There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in one way or another, causing huge changes to how we live our lives. From working at home to social distancing, we’re adapting to a new kind of lifestyle. Practicing these safety measures is absolutely necessary to slow the spread of the virus and protect each other, but it can make living in the here-and-now frustrating and stressful.
For many Canadians, COVID affects more than just our physical health. Studies show us that stress and isolation caused by the pandemic is causing a spike in mental health issues. Mental health is a huge part of our overall wellbeing, and while we’re taking measures to ensure we stay physically healthy, let’s not forget to take care of our minds too.
Spending time in nature is proven to reduce stress levels, so now is a perfect time to surround yourself with the peace and beauty of our park in the heart of Mississauga. And some simple mindfulness techniques can enhance your next visit to Riverwood and amplify the benefits of being outdoors.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a practice that requires us to be present in the moment while avoiding judgmental thoughts and distractions. We all have the ability to be mindful, but we rarely set aside time to simply be aware of our surroundings and emotions instead of feeling overwhelmed by them. Mindfulness takes practice, and the following techniques that you can utilize at Riverwood can be beneficial whether you’re experienced with mindfulness or new to the concept.
Mindful breathing in the gardens:
Riverwood is home to several beautiful gardens, filled with bright colours, sweet scents, and a sense of calmness. The gardens in front of Chappell House and the MacEwan Terrace Garden are perfect locations to practice mindful breathing – focusing your attention on your breath as you inhale and exhale. Here’s a step-by-step guide to a simple mindful breathing practice from the Greater Good Science Center:
Find a comfortable position to sit. It could be on a bench or on a patch of grass, whatever will help get your body relaxed. Try to keep your back up right and let your hands fall wherever it’s most comfortable. Most people recommend closing your eyes, but if you feel better with your eyes open, that’s totally fine.
Take notice of your body. Notice the weight and position of how you are sitting and take note of the sensations you feel around you from where your sitting. Relax any tension or tightness in your shoulders, jaw, legs, etc.
Now focus on your breath. Keep your breathing natural and relaxed, you decide how deep your breaths are. Concentrate on where your breath is coming from, as it may be in your chest or throat, nostrils or abdomen. Feel the sensations and allow each breath to come one at a time.
While trying to stay focused on your breathing, your mind might start to wander. It’s completely normal to start thinking about other things, but the point of being mindful is to stay in the present moment. When your mind eventually wanders off, simply notice the thoughts without judgment. Say to yourself “thank you for this thought” and let it go. Redirect your attention back to breathing.
Keep breathing and redirecting your mind to the present moment for five to seven minutes.
After a few minutes has past, bring yourself to once again notice your body and the sensations it feels while being seated.
Once you’ve felt ready, slowly open your eyes or take one last deep breath and congratulate yourself on practicing mindfulness! You might feel weird or even silly practicing for the first few times, but keep practicing and you’ll notice how much of difference being mindful in daily life can be.
Mindfulness on the trails:
Having trouble staying still? If sitting meditation isn’t for you, mindful walking is a great, informal practice to try. Not only will this boost your mental wellness, but walking outdoors is a great way to get in some exercise at the same time. Mindful walking brings attention not only to yourself, but also your surroundings. Here’s a step-by-step process from Stop, Breathe & Think to get you started:
Mindful walking involves using all your senses – like sight, hearing, smell – to bring awareness to your surroundings and to stay in the moment.
For this practice, try taking it slow and notice how your body feels with every step you take. Feel the contact of your feet touching the ground as you move forward.
Just like mindful breathing, you want your mind to stay in the moment. If it starts to wander, say to yourself “thank you for this thought” and use the next step you take as an anchor to bring you back to the present.
Use your senses. What details can you see in the outdoors, do you notice any smells or aromas? Keep your mind curious to what’s around you while you’re walking.
Keep your mind open and notice the sensations your body is feeling when you’re mindful walking. Notice any thoughts and feelings that arise and don’t linger on anything in particular.
Combining the mental benefits of mindfulness and being outdoors is a fantastic self-care practice. Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever tried mindfulness outdoors, and if you have any tips for the newbies just starting out. Enjoy your next mindful trip to Riverwood!