How long has it been since you spent a day barefoot, grass beneath your feet?
Aside from it feeling good—and hey, maybe even tickling a little bit—it’s actually doing you good too. According to research, “walking barefoot in the grass can help decrease anxiety and depression by 62 percent.” So, are you loosening your shoelaces yet?
Spending time in nature has long been touted for its benefits. Much like meditation, spending time in nature is also linked to a greater sense of happiness. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t find bliss somewhere within nature—at the beach, the desert, in a forest, a park, a farm, or heck—even a backyard. What wouldn’t be so hard to find though? A person who feels they don’t have enough time to get away, be outside, head to the beach, or spend a weekend camping in the woods. According to research by Project Time Off, in 2014 “41 percent of Americans failed to use a total of 429 million days of paid time off.”
Make the time to get back to what’s important: you. Take a well-deserved mental health day or vacation—guilt-free—and take in the good vibes from nature. For those who find it difficult to sit still and meditate quietly on a cushion, spending time outside may be just the answer to reach a new level of consciousness, a nature-induced meditative state.
Focus: Disconnect From Distraction
Nature has a way of demanding our attention and our focus. It forces us to simplify our thoughts much like meditation does. We focus on what’s right in front of us. We become present. We turn away from our screens, and tune out their never-ending notifications and reminders. In turn, we tune into life in real time and develop a heightened sense of awareness. We simply notice things—the sunshine, the breeze, the sounds, and the smells.
In an article for Travel and Leisure, Sharon Salzberg, a Buddhist meditation teacher, speaks to the importance of quieting the mind and disconnecting from distractions. She notes that when we do, “We can develop—or deepen—our capacity to find stillness of mind and greater awareness. These are skills that, if we keep practicing them, can affect every aspect of our lives.”
At the core of a meditation practice is finding internal focus while the outside word continues to spin around us. Removing yourself from distractions (or setting them aside) is a helpful step in the meditative process, and in life.
Nature also plays a hand in creativity. If you’re feeling a bit stuck, plagued with writer’s block, or feeling generally uninspired, that could be a sign it’s time to head out and reboot. Oftentimes our minds are operating either in overdrive or auto-pilot—caught between moments of mental clutter and mundane routine.
So head outside. Shift your perspective. Much like meditation helps us declutter our minds, so too can time spent in nature. It’s not without reason that so many pieces of literature and artwork reference and have been influenced by nature. It’s a place to go to help quiet the mind, making space for new ideas. Nature is refreshing, enlightening, and uplifting for our mind and spirit. As is meditation. Combine the two for a powerful effect.
Some of the greatest writers and poets—looking at you Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau—sought refuge and inspiration within nature, spending copious amounts of time in the woods. Thoreau, who has been said to have embraced the practice of meditation, wrote about his motivation to spend time immersed in nature in the woods (which, fun fact, happened to be on Emerson’s property!). “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach.”
Getting in your outdoor time doesn’t mean you have to take a week off of work or camp alone in the woods for a month. Find what best suits your schedule and personality. Discover what inspires you the most to get outside. Grow a garden and get your hands and feet in the dirt. Hop in a kayak, go for a hike, bike, or just sit and be beneath a tree. There’s no wrong way to reap the benefits of—and enjoy—nature.
Maggie Peikon is a New York native, writer, and sufferer of insatiable wanderlust. An avid endorphin seeker she has a constant need to be moving, seeking adventure in all she does. She is a lover of travel, daydreaming, fitness, thunderstorms, and her dog, Finley. Despite the fact that she has to take medication daily due to a thyroidectomy, Maggie still believes that laughter will always be the best medicine. Follow her musings on Instagram and Twitter.