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

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

How to Work with Sadness

March 28th, 2012 by

Sadness, grief, despair, and fear are probably some of the most difficult emotions to work with in meditation practice. We avoid feeling them, which can cause them to be entrenched – forever trying to work themselves out through repetitive behavior patterns in our life, or expressing themselves through bodily symptoms. Not good.  I found a very thorough and, I believe, wise method for learning from, and transmuting, these difficult emotions in this article by author and psychotherapist Miriam Greenspan. I realized that the process she describes parallels my own path of working with sadness. Please let me know your thoughts. Are you dealing with strong emotions?

Meditation: A Compass and a Path

March 27th, 2012 by

” . . . if I meditate — that’s like preparation for the rest of my day — it’s a self education and one that you want to renew everyday…I sit to anchor and organize my life around my heart and mind, and to radiate out to others what I find.”A fascinating DailyGood interview with psychiatrist and meditation teacher Paul R. Fleischman.

Mindfulness & Connection: Key Components of Your Best Life

March 17th, 2012 by

During my graduate studies in Transpersonal Psychology I became intrigued with the idea of human connection and mindfulness as catalysts for healing and transformation. Something about today’s world of divisiveness and separation seemed fundamentally inconsistent with my own understanding of psychological health.  I wanted to find out just what are the key elements of healthy psychological development. I was surprised to learn that prior to the 1970’s, when women entered the field of psychological research, the primary model of psychological health was based exclusively on research involving only male subjects. As a result, attributes like autonomy, separation, and competition were assumed to be qualities of healthy psychological development, while the urge for connection and relationship (typical of the female experience) was seen as inferior and unhealthy.

Enter the Healing Power of Connection

In the 1970’s, when women entered the field of psychological research, this old and incomplete model was shown to be in error, and a new model of psychological well-being emerged. This new model, based on decades of current research involving male and female subjects, shows that the urge to connect is our essential human drive – not autonomy and separation. Growth-fostering relationships, those involving active participation in the development of others, are now understood to be the primary vehicle for psychological wellness. It’s easy to see how all of us – men, women, boys and girls – have suffered under the mistaken assumptions of the old model. In fact, it seems to me our world as a whole is suffering from a failure to comprehend the critical importance of connection, interdependence, and the healing power found in a network of relationships.

Mindfulness Opens the Door to Connection

The practice of mindfulness, which is the cultivation of our natural human skill for non-judgmental present moment awareness, is emerging from its ancient roots as a healing and wholesome way to live. Health-care, personal fitness, and wellness models are beginning to incorporate a holistic mind-body-spirit perspective in the services they offer for the prevention and treatment of disease, and mindfulness is the central feature. Unlike the “find it and fix it” healthcare model currently in existence, the new integrative model of healthcare, as practiced at many major academic medical centers, reflects elements of relationship, communication, spirituality, mindfulness, wholeness, nutrition, life meaning and purpose, personal development, and the mind-body connection. These elements correspond to what appears to be the public’s increased demand for holistic treatment, the trends toward a unified approach toward life, health, and personal/spiritual growth, and hopefully an indication of a larger pattern being reflected in the world at large.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week educational program, taught throughout the US and worldwide, which originated in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and was initially developed as a way to teach mindfulness practices to patients with chronic pain. During the thirty years since, this intensive program in mindfulness has been the subject of extensive research demonstrating significant benefits for people with chronic pain, anxiety, panic, psoriasis, prostate cancer, immune function, hot flashes, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure, diabetes, and psychological distress. The number of scholarly studies on mindfulness has increased dramatically in the past 10 years. Recent studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between mindfulness and emotional well-being, improvements in sleep quality, mood, and fatigue.

                  In my experience as a teacher of MBSR, I’ve observed that as practitioners develop the qualities of mindfulness  through meditative practice, they typically experience a decline in their reactivity to stress, and an improvement in their attentive communication skills. These developments are ideal catalysts for the creation and improvement of relationships. The qualities of mindfulness, which MBSR practitioners learn to cultivate, include trust, patience, acceptance, non-judgment, non-striving, letting go, and curiosity. Mindfulness practice initiates a ripple effect  – from the practitioner outward toward others. This ripple effect has a scientific basis which has gained attention in the fields of psychology and organizational management in the last decade. Known as limbic resonance, researchers in this field are examining the interrelationship between the activity of the brain’s limbic system, the non-verbal transmission of emotion, feelings of empathy and relatedness, and the methods by which we, as human beings, become attuned to the inner states of others with whom we are in close contact.

I’ve seen first hand  how the ripple effect transmits these qualities from practitioners  to others, and weaves a web of healthy connections. It is this web that supports the conditions for healing, growth, mutual support, engagement, and transformation. This, combined with the extensive body of research demonstrating the importance of social connections for health and longevity, demonstrates the immense value of mindfulness practice for our health and well-being.

References: 

Gilligan, C. (1982/1993). In a different voice. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gilligan, C. (1995). Hearing the difference: Theorizing connection. Hypatia, 10(2).

Miller, J. B., & Stiver, I. P. (1997). The healing connection: How women form connections in both therapy and in life. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Step Number One: Love That Which You Are

February 16th, 2012 by

In my work as a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) educator, I meet people for whom stress has taken the upper hand in their lives. One of the things we discover as we learn how to meditate and observe our thoughts and emotions is that everything we say, and do, and feel is connected to other things. Often at the root of the stress vortex is not just a lack of self love, but a harsh and judgmental narrative that throttles the self regularly. You are connected to everything around you. If your interior landscape is habitually harsh and critical, your outer landscape will reflect the same quality. It’s like a law of nature. Many of the new students that I meet are plagued by a harsh inner critic. The most important thing you can do to transform your life is to start a new habit of treating yourself with kindness. Make it a practice and watch how things begin to change. Here is a great little article by Wendy Strgar that explains how and why kindness to yourself is so fundamental.

How to Create Harmony With Your Intentions – Meditate!

December 28th, 2011 by

When we consciously grow into our human potential, our world reflects it! You’ll love this short piece by Deepak Chopra!

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

Deep Wisdom: The Marriage of Science and Spirituality by Gregg Braden

October 28th, 2011 by

Gregg Braden is a New York Times best-selling author, a former Senior Computer Systems Designer for Martin Marietta Aerospace, former Computer Geologist for Phillips Petroleum, and the first Technical Operations Manager for Cisco Systems. For over 25 years he has searched high mountain villages, remote monasteries, and forgotten texts to bridge their life-giving secrets with the best science of today. He is the author of Deep Truth: Igniting the Memory of Our Origin, History, Destiny and Fate (October 15, 2011).

Read more: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/deep-wisdom-the-marriage-of-science-and-spirituality.html#ixzz1c6MW7K56

 

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