Here’s how I did just that a few weeks ago…
It was a glorious June evening at Crickley Hill Nature Reserve. A warm wind blew fluffy cumulus clouds towards the Cotswolds scarp and wispy cirrus painted the sky.
My friend and I were meeting Ian Banyard for a mindful nature walk.
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect – hopefully some kind of feel good factor would be involved – but I was slightly apprehensive because I have CFS/ME. Would I be able to manage the walk? Would it benefit me or exhaust me? How would I feel afterwards?
We set off ambling across open heathland. It was wide and high with the Severn Valley glinting below, the Malvern Hills a brooding ridge on the horizon.
And so many flowers! Purple orchids and vipers bugloss complimented bright yellow birdsfoot trefoils and cowslips, all swaying gently under the evening sun. I stopped a moment and listened. Not moving, not talking, just listening. Listening to the breeze rippling through the meadow.
Ahh… space. Freedom to breathe. In… out… in… out…
We don’t normally notice our breathing because it’s automatic. So when Ian suggested we focus on it as we walked along, I really appreciated the air around me. And this air that we usually take for granted is freely given by nature!
Then, into the wood…
A dark, shadowy tunnel appeared on the path diving into a swaying green canopy. How inviting on a hot evening. It was so cool among the trees as I stepped from the bright heath into the rustling branches. Was I entering an enchanted land? Would I find Tolkien’s ents strolling about? Fairies darting between the leaves?
I could smell dampness and the leaf litter gradually decaying into the dark, loamy soil released a heady, pungent scent. The earth was cool as I ran it through my fingers. And the trees were asking to be touched. Rough bark with bulbous protrusions and deep gouges had to be stroked and cracks weeping with resin needed to be sniffed.
This was a place to choose to breathe.
Another exercise Ian introduced was box breathing. As you breathe in paint the air with a vertical line moving upwards. Hold your breath as you draw horizontally left and as you breathe out make a vertical line going down. Don’t breathe in again until you’ve completed the square with another horizontal line.
This slow breathing process gave me time to reflect and be grateful. On the upward stroke I breathed in oxygen produced by the trees and then was thankful (first horizontal line) because this kept me alive. On the downward stroke I breathed out my waste – carbon dioxide – ready for the trees to use. I had a purpose. I was keeping nature alive! On the last horizontal stroke it was difficult to hold my outbreath. I needed more oxygen. Oh how dependent we are on nature! And what a privilege to be part of it.
Afterwards I felt calm, peaceful and happy to be alive. My stresses had gone and I’d regained a sense of what’s really important – life itself.
We strolled on. Still breathing. And then, turning a corner, what a beautiful scene!
The sinking sun threw shafts of pale gold through the branches transforming the wood into a pool of shimmering light. Bushes and trees turned dazzling green with pockets of warmth constantly moving with the ever-shifting evening. The path glittered, the floor came alive.
I felt alive!
Finally, the most amazing experience! This is what I’d come on another walk for…
Ian led us in another mindful exercise – a solitary walk through the trees to the edge of the wood. Thinking. Feeling. Noticing.
Before, with the group, I was craving some alone time with nature. Although it’s good to be mindful in the presence of others (a shared experience is wonderful and you can learn from one another), at times I found myself embroiled in small talk, ignoring the beauty around me.
So I made the most of this opportunity…
I walked slowly away from the group, leaves and twigs crunching underfoot, trees rustling gently in the breeze.
The birdsong was a harmonious orchestra reaching a crescendo as I approached the edge. The wind grew stronger with every step.
I felt nourished, peaceful and exhilarated all at the same time. What was coming? What would the edge bring? (My hairs are standing on end as I write)
Nearer… lighter… louder and…
There it was.
The most spectacular sunset I’ve ever seen. What a vista! What awesomeness!
The orange glowing sun sent beams of pale gold across the valley to hit me full in the face. The warmth enveloped me as a comforting hug and welcomed me into full life. And the silvery sheen of light playing across the clouds sent a wave of joy and peace straight to my heart.
I was in Heaven.
Isn’t it wonderful how nature – God’s creation – can make you feel like this? All we have to do is get into it and experience it to be healed of our worldly troubles.
Thank you God.
So, what did I think? (You’ve probably guessed by now but here goes…)
This walk far exceeded my expectations:
I learned to tap into my senses more and felt absorbed by the natural world
Noticing my breathing relaxed and calmed me
And that awesome view? I felt alive!
It was a deep, wholesome experience where I was able to engage fully with the natural world and was reminded that I have significance and purpose no matter how small I feel.
The mindful exercises will stay with me to be used wherever I go.
And the CFS/ME?
Yes, I was physically very tired the next day. But I wouldn’t have missed this experience for anything! Mentally I was refreshed, energised. I felt lighter and much more ready to tackle life.
Mindful walking in nature is something I now incorporate into my life. It’s essential to my wellbeing.
So if you want to feel good GET OUTSIDE IN NATURE! Ian’s walks are a great place to start.