#getintothegreen – a reflection on nature by Mindfulness Centre of Excellence Director Dr. Tamara Russell
Anyone who is friends with me FB will know that getting into the green (literally) is my top self care activity. Almost every morning when in London I train in Brockwell Park. Even if the weather is cold and rainy, the benefits of this time in the park are so great, I will still go out. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes!
Whether it’s a hardcore kung fu session, some gentle tai chi or moonlight chi kung, moving mindfully in nature is one of the most efficient ways to recharge body and mind and soul.
There is growing evidence that time in nature is restorative for our attention (especially that all important executive attention) and our well-being. It may be particularly helpful for those with attention deficit difficulties. The UK Charity Mind recently launched a whole campaign around the benefits of nature for our mental health. I can certainly say from my own experience, it helps with all these things and much more.
Even if I don’t feel like moving or formal training, just getting to the park and walking around is already helpful. On days when I may not feel like getting up or out at all (yes those do exist!!) my instruction to myself is “just get to the gate of the park and see how your feel”. Just getting into the green space changes your perspective.
I am lucky to live near this green space. In fact, I am happy to pay crippling rent to live near the park as the value of this space and easy access to is literally priceless. When I get to the gate and walk through it I can feel my whole body change. The muscles soften, the visual attention also softens and broadens. My breath changes, slows down, becomes deeper and longer. In nature, everything opens and widens. This is the antidote to the narrowing of attention that happens when we are stressed or emotionally challenged.
I move my head mindfully from left to right. The sounds and sights of the park draw my attention and invite me to take in a wider view. The smells, of cut grass in the summer, of rain and earth, or the mulching of leaves in autumn enter my nose. I feel gratitude and peace, even in moments of sadness and loss. Just go to the park, just go to the park. Nature captures and captivates our senses, bringing us into the present moment.
When I’m in the park I meet the “park regulars”. Connecting with nature connects us with others. There’s a beautiful woman who plays tambourine as she walks up and down the path nearby one of my training areas. We first met when I was practicing sword and she said “would you like me to play for you as you practice?”. It was an amazing moment of connection with a complete stranger. Parks facilitate this sort of thing. Now we hug when I see her (get that oxytocin going!). She offers me a religious blessing (which is her tradition). It’s not mine, but accept with grace. When I was wounded, she offered me healing for my ankle. It’s these tiny moments that can help us when we are feeling down or alone or in some way distress or upset.
Nature also inspires my creativity. If I am getting stuck with a piece of work, nothing sorts out my brain and mind better than a walk around the park, a meditation in the walled garden or just lying down and staring up at the clouds in the sky (only on sunny warm days for that one). There is no doubt that the space, sights and sounds of the park help my brain to come up with the very best solutions. I can return to my desk with fresh ideas, new perspectives and I have also cared for my body and mind. It’s win-win-win.
If you can’t get to a park, create your own mini park safari by curating some beautiful images of nature and putting them as your screensaver, or taking a break from work to look at natural images. I really love this video…..but you can make your own!