Have you ever planned a trip for months, prepared for weeks, and packed for days… all for it to be over in the blink of an eye? In the excitement of travel, we can forget to be in the moment. Before we know it, we’re back home, looking through photos and wondering how it went so quickly.
Nature is inherently calming, but our thoughts can take us away from the here and now, even out on the trail. How often have we reached a beautiful overlook, snapped a quick photo, and pressed on? What if we paused just a few moments longer to take it all in?
Fortunately, mindfulness can help us slow down, tune in, and connect more deeply during our time in nature. Mindfulness is, simply put, purposely and intentionally bringing your attention to the present moment.
Here are five ways that you can incorporate mindfulness to make the most of your adventures:
Set an intention.
An intention is more grounded than a wish and less technical than a goal. It’s a quality, feeling, or virtue you want to cultivate and carry with you on your hike and beyond. Setting an intention allows you to reflect on, and align yourself with, what is important to you. Next time you start a hike, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and set an intention. If you notice your mind running rampant throughout the hike, you can return to your intention and say it to yourself as an affirmation or mantra. Some favorite intentions are: to treat myself with patience and kindness, to send love and positivity to someone, to be in the moment, or to release something that is not serving me.
Warm-up and cool down with yoga.
The physical practice of yoga builds strength, flexibility, and balance. Doing a few yoga poses before your hike will warm up your body, loosen your muscles, and increase circulation. Warming up with yoga is also a great way to acknowledge and honor your body, center yourself, and get in the headspace for a mindful hike. After the hike, yoga can help ease your muscles and provide a moment to reconnect with your body after. Incorporating yoga can protect against injury and muscle soreness, enhance performance and enjoyment, and balance your mind and body.
Use your breath.
Few things in life are more grounding than big, deep breaths. Deep breathing oxygenates the body, stimulates the vagus nerve, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The results are reduced stress and anxiety, increased calmness, and lower heart rate and blood pressure. Deep breathing can even release muscle tension and improve stamina on the trail, leaving you less fatigued and winded on those inclines!
One way to use your breath is simply by noticing it - whenever your mind wanders off, bring your attention back to your breath. You can also try different breathing techniques, depending on how you want to feel. Try diaphragmatic breathing, alternate nostril breathing, or box breathing to feel energized, balanced, or calm, respectively. You can also use your breath to inhale your intention and exhale what you want to release. Inhale gratitude, and exhale what is weighing on you. Deep breathing will help keep your mind and body running better all day.
Engage your senses.
At AGC, we love group hiking. But with all the laughter, conversation, and photo opportunities, we can miss a lot. Bringing awareness to our senses can enrich the hiking experience and deepen your connection to your surroundings. A simple technique is to stop during your hike, take a few deep breaths, and notice five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Try out a walking meditation or forest bathing as ways to heighten your senses and tune in to nature. If you are with companions, agree to hike slowly and silently for a certain amount of time. This will allow everyone the space to engage their senses and bring mindfulness to their experience.
Having the resources, skills, and ability to spend time in nature is a tremendous privilege. Practicing gratitude can transform your hiking experience from good to great. Gratitude brings satisfaction, enjoyment of experiences, positive emotions, better sleep, compassion, and physical and mental health benefits. The trail is the perfect place to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Take time to appreciate the things we might take for granted in our daily lives, such as water, food, clean air, and comfort. One way to express gratitude is to learn about and practice sustainable travel. Doing your part to protect the environment is a beautiful expression of gratitude.
About the author:
Haley has been teaching yoga since 2017 and is currently pursuing her advanced 500-hour yoga teacher certification. A nomad at heart, she spent years traveling the world absorbing experiences, cultures, and food - and teaching and practicing yoga! She is thrilled to share her love of yoga, travel, and the outdoors as a guide for AGC.