This year made me realize the importance of being outdoors and particularly in contact with nature. This is also that time of the year, I missed the nature retreats and the opportunities they provided to meditate with awareness and mindfulness.
Meditation traditionally has been associated with an indoor activity. However, it was during the training at Bihar School of Yoga, I discovered that it is more natural and beneficial to meditate surrounded by elements. By elements, I mean natural world objects that help with the experience and training of the five senses. Even in the "Yoga Nidra", the practitioner is encouraged to follow the voice of the master and experience the senses that the voice generates with full awareness.
Patanjali in Yoga Sutra mentioned, "The mind can be made steady by bringing it into contact with sense experience.” Nature and its elements such as
the earth, trees, flowers, animals, fresh air, the breeze, in all its glory provides the ideal sense experience to train the mind.
Meditation when done in nature is no longer a rote activity but is rather a living and breathing experience that can help us unlock the mysteries and the key to calm and bliss that continuously resides within us.
Essentials for outdoor nature meditation:
Decide on a setup:Before you start or commit to an outdoor meditation, figure out a setup. A setup is broadly a location, a place that can be peaceful, or a place that evokes a connection to your thoughts such as a favorite nook or corner or a tree shade. A good setup is a place that lets you meditate by listening to the sounds but doesn't distract you. You need not look out for a jungle or forest or a park always. A favorite corner in my small terrace and sometimes the rooftop of the flat also served as an ideal place during this pandemic.
Schedule a comfortable time - I have always found the early mornings before the cacophony of the physical world drowns the sounds of nature to suit my meditation needs. If the weather is kind, even the afternoon and evening sessions can be comfortable depending on the place you are in.
Comfortable clothing: I cannot stress enough, the need for a comfy layer on the body. If the mosquitoes are going to feast on your skin in your chosen setup, the experience can be hardly pleasing. If you are in colder climates, make sure you have warm clothing or a spare shawl. An umbrella, if you expect the rain. Being in India means, cotton layers are what work best for me. I often carry an extra layer such as a stole, dupatta for unpredictable events.
Seating: A cotton mat such as this, or a small seat such as a cushion such as this/bench such as this is a good idea if you intend to spend some time seated in a posture. The slightly raised seated position on a cushion may also help prevent lower extremities from falling asleep.
Miscellaneous: Set a timer, use meditation sounds or props on your phone, zen mode on phone are just some other things that you can experiment with for a truly distraction-free experience.
How to do outdoor nature meditation?
"It is said for meditation, you do not need much. Just sit there, observe your breath and be in the present."
In the nature meditations, we focus our awareness on the experience of nature -- sight, sound, touch, smell (and perhaps even taste). Do not worry, if your mind and thoughts wander, whenever that happens, bring your awareness gently back. There are several different ways that this meditation can be done. Experiment and find what works best for you.
Outdoor Nature Meditation -- Eyes Closed
Find a comfortable position - it can be either sitting or lying down. Begin with a few deep breaths, breathing deep into the belly, to help you relax and to bring you to the sensations of the present moment. Now close your eyes and be present to what is being experienced with your eyes closed. Notice how your body feels, as well as the activity of your mind and emotions. Experience whatever is present without resisting anything or trying to change it. Now bring your awareness to everything that you can experience in your surroundings. Feel the temperature of the air on your skin, the feeling of the breeze and the sun. Notice the sounds around you -- birds, bees, crickets, flowing water. Listen to the symphony of nature. For the rest of the meditation, continue to experience these feelings and sounds.
A variation of this exercise can also involve experiencing and observing nature and its accompanying sensations with a sound of a mantra such as Om or So Hum. Feel the mantra sync with the sounds of nature.
Outdoor Nature Meditation -- Eyes Open
This meditation can be done while sitting, standing, or walking. Time spent in nature can always be a form of meditation when we put our full attention on what is around us -- the earth, trees, flowers, animals, fresh air, the breeze...
To intensify this experience, allow yourself to experience the sights, sounds, and smells without focusing too much on them and becoming mentally involved with them. Simply experience the colors, shape, sounds, movement of the bird, or whatever else you are experiencing. Let it be an experience without meaning and reference to any other experience.
Experience everything with an open awareness, as if you'd never experienced anything like it before. Notice the smallest to the largest creations in the universe.
Outdoor Nature Meditation - Expansion
In this form of meditation, you start visualizing with something small such as an ant and keep on expanding your observation to the surroundings such as ant, an ant in the grass, grass below a tree, a tree standing in a park, park in a city, the city in a state, a state in a country, and so on and then bring it back in the same order as you started.
In a nutshell:
Like any outdoor pursuit, meditation will take practice. When starting, don’t be concerned with the quality of the meditation itself. As long as you feel calmer, happier, and more relaxed at the end of your practice, your meditation was successful.
Making meditation a part of your daily routine means you are more likely to reap the health benefits – mentally and physically. Don’t just give up because you feel like it isn’t working – keep trying, and enjoy the experience and the excuse to slow down and sit outdoors.
Get out there and get lost in your breath, not your thoughts.
I do look forward to practicing in the middle of nature someday soon when this craziness is all over.
Till then, my small balcony is my outdoors and I plan to make the most of it.
Do tell us, how are you doing your meditation these days.
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