By Mary Boutieller
Spending time in the great outdoors brings us back into sync with our true selves.
Summer is here in all its fine glory and warmth, and I am doing my best to embrace it all. We may as well embrace it all: the heat, the humidity, the weather, the desire to run to cooler climates, the wish to change what “is” for what is not! A friend often reminds me that my mind/thoughts create my reality, so as I look out the window at the lush green foliage and the clear blue sky, I take in the life around me and feel so grateful to be experiencing another day!
Recently my husband and I hiked about 150 miles on the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut and Massachusetts. It was an amazing trip full of adventure and a variety of experiences. We had cold nights and warm days; we walked through farmers’ fields and climbed over boulders and up steep mountains; we had sunshine and rain and more rain. We saw beautiful vistas, mist-covered forests, and slept in tents, hostels, and motels. In other words, it was awesome and amazing and we were happy to know we could still hike like that.
But as we walked, I gained more than just the knowledge that I could still hike with a backpack and sleep in a tent (trust me, I wasn’t so sure!). You see, many of us spend our days preoccupied with the minute details of our lives, rarely finding time to be quiet with our thoughts. I heard once that over 80 percent of the thoughts we have today are the same exact thoughts that we had yesterday! When we’re busy, we don’t tend to notice the rambling, sometimes intrusive thoughts that keep us out of the present moment and into the conversations of yesterday, the worries of tomorrow. And sometimes, we purposely distract ourselves with our phones, our computers, or the television because being quiet—being in the presence of all those thoughts—can feel squirmy and be disquieting.
So being out in the woods for over two weeks without anything major to distract me—just the pitter-patter of my hiking shoes on the trail, was an interesting study in how much I think about nonsensical things. For the first few days I was nervous about the tent being the only thing separating me from the “world”; I worried about other people coming into the campsites—were they dangerous? I worried about falling and getting hurt and carried those thoughts all the way through to the rescue teams and the helicopter airlift and the inability to contact family…Yet, in the process of walking and breathing and being in nature, my mind and body started to release the stress and fear of the ego bubble. After a few days, I started to really notice the silly, rambling, untrue, not happening “in this moment” thoughts. And then I remembered an article I had read that suggested each time my thoughts wandered, I could say this:
I am here, I am present, I am mindful of this moment.
So I started to practice that little mantra. Each time I became aware of some ridiculous thought flaming False Evidence Appearing Real (fear), I would stop and repeat the mantra. Then I would notice the pitter-patter of my feet on the surface of the trail, I would feel my breath or my muscles or the weight of the pack on my back, and my whole being would settle back down into the present moment. Some days I did this 100 times a day, sometimes just a few…but it worked and it allowed me to have the experience that I was actually having, so that nature could heal what ailed me.
Well into our hike and staying a night in a lodge at Mount Greylock, we were fortunate enough to hear a professor’s talk on “The Forest and Brain Health.” She was researching the effects of spending time in the forest—ideally 120-200 minutes per week—and it’s healing abilities on blood pressure, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and more. She talked about Japan’s “Forest Bathing.” Known as Shinrin-Yoku, the idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way, there are calming, rejuvenating ,and restorative benefits to be achieved. Her talk was informative but also seemed obvious to us. Spending time in nature—the forest, the beach, the windswept mountains, brings us back into sync with our true selves. As we forge new technologies and spend more time in the virtual world of phones, computers, televisions, air conditioning, and comfort, our bodies can’t help but crave the places where we can decompress, discharge, and let go. Alan Watts said this: “You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from an ocean. You are not a stranger here.” Indeed, being out in the woods felt like coming home.
Practicing the mantra above helped me stay present. It opened the door to an awareness of my thoughts and the distractions that come with those thoughts. And each time I allowed those thoughts to dissolve as the clouds overhead moved through the sky, it seemed my whole being aligned with the trees, the stars, the air that I was breathing.
We don’t all have 120 minutes a week to spend in nature, or days just walking in the woods, but we can purposely choose to go outside, maybe kick off our shoes, and walk on the Earth. We can choose to get a little bit uncomfortable—to sweat a little, take off the make-up and the masks, and give our hearts and our minds a little breathing room. As I walked, I reminded myself that “comfort is overrated” because the truth is I would not have become aware of any of this had I not put on a backpack, been willing to get messy and dirty, and left, for a little while, the bubble of my familiar surroundings.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Eleonora Duse: “If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.”
Mary Boutieller is a Registered Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance. She has been teaching yoga since 2005. Her work experience includes 22 years as a firefighter/paramedic and 10 years as a Licensed Massage Therapist. Mary’s knowledge and experience give her a well-rounded understanding of anatomy, alignment, health and movement in the body. She is passionate about the benefits of yoga and the ability to heal at all levels through awareness, compassion, and a willingness to explore. She can be reached at: SimplyogaOm@gmail.com.