Many studies have found that getting outside can improve our health and restore our feelings of connection to nature. Being outdoors in parks, preserves or even your own backyard has overwhelmingly positive benefits, such as promoting better nutritional intake, relaxing the body and giving our busy minds a moment of peace.
If you’ve spent the last year reducing plastic waste and energy use, protecting nearby streams, biking to work and composting, take a moment now to enjoy the fruits of your sustainability efforts! New ideas and big changes are made possible when we spend a little time reflecting on and reconnecting with our amazing natural world.
Here are a few simple ways to easily and mindfully engage with the environment around you.
Take a walk.
Before breakfast, during your lunchbreak or even as the sun sets — strolling can be done at any time of the day and is by far the simplest way to reconnect with nature. By also lowering blood pressure and getting your heart pumping, walking (running, hiking, biking or wheeling) has great health perks, too. Invite your family and friends on your walk or head out alone safely. A meander through the park, a woodland trail or even down the city’s streets can offer an engaging glimpse into the unique living and breathing environment.
As you explore the great outdoors or busy city streets, consider a visit to the Academy to better understand nature and become inspired. Watershed Moment, four projects created for Water Year and supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, provide an interwoven and creative experience that is designed specifically to promote a greater connection with our local waterways and diverse environments.
One of these projects, How to Get to the River, is an outdoor mediative walking adventure developed by New Paradise Laboratories founder Whit MacLaughlin and artistic collaborators Laia and Pete Angevine. It offers a curated route to natural engagement and observation as you explore hidden streams, traverse a micro-watershed and get attuned to the poetic movement of water.
Listen to the world around you.
The river gurgles, the wind rustles and the birds chirp — all of nature around you makes noise. And whether it is a gentle whisper or a loud song, these sounds can be an invitation to easily connect with the natural world. Find a safe spot to stand or sit where you can close your eyes. For a few moments, just listen to the water passing by, the birds chattering or even the wind whistling through the trees.
“All sound affects our bodies deeply,” say artists Annea Lockwood and Liz Phillips as they reflect on their new sound exhibit, The River Feeds Back, at the Academy. “These sounds affect blood pulse rate, blood sugar levels, all sorts of other physical functions. So, these sounds flow through your body and interact with your body deeply.”
While you sit and listen, try to clear your mind. Imagine the source of these sounds flowing through your body and consider how all the elements of nature work together. These small actions can not only help you physically relax, but also help you form a deeper connection to the natural world. When you catch the laughter of some passersby, the turning warning of a nearby bus or the droning of a lawnmower, try to hear them as simply the sounds of a living environment. Remember, plants, animals, people — we are all a part of the world we live in.
Journal your experience.
Being outdoors is not only about looking at cool things — sometimes we discover new personal insights, too. The next time you take a walk to the park or sit in your backyard, consider writing about your thoughts and experiences!
The best thing about journaling is that there is no one right way to do it. Jot down a list of interesting findings or delve into the reactions that the landscape provokes. Keep a garden journal or simply scribble on some scrap paper. As you write, consider recording the time, place and any details about the day: Is it overcast or sunny? Can you hear insects or wildlife nearby? How are you feeling?
Scientists often keep field notebooks where they jot down their observations during an experience. This activity not only bolsters their data collection, but also preserves the experience of that location and moment in time — and it makes for good reading, too!
Watch the clouds.
Find a bit of clean grass, a bench in the park or even a seat near an open window and just look up. Cloud spotting is a simple but wonderful way to engage with nature — and it’s not just for children. Anyone can enjoy the observational practice of engaging with and learning about Earth’s changing sky.
While you watch, you can certainly look for images or shapes in the fluffy white masses and record them in your journal. But you can also use this time to study the colors of the clouds, enjoy the passing of time and take a deep breath.
Consider what makes up clouds — millions of tiny frozen water crystals suspended high up in the atmosphere — and marvel at how spectacular nature can really be.
Sketch the sights.
You don’t need to be an artist to doodle! Grab your notebook or some paper and a pencil and head outside to the local park, garden, nature preserve or even your own porch. Find any plant that strikes your fancy — a blade of grass, a tall oak or a blooming phlox — and sketch out the shape of a single leaf.
Start simple with just the outline. As you draw, consider how you would describe the leaf: is it long and thin or round and oblong? Is there one single leaf on the stem or one stem with many leaves? Are the edges serrated like small teeth or smooth and wavy? Use this moment to study the leaf, taking your time as you draw to capture the moment.
You can do this too with the passing clouds, the nearby waterways or any wildlife you encounter on your visit outdoors. Remember, there is no need to create a perfect picture; it is the experience that is important.
Whether you’re exploring the watershed or watching the clouds go by, getting outdoors fosters a better relationship with the earth and inspires everyone to help understand and protect the natural world.