Embrace the freedom of the outdoors

23 July 2017 | beando_admin

This week we are celebrating National Parks Week. Across the UK attention is on our 15 unique and wonderful National Parks – the nation’s very own breathing spaces. 

Why is it we feel better when we are outside? Why does walking in the woods charge us with something that feels uplifting, energising and inspiring?

The Japanese have a word for this, shinrin-yoku, the practice of forest bathing. The process of taking a walk through the forest solely for the benefit of one’s health.

Scientific studies have revealed what many poets, artists and writers have known for centuries;  that deep immersion in nature provides a host of physiological and psychological benefits, particularly for people who are suffering with chronic stress and anxiety.

And it’s more than just a change of scenery or routine, there’s also something more fundamental going on.

When we walk through nature, we reconnect. It’s true these places provide us with breathing space. But unlike you and me, the woods, fields, lakes, rivers, the hills and valleys are not concerned with past or future, with labels or concepts, definitions or boundaries. They just are. Still, silent and resting deeply in the heart of the present. We intuitively feel this. Being outside in this moment of stillness opens up perspective so that for a moment or two we are invited to see things more clearly. The woods are a great teacher as Henry D. Thoreau told us:

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, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. So getting outside is vital.

A couple of years ago my son Jake (pictured) and I completed Wainwright’s famous coast to coast walk, from St Bees Head to Robin Hood’s Bay. The journey of 192 miles (probably closer to 200, accounting for getting lost more than once) took us across three national parks: the Lake District National Park, the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the North York Moors National Park. Of course there was a great sense of achievement on completing the walk. But the purpose of course was not the journey, but the-moment-to-moment process of just walking in open landscape, one foot in front of the other, with the face turned towards the horizon. As the Buddha said; ‘when walking, walk’. There is a freedom that comes with being outside, at ease with what is happening in the moment, when mind and body are fully engaged. It’s when we naturally drop limiting words, concepts and thoughts about ourselves and others. Instead we open up to a deeper sense of knowing, a deeper awareness which lies behind thinking. And it’s then that we feel that rejuvenating connection – the oneness of being in nature. 

The benefits of mindful walking

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