I was supposed to travel to Japan next week. I’ve been dreaming of cherry blossoms, onsens and ramen. COVID-19 derailed my plans, as it has for so many of us. Now more than ever I value my close to home opportunities to get outdoors. Even going to the same place allows me to discover new things and tap into the same sense of wonder that comes with traveling afar.
Of course, first and foremost you should adhere to the rules established by the CDC and local authorities.
If you DO have the opportunity to get outside, here’s how to make the most of it through mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques sound so basic and silly, but practice these and even your most frequent walk around the neighborhood will be a restorative adventure! I’ll be using my favorite local spot as an example – Black Run Preserve in Evesham Township, NJ. Pick your favorite trail or find one nearby using the AllTrails App where you can search by distance, and filter for things like length, elevation, attractions (waterfalls, historic sites), and suitability (stroller and wheelchair friendly).
- Pick an easy walk with a well-marked trail. You don’t want to have to spend your time trying to figure out where you are and if you’re headed in the right direction. You also don’t want to push yourself and end up in the hospital diverting resources from other patients. Black Run has a series of trails that all loop around so it’s nearly impossible to get lost and you can choose from a variety of distances.
- Spend some time really looking at your surroundings. Notice the various colors, the way the sunlight hits different parts of landscape, the movement of the clouds overhead. Focusing on what we can see is a great way to begin to deepen our awareness and get into the mindfulness groove. At Black Run, I noticed the water level in the little streams was much lower, I saw new buds emerging, the shimmer of sunlight on the ponds, and a few weeks ago I even saw a raccoon.
- Spend the next few minutes focused on listening. What do you hear? Really listen to the sound of your breath, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the chirp of a bird, the rustle of the trees. Last week I heard a ruckus as I approached the pond and was certain a bunch of unruly kids were up to no good. As I walked along the pond I realized it was frogs! Each call was like a slightly out of tune guitar string being plucked, and the sounds echoed across the pond, but disappeared when I ventured just a few steps away.
- Now, touch things. Heed advice on touching things in these times, and watch out for things like poison ivy, but I love this one if you feel comfortable doing so. Touch the bark of the pine trees, the soft grasses, the rubbery leaves or pointed tips of holly bushes. Walking barefoot in the Pine Barrens is incredible – the pine needles are actually really soft, and in the spring you can feel the coolness of the earth and the way the ground heats up in the sunny spots.
- Next, move onto smelling. Can you smell a nearby campfire? The fragrance of newly blossomed flowers? The stench of standing water? Have you ever actually leaned in to smell the bark of a tree? Or noticed how the scent changes when you’re near water versus surrounded by trees?
- Now, turn inwards. How does your breath feel as you inhale – cool and crisp? Hot and humid? Icy? Do you feel your chest or belly expand? Now breathe out and notice those same things. Think about how your body feels. Does it feel tight in places? Can you loosen up? Relax your forehead or your jaw? How’s your pace? What would it feel like to slow down a little bit? What do you notice as your legs move and your feet hit the ground?
- Go with the flow and do what feels good even if, no – ESPECIALLY IF – it feels ridiculously silly! Social rules and norms are being tested and flexed in these times. Don’t feel shy about singing on your walk, skip or sashay, do some yoga poses, move through some tai chi or qi gong sequences, find a bench and meditate, stretch along the way.
- Take photos to record your journey. Get creative with your camera and see what you can capture!
What’s your close-to home spot to get away?