently re-focus again on your surroundings
#4 notice how lovely it can feel to simply be, fully in the present moment
#5 the next time you feel wound up or unable to sleep at night, recall your experience, re-live the details and re-kindle that sense of calm.
Stay safe and sleep well.