Spring is a wonderful time for us to reconnect with the outdoors. The naturally transitory nature of the season invites us to slowly begin to explore the natural environment around us, to (re)ground and reconnect with ourselves. One of the ways in which we can find such grounding is through one of the simplest acts available to us: breathing. Active and mindful practices, especially that undertaken outdoors, provides an opportunity to truly reconnect with Nature. Undertaken during the spring season, it also invites us to consider ways in which we too can transition and grow.
Breathing is simple. We do it automatically without ever having to think about it. Yet when we engage in mindful, conscious or active breathing, we are providing ourselves with the opportunity to refocus and reset. Like many other embodied activities and experiences, active breathing is seemingly simple to do, whilst providing value and benefits that extends far beyond that exercise or act alone.
Active breathing requires simply that you pay conscious attention to your breath. Begin by simply setting aside a few minutes and observe your breathing. Notice how the breath travels through your body. On the inhalation, note any changes, however minor, that take place. How far does the breath reach? On the exhalation, observe how the release of air affects your body. What parts relax or release tension?
As you engage in the exercise, you can begin to slowly extend and lengthen your breaths. Take time to observe how this slower, deeper breathing impacts you. How does it affect your heart rate? How does it impact upon your mood?
The breath can also serve as a way to help us reconnect with nature and the natural spaces and landscapes all around us. It allows us to tap into the natural rhythms of the environment and to be able to ground ourselves in them.
Breathing with Nature
Undertaking active breathing outdoors adds a further lay of awareness to the exercise and enables us to engage with the experience in a deeper way. When engaging in active breathing outdoors, it can be beneficial to begin by spending a few moments simply listening to the sounds of the environment around you.
Allow your awareness and focus to slowly zone in on your breath. Rather than attempt to force or control it, simply acknowledge it and observe its natural rhythms and flow.
Open your auditory awareness to the sounds all around you. As you inhale, allow the sounds to influence your breath. Maybe they invite you to breath more deeply, slower or even more sharply? On the exhalation, consider your breath being your response, your side of the dialogue, with the environment around you.
Allow your awareness to shift to your skin. What parts of your skin or body are in contact with natural world around you? Are you sitting on grass? Is your hand resting upon a rock? Are your bare feet in contact with sand or water from a river?
On the inhalation, visualise your breath coming from/through the natural object or point of contact. Think of the part of your body that is in contact with the earth as an opening through which you are breathing, connecting and grounding you to the natural object or environment. As before, consider your exhalation as your gift, your side of the exchange or dialogue, being released into nature.
As you engage in these exercises, take note of what happens to your breath. How does the rhythm of the environment affect or alter it? This experience is only one example of the ways in which active breathing can help you to reconnect with a natural environment by allowing you to better sync with its rhythms and develop a dialogue which nurtures you. The experience can be used as a tool for relaxation, focus or as a source of creative inspiration.
Overcoming Barriers to Going Outdoors
Spending time in nature is known to provide lots of benefits. However, there can be barriers to spending time outdoors. From accessibility and mobility issues, to lack of available green spaces nearby, there are times when you may need to find more creative ways to engage with the natural world. At this time of year, hayfever can also be a real hurdle for many people and one of the biggest factors which prevents many from engaging with the outdoors environment.
If going outdoors is not possible for you, consider bringing natural items indoors. Collect leaves, sticks, stones, soil or sand and be in physical contact with the item whilst you engage in active breathing. Another alternative is to sit in your garden, patio or by an open window, closing your eyes and allowing the fresh air to be the connection between you and the natural world. You might also find it inspiring to put on some natural soundscapes, such as the sounds of a woodland, a river, waves on a beach or rain falling. The sounds of natural environments, although not a replacement for the real environment can help you to feel more connected and in touch with nature, even from afar.
This month, we invite you to carve some time to engage in active breathing. Begin with short bursts of time, only up to five minutes and, over the course of the month, try to extend the length of time you engage in the exercise for.
If you’ve never engaged in active breathing before, you can begin indoors. Consider doing it at the start or end of the day, as a way to unwind and focus. Alternatively, you might choose to practice in the middle of the day or during your lunch break, providing you wit h the opportunity to reset, renew and breathe new energy into your body, helping you to approach the rest of the day with a renewed perspective.
When you feel comfortable, take your practice outdoors if you can. Use your breath to connect with nature and observe how this affects your breathing, your natural rhythms, your mood and your sense of belonging to the natural place. You can also explore how different times of the day or weather impact upon this. Use the time to reflect and witness the changing season and consider what influence or inspiration this can provide you with.
As always, we invite you to share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.