During the colder and wetter seasons, it’s important that we are aware of the many hazards which can befall us as we continue to make use of and enjoy natural outdoor spaces. Yet, in the spirit of resetting our attitudes towards different types of weather, what if we view these obstacles, not as reasons to avoid the outdoors, but instead turn them into something playful and open to possibility and exploration?
It’s expected that natural outdoor spaces come with some hazards, whatever season it may be. However, during the cold and wet winter months, these hazards can be amplified. One of the most obvious hazards, is the increased possibility of slips, trips and falls, especially resulting from wet weather conditions.
There may also be hazards which become hidden from view. Tree roots may be hidden under fallen leaves or a muddy puddle may actually turn out to be much deeper than anticipated. There may also be fallen tree branches or broken twigs which swing around dangerously in windy weather.
Then there’s the cold weather itself. From lower temperatures, to wind, rain and even snow and ice. These can lead to some dangerous conditions, including black ice on paths which can cause accidents and injury. Very cold temperatures can lead to a drop in your body temperature and make you feel unwell. The decreasing light can also make it harder to see clearly, especially in wooded areas.
However, whilst it’s important to be observant and aware of the potential dangers that the outdoors can pose during these months, there are steps we can take to ensure that we can still enjoy all the benefits nature has to offer us. Rather than dreading or fearing a wintry walk, we can instead take precautions to keep us safe and allow ourselves to engage in exploration and fun.
Safeguard Against Hazards
In the first instance, you should ensure that you are properly equipped with appropriate attire. This includes wearing warm clothes, preferably layers which you can remove if you start to get too hot. You should also make sure that you protect your head, ears, feet and hands to prevent heat leaving your body and making you feel cold.
Ensure you are always prepared with a hat, scarf, gloves and appropriate footwear. Thick socks are a great way for keeping your feet dry, warm and comfortable. Wearing a good pair of shoes is also essential, especially if you’re going to be out walking regularly. Consider investing in a pair of walking boots or shoes which have good treads to prevent slips and falls. If you’re going to be out during sunset or in the dark, make sure that you have clothing with reflective strips so you can be seen, as well as a torch to help you see clearly.
If you have sensitive skin, make sure that you apply a moisturiser to your skin to keep it hydrated and prevent your skin from cracking in the cold or wind. Similarly, if it’s a bright, sunny day, consider applying sun cream.
Although you might immediately think about sweating during the winter months, if you’re engaging in a high energy activity, such as running or hiking (especially if you’re carrying a heavy backpack), you may well start to sweat and get hot under your many layers. For this reason, it’s important to keep well hydrated and to drink plenty of fluids. Make sure that you have drunk plenty of water before leaving and upon your return, consider having a warm drink to not only replenish your fluids, but to also help you warm up.
Finally, slow down. Many hazards can be avoided if we are observant and paying attention. Be attentive and take your time as you explore the outdoors.
With all our preparation, the only thing preventing us from fully enjoying and embracing the outdoors is ourselves. Our mentality and attitude towards it will define whether our time outdoors is an experience which we find refreshing, exciting and enjoyable and therefore want to engage in again, or one which we dread and hope to avoid. Given the many benefits that spending time outdoors can offer to our physical and mental wellbeing, we should seek to make the experience as positive as possible.
Rather than fight against these wintry conditions, embrace them. Challenge yourself not to view the hazards as an obstacle, but instead as a tool which you can use to help you rediscover familiar settings.
Keeping safe, take your time and slow down. Open your awareness, to the natural environment. In your slowness, allow yourself to explore the sounds, smells and textures that greet you. Rather than walk against the wind, can you allow yourself to be moved by it instead? If the ground is slippery, can you find a new way to move? Instead of viewing a fallen branch as an obstacle, can you seize the opportunity to explore how it got there, to investigate the texture of it, to explore what life may be springing up beneath it?
Give yourself permission to let your inner child take charge. Rather than create a predetermined route or journey, can you relinquish control and simply allow yourself to encounter the natural space as you find it? Can you move with the weather, with the conditions, and in dialogue and collaboration, explore those aspects which trigger your curiosity? Can you embrace tactile ways of exploring and being?
This week, we invite you to embrace your inner child and allow him/her to guide you. Taking all necessary precautions, take a walk in your favourite outdoor area.
Slow down. Start with some opening breathing exercises, allowing your awareness to gradually shift from your inner self to the external environment. Follow your breath as it connects you to the natural world around you. Take time to simply experience the space in its current state.
Without predetermining your end point, give yourself permission to play. Explore the tiny details. Allow yourself to marvel at the wonders of the natural environment. Be curious and explore what lies beneath your feet. Find yourself moving in new and unexpected ways.
Above all, play and enjoy the experience. In so doing, you not only create an opportunity to find a different way of experiencing the outdoors, but also a different and refreshing way of being, which you can take with you into any space.