Growing up in Manhattan in New York City I realized the power of getting outside with nature. Central Park, Carl Schurz Park (where Gracie Mansion is and the Mayor of NYC usually resides) and even the garden on the roof of my 5 sto ry walk up apartment building were my getaways. After visiting any of those places I would feel revitalized. Now living in ups tate, NY nature is all around me and I am very grateful I need to ju st look out my window to be amazed by the b eautiful mountains and trees. I never quite knew WHY I felt better after visiting these places but as I have learned the last 18 months -- nature is one of the easiest places to feel at peace, be still and connect with the world as a whole. Even if you are ill there are ways to connect with nature that will enliven you. Nature can heal and relax you in so many ways -- here are 10 of my favorite ways to connect with nature.
1) Walking Whether alone or walking a dog, walking is great for you and gives you time to be quiet and let your mind wander. I have written about walking and what it means to me previously. Growing up a city girl I loved to walk and it was typical to walk several miles in one day without even thinking about it. Now that I am in a suburban/rural area I have to become more conscious that I am getting my walking in. I am lucky enough to live by a park that I can walk to and use for long walks either in the woods or in the big open fields. If you are ill, walking may seem difficult but even a short walk down your block/road or driveway and back will get your heart pumping and will let you experience different scenery. I was fortunate when I was ill that I did have to get out every day to take my kids to school, do errands, etc. even though many days I just wanted to stay in bed. I know when you are in chronic pain and ill -- the house can seem like a prison. Getting out and breathing fresh air is healing and will change your mood and inspire you. Walking can be very meditative when you are alone if you are able to stay in the moment and just take in your surroundings. I also greatly enjoy walks with friends or my family as a way to connect with them.
There are so many wonderful exercises to do outside. Take advantage of the nice weather and explore an activity or sport you have been interested in. I took up cross country skiing when I knew I would be living in a climate that is cold 6 months out of the year. My son takes tennis lessons (free via our wonderful recreation center) in the summer. We have a pool that we are in quite often. My husband was a spring board diver through high school and college and coached diving afterwards. Get a friend interested in doing something with you -- jog, shoot basketball hoops at a local park -- anything but get out and work up a sweat in the great outdoo rs! Even throwing a Frisbee will get your heart rate up and bring a smile to your face.
I was brought up in NYC where I had the least green thumb of any one I knew. If a plant or flowers were brought into my apartment -- I felt it was being given a death sentence. Now, understanding my self ta lk better -- I realize a lot of that came from me saying to myself "I can't grow anything". When you state something repeatedly and believe it -- it usually will come true! When we moved upstate I told myself I would learn how to garden. While I am no Martha Stewart I am quite happy to sa y my perennial garden is very substantial and I am grateful I even know what a perennial garden is! I am learning more every year about growing vegetables and herbs and it is my hope this year to go to my garden when I need a salad for all the ingredients. When my hands are in the dirt during gardening I feel transp orted and very relaxed. Not to mention it can be a heck of a workout -- pu lling weeds, digging holes, pushing a wheelbarrow around, squatting, raking and watering can all make those muscles burn. If you live in a city you can maintain plants and herbs in your house or volunteer to help out at a community garden. YES - I GREW these sunflowers -- I would have never thought it possible! ;-)
4) Sit Under a Tree, in the Grass or near flowers and JUST BE
It is meditative to just sit and be with nature. Included in the incredible webinar course offered by Oprah and Eckhart Tolle on his book " A New Earth " are worksheets that accompany every chapter's lessons. I would like to include an activity from the worksheet for Chapter One for you to try.
"Spend some time in the presence of something you consider beautiful—a flower, a gem, a piece of artwork, etc. As you look at the object, try to see it without naming it mentally. When we appreciate beauty in this manner, a window opens into the formless, and into a state of gratitude. See if you can experience that and write about your experiences."
5) Read or Listen to Music Outside
When I ran my desktop publishing business in NYC I was lucky enough to set my own hours. I would wake up at 6AM and work until 11AM. I would then walk to Central Park (5 blocks from my apt.) and relax from 11:15-1:15 and then return home refreshed to put in a another few hours of work. Sometimes I would people watch but mostly I would read, listen to my discman (no IPODs then) and rejuvenate myself. I would let go of the work I had done and not think about the work I was going back to. I continue to enjoy occasional walks with my IPOD and reading outside on my back deck where I can feel the sun on my face and listen to the birds in the background.
6) Be Near or in W at er
Whether it is swimming, kayaking (my favorite), canoing or just sitting on a beach or by a lake ... water has a soothing aspect to it. I mentioned Carl Schurz Park before and one of the reasons it was my favorite park was it was by the East River. No, not the prettiest of rivers but it was calming to sit on a bench and look out at the water and think or just take myself out of the hustle and bustle that accompanies living in NYC. It was the closest getaway from my house and I spent many teenage angst years there contemplating life. When I had my first official date with my husband I took him there and it changed the way he looked at NYC. He subsequ ently proposed to me by the East River which was the best place he could have picked!
For years my husband and I celebrated "date night". Each week we would get out of the house and go out to eat, go meet up with friends or go for a walk. My fondest memories are just packing some sandwiches and some water and having a picnic dinner somewhere. My kids absolutely LOVE picnics and willingly will pack lots of food and snacks in a backpack to bring to a park to sit and eat. Something about eating outside on a picnic blanket makes us smile. Treat yourself if you don't want to pack up the whole family... pack a few healthy snacks and some water and a blanket or one of the wonderful, reusable Neat Sheets and be outside and enjoy your next meal.
8) Meet Up with a Friend(s)
Just sitting outside and noticing the world around you with a friend or friends brings new topics to mind and gives you a new kind of energy than just sitting in the house. Agree to meet up with a friend at a local park or if you have a backyard meet up there to relax together. In the summer time we entertain a lot and whether it is by the pool, by the fire or just sitting around in some chairs -- it is always a lot of fun and being outside brings a new dimension to "hanging out". My good friend Angela at my local park -- she is my most frequent walking buddy and we have shared many great talks walking at this park.
9) Go to a Playground and Swing on the Swings
Yes you might have to go after hours to ensure not getting the children too upset. ;-) But swinging on a swing can be freeing and fun. The pumping of your legs as the movement takes you higher is liberating and I can never imagine being sad while swinging in a swing.
10) Go to an Open Field or Top of a Tall Building
The park near my house was an airplane field so when I am in it I can look up and see mountains all around me and realize just how small I am in the scheme of things. The same is true when you go to a tall building and look down and all the people, vehicles and other smaller buildings. You can accomplish the same thing by looking up at the stars at night. When you realize just how vast this Universe is, even your "biggest problem" can shrink down to miniature status.
These are ten of my favorite ways to enjoy nature. Being outside (even if you are ill) has healing qualities, the sun's Vitamin D and the feel of fresh air in your lungs.... Being with nature has helped some of my "grandest dilemmas" shrink away to nothing. Try some of these outdoor activities and feel, enjoy and be grateful for nature's soothing and healing qualities.