Rx: Meditate in Nature – Wide open spaces are good for the body and mind.

March 28th, 2016 by

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Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Buddha meditated under the Bodhi tree. He was outside, in nature, when he attained enlightenment – not inside a monastery or palace. Whether you believe the story to be myth or history, people have long known that there is wisdom, serenity, and balance in nature.

The Science of Green

Research, too, shows that green spaces bring benefits to people, more than just being outside. You don’t have to travel miles away from everyone — even your local park can help. A recent study compared walking in an urban park versus walking through urban streets and found participants had lower heart rates, lower anxiety, and greater subjective well-being after just fifteen minutes walking through a park. In another study walkers fitted with mobile EEG sensors were significantly less stressed when they strolled through green space than when they ambled through shopping or commercial districts.

In Japan, walking through the forest is known as shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing”. Research has shown that it improves cortisol levels, heart rate variability, blood pressure, sleeplessness, mood, and other markers of stress. Researchers looked at the components of a forest bathing experience, including sight, smell, sound, and touch, all of which show benefits.

We often meditate indoors. It’s convenient and eliminates some distractions. The outdoor environment is less controlled. There could be traffic noise or kids playing or it might even start raining! While there doesn’t yet seem to be research that directly compares meditating indoors to meditating outdoors, every contemplative tradition includes meditation in nature, in both stories and prescribed practices. Given the evidence-based benefits of both meditation and nature, it stands to reason that we can reap significant benefits by meditating outdoors.

Try Walking Meditation

Any meditation that can be performed indoors can be performed outdoors, as long as you have a suitable space. While you may already be familiar with sitting meditation, the natural world is ideal for walking meditation. Most of the time, we use walking as a means to get somewhere. The hustle and bustle of the street, the hard concrete of sidewalks, our everyday shoes all serve to keep us moving.

A walking meditation, by contrast, has no destination. Wear comfortable shoes, or if the ground is safe go barefoot. Begin by centering yourself. Feel the ground beneath your feet, the air stirring around you, the sunlight or fog on your skin. Keep your gaze softly focused ahead of you. When you begin walking, the pace is not important, but awareness is. Walk at the pace that best allows you to be fully present. Feel the muscles in your hips and legs and feet as you lift each foot and replace it gently on the ground. Just as in sitting meditation, your attention will wander. That’s ok; the value doesn’t come in having perfect concentration, but in continually bringing your attention back to the present moment. Use the feeling of taking your next step to gently anchor your attention into the here and now. Gil Fronsdal of the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood, California notes, “I sometimes find it restful to think of letting my body take me for a walk.”

Realize You Are a Part of the Natural World

When I was working on my Master’s degree in Transpersonal Psychology in Boulder Colorado, our professors took my class into the outdoors for an experiential exercise. Each of us went on our own solitary “walkabout” in the gorgeous foothills of the Rocky Mountains. After a time of walking, sensing, and savoring the beauty and serenity of the natural world, I sat down to meditate among the wildflowers. My experience then is best described as completing a jigsaw puzzle by inserting the last piece that completes the picture. At first it seemed as though the pieces of the surrounding natural environment all fit together perfectly – it was only “I“ that was the last missing piece. I felt separate. However, as I continued to meditate – patiently returning my attention to the immediate experience of the present moment – it felt as though my mental idea of “I” – that concept that separated me from everything else – dissolved. Only then did the last piece of the puzzle find its home in the living experience that surrounded me. All was one. I was no longer separate from nature. I was part of it.

Some Practices to Do Outdoors

Sitting Meditation
Walking Meditation
Yoga
Qigong
Tai Chi

Mindfulness On The Go: Apps and Audio to Facilitate Your Meditation Practice

April 3rd, 2015 by

The technological age is amazing! From apps to podcasts to audio books and videos, everything we need or want to learn is just a Google or YouTube search away. We also have remotes for just about everything to up our convenience factor. With mindfulness having been profiled in both Time magazine and on 60 Minutes, people want to learn how to practice mindfulness (yes, it takes regular practice), and how to make practice more convenient. Dozens of mindfulness apps have emerged in the past few years that include guided meditations, information for beginners, timers, and reminders to become “present” throughout the day. The trick, I’ve discovered, is to find an app that is straightforward yet dynamic enough to facilitate mindfulness practice for both beginning and seasoned meditators without too many distracting bells and whistles. Below are three rock-star mindfulness apps to consider trying, as well as a few other recommendations if apps feel too fussy for you.

Apps

Insight Timer for Android, iPhone, and iPad is my personal favorite! As a meditation timer, it allows you to set your practice time for however long you like. In addition, it has many other features that make it really special. Among these is a selection of beautiful Tibetan bell tones. Select your favorite to not only alert you when your session is over, but also as an “interval timer” to alert you during your session to bring your attention back “to the present” if it has wandered). You can set the duration for your session for as few as 5 minutes up to several hours. You can meditate in silence, or listen to one of eighty guided meditations led by internationally noted teachers (including several of my teachers).

What I love is the app logs the duration and frequency of my practice sessions, and gives me “milestones” that show me the number of accumulated sessions and days practiced. The app rewards you for consistency, and seeing your stars accumulate is great encouragement to continue your practice (not to mention all the quality of life and health benefits you’ll be noticing!)

Another great feature is seeing a real-time world map that displays everyone across the globe meditating with the app. You can also join groups based on mindfulness traditions, location, and interests, or create your own group and invite “friends”. If you want a simple, elegant app that will guide you into the practice of mindfulness, keep you motivated, and connect you with the worldwide community of mindfulness meditators, this is the app for you! Free.  InsightTimer.com

Stop, Breathe, & Think is an app for iPhone and Android offering several basic meditation exercises that vary in length and type, including a mindfulness mediation, loving-kindness meditation, and body scan practice. There is also an emotional awareness component that prompts you to input your emotions and then makes relevant suggestions for meditation practices. Free.  StopBreatheThink.org

The Mindfulness App for iPhone and Android made it on a few Best Mindfulness App lists for 2014 thanks to its no-frills format and dynamic session options. It offers guided meditations spanning anywhere from 3 to 30 minutes as well as silent meditation sessions that the user is alerted to begin by the sound of gentle bells. The user can, of course, set reminders for guided meditation sessions as well, and can even personalize his session. $1.99 Mindapps.se

For those looking for brief, consistent guided meditation sessions, Headspace (on-the-go) is a convenient option. The app provides 10-minute meditation sessions starting with a short body scan and then a guided meditation focusing on the breath. Animated explanations of the inner workings of the mind, as well as mindfulness tips, are included as well as reminders and tracking options. $7.99/month Headspace.com

If apps aren’t your thing, many local libraries offer audio books and e-book downloads. Many mindfulness teachers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Pema Chodron, the Dalai Lama, and Thich Nhat Hahn have wonderful mindfulness books whose audio versions are easy enough to find at your local library or on Amazon.

 

 

 

This Morning Under a Tree

February 3rd, 2013 by

By Madeline Ebelini

This morning I sit in a chair, wrapped in a quilt, under a tree.

Eyes closed.

I feel the weight of my body, the gravitational pull of the Earth, connecting me.

I feel the movement of my belly with the breath, gently pulsing in and out, from within.

A wind chime hanging from the tree softly sounds with the breeze.

A bird calls, and when the breath is very soft and easy,

and the mind is immersed in the present,

dozens of  birds can be heard chattering in the distance.

An occasional “dust devil” arises,

pulling my attention into thinking, remembering, re-living.

Ah . . . . “Feel the whirlwind of this dust devil spinning the mind”.

Witness as it settles and comes to rest.

Then  . . . .the faithful pull of gravity connecting body to chair.

The gently pulsing breath within.

The truth . . . Here. Now.

The warmth of the quilt,

the soft sounds of the chime,

To “let go” into just this . . .

To let go of concepts and pre-made ideas, of push and pull, altogether.

To be just this sitting, this breathing, this hearing, this living.

 

I open my eyes.

The sun, shining through the tree

creates a blanket of soft, dappled light everywhere.

The moment beautiful, tender, and alive.

The murmur of a far away plane passes somewhere overhead.

I wrap the quilt around me and breathe in.

Image: Jim Liestman flickr.com/photos/gods-art

Holiday Mindfulness: Tips for a Season with Less Stress

November 29th, 2011 by

This article originally appeared in the December, 2011 issue of Natural Awakenings, Southwest Florida Edition.

Mindfulness is the skill of paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment on purpose and without judgment. While we’re practicing mindfulness, we engage with life as an interested, curious observer, without any pre-formed views, and opinions about what we’re experiencing. Mindfulness is a skill everyone has, and it can be strengthened through regular formal and informal practice. Here are a few tips for strengthening your mindfulness skills during the holiday season:

More Being, Less Doing

The mindset of constantly rushing to finish one thing, in order to tackle the next thing, is exhausting and stressful. Set an intention to “pause” your activity during the day and to notice your immediate experience. Identify a few special objects around your home, in your car, and in your outdoor space. Make these objects “mindfulness reminders”. When you notice one, let it remind you to stop what you’re doing or thinking so that mind and body can fully experience the next few moments. Notice your surroundings, the smells, the sounds, the textures, the temperature, how you’re your body feels, what you were just thinking. Take a few slow conscious breaths, fully attending to each one. Explore bringing this present-moment focus with you as you proceed about your day.

Listen Up: The holidays often involve engaging with large groups of friends, family, and others we may not know well. It’s challenging and not part of our normal routine. There can be “issues” attached to relational dynamics within families, and these may pre-occupy our attention and how we encounter others. This year, experiment with bringing an open-minded, genuinely curious attention to others. Try being present, alert, and aware when others speak to you, without interrupting. Sometimes, when someone is speaking to us, our habitual tendency is to be preoccupied with our own views and opinions, and with what we will say in response, that we totally miss important information in what they actually said! Notice how others react when they realize you are giving them your full, non-judgmental attention.

Practice Noticing: What would happen if you brought the full attention of your senses and awareness to as many “moments” as possible during this holiday season? What would you notice? The smell of cinnamon and evergreen? The brisk outdoor air? The laughter of people that you love? The soft smoothness of a warm sweater?  Be sure to allow yourself many experiences like this during the holidays, and make it your practice to intentionally build this skill of mindfulness, so it becomes “second nature”. You may find yourself more fully connected with your holiday experiences and your life!

~ Madeline Ebelini

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