Nature Activities For a Break

Storms make trees take deeper roots.  — Dolly Parton

Some of us —particularly first responders, medical personnel, and essential workers— are in the middle of one of the largest storms of our lives; and it may be taking its toll on our mental or physical health.

Relaxing with nature can be restorative and stress reducing. Accessing nature locally might include walking around your neighborhood or gardening. Indoors, you may sit by a live plant, a window with a view of green space or visualize nature images.

Here are a few exercises you can do inside and out, with resources available to you.

Mini meditation session visualizing a favorite nature spot:

  1. Sit comfortable in a quiet place, close your eyes, and breathe normally. Do your best to relax, one breath at a time. Count 10 breath cycles.
  2. Notice how your body feels, feel the weight of your hands, arms, and legs.
  3. Scan your body from head to toe. Notice how each of these areas feels. Keep breathing.
  4. Turn your attention to your thoughts. Do not try to quiet them, but bring awareness to them. Be mindful of how you are feeling.
  5. Think of a time you were in nature; focus on this memory. Turn your thoughts to the temperature—was there a breeze? What were the colors and textures that surrounded you?
  6. Quietly stay in that place; keep breathing.
  7. After a few moments, come back and stand up.
  8. Stay in that mindful state and gently stretch your arms up over your head.
  9. Bring your arms down and touch your toes.
  10. Straighten up and gently wiggle your arms and legs, breathe in and out deeply.

Mini meditation session out a window:

  1. Find a window that you can look out of, preferably on to something green. Even a single tree is beneficial.
  2. Focus on one spot. Place one hand on your chest and take five deep breathes through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Notice how your stomach and chest rise as you breathe in, and lower as you breathe out.
  3. Keeping your hand on your chest, recite this mantra to yourself:
    May I be safe. May I be peaceful. May I be kind.
    May the Earth be safe. May the Earth be peaceful. May the Earth be kind.

Meditate on a leaf:*

  1. Get in a relaxed state, sitting upright, and breathing normally.
  2. Hold a leaf from a tree or an indoor plant.
  3. What is the shape of the leaf? Is it symmetrical or uneven?
  4. Notice the color. Is it the same throughout the leaf or does it change?
  5. Notice the texture. It is soft, smooth, or shiny?
  6. Pay special attention to the pattern of the veins of the leaf. Trace the patterns with your finger. 

*The above exercise can be done with anything you find in nature such as a twig or pinecone.

Release the essential oils from an herb:

  1. Keep a pack of herbs in your refrigerator at work, or in a vase on your desk.
  2. Take one herb leaf and find a quiet spot to sit.
  3. Holding your leaf, close your eyes and take five deep breaths through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth.
  4. Set a timer for one minute.
  5. Close your eyes and rub the leaf under your nose to release the herb’s essential oils. Breathe deeply until the timer goes off.

Take care of a favorite plant:

  1. Go visit that favorite plant of yours. You know, that one in the lobby you notice every morning, or the one that denotes where you turn to enter a different wing of your building, or maybe the one decorating your bathroom.
  2. Bring a damp paper towel with you.
  3. Once you arrive, give the plant a secret name and introduce yourself.
  4. Next, use the wet paper towel to dust off its leaves.
  5. Clear out any dead material and remove any yellow leaves.
  6. Acknowledge the plant’s presence in your life, and return to it on a regular basis.

Mindfulness around the neighborhood, listening to birds:

Take a stroll around your neighborhood. Stop walking after a few minutes and listen. What do you hear? Concentrate on the sounds of the chirping birds. How many different birdcalls do you hear? Look around; are you able to see the birds that are chirping?  Repeat this five times during your walk. 

Mindfulness around the neighborhood, noticing spring:

As you stroll around the neighborhood, search for buds swelling on trees, daffodils, or other bulbs blooming, lawns greening up, and perennials starting to poke up through the ground. Ask yourself, does the air feel warm or cool today? Is there a breeze or is the air calm? What does the air smell like? Take the time to notice subtle changes in your environment as spring unfolds.

Rainbow scavenger hunt:

Walk around and look for a different natural object for each color of the rainbow. Notice how the frequency of different colors changes through the season.

Noticing the trees

Visit a different tree each day on your walk. What made you notice this tree today? Is the tree flowering? Are new leaves budding? What texture is its bark? Why do you think that tree was chosen to be planted in that location?

Collecting natural materials

As you walk around the neighborhood, find and collect one interesting natural object that you find on the ground. Shake loose any moisture or soil. Bring it back to your desk and keep it in a basket or box. As you add materials each day, reflect back on where you found it, why it stood out to you, and how it makes you feel now. When you need a mini-break during your day, these objects can be used as fidgets when you are anxious; creating calm through their grounding properties.

Inside or out, connecting with nature helps reduce stress. Utilize what is around you, whether it be a holding a single leaf or sitting quietly beneath an enormous tree. Reduce stress, anxiety, and relax.