Connecting to nature

Connecting to the cyclical nature of time through mandalas.

For the past few years, colouring pre-designed mandalas either using templates from colouring-in books or downloaded from the internet, has been hugely popular and has inspired many people to colour-in as a way of enjoying some mindful quiet time. Colouring-in is another way of promoting focus and concentration, encouraging the “here and now” and colouring mandalas is a great meditative experience for people of any age. Colouring mandalas helps you to slow down and reconnect to the cyclical nature of time, the rhythms of nature and the reality of change.

The world “mandala” is Sanskrit for circle, completion or sacred centre and for centuries Hindus and Buddhists have used mandalas as an aid for meditation.   Even in Western cultures, colouring mandalas has been used as a stress management and meditation tool. Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) a Swiss psychoanalyst was fascinated by mandalas as he found out that by colouring and drawing mandalas he could access the images and energy of his own unconscious mind.  He then decided to use this art form in his practice with his patients, to facilitate their process of inner reflection.

In its simplest form a mandala is a geometric pattern that is said to represent the universe.   The mandala represents a circle, the primal form of the universe and if you look carefully you can see mandala patterns everywhere.  Take a look in your garden, notice the patterns in the plants growing there.  Glance at the night sky, notice the moon (and the sun) are circular.  Our earth is round and looking microscopically at atoms and cells you will notice they also take on a rounded form.  Have you ever seen the cross section of tree trunks, really looked at flowers and even snowflakes if you are lucky enough to see enjoy an annual snow fall (we love the snow in this house).   All these things I have mentioned, have geometric patterns.  Next time you are out walking and there is water around, drop a pebble in the water and see how the circular water patterns naturally move from the centre outwards. When looking around us in nature, everything starts from a “growth point” and grows or moves outwards. Modern physics and mathematicians believe that everything has a “centre” or point from which everything emanates.  The Hindus call this point a “bindu”, which is a sacred point.

Today, find some time to be outside and see how many mandala patterns you can see in nature.

Contact me here to find out about developing your own meditation practice and learning how to facilitate mindfulness in children and teenagers.

 

Connecting to nature

Cultivating an appreciation of life around us with mindful walking.

How often do you enjoy a country amble or a saunter along the beach?   Have you ever tried walking mindfully and really noticing how you feel when you walk, or noticed the environment around you?   When I think of mindful walking, I think of walking very slowly and paying attention to my breath and how my muscles feel in my body as I move through the movement of putting one step in front of the other, completely immersed in the art of “how I feel when I walk”.  You can extend this awareness to feeling the ground beneath your feet, you might also notice the breeze on your skin and some sounds in the local vicinity.

If you wish to practice a more formal form of mindful walking which involves walking slowly with awareness.  Then follow these steps below. After these steps, we shall look at simple ways to introduce mindful walking to younger family members.

  1. Start by becoming aware of how you are standing and aim to stand up straight with your back upright but not stiff.
  2. Ideally take your shoes off and feel your feet touching the ground and let your body weight distribute through your feet evenly.
  3. Before you start walking and to prevent your swinging arms from becoming a distraction, you can curl the thumb of your left hand into your palm and wrap your other fingers around it. Then place this “fist” on your abdomen just above your tummy button.   Place your right hand over and around the left hand.  You can place your right hand thumb in the space created by your left hand thumb and your index finger.  You should feel well balanced.   Try it and see if it works for you.
  4. To help you focus, drop your eyes slightly towards the ground just in front of you.
  5. Start  walking.  Feel your foot swing forward and feel your heel touch the ground, followed quickly the by the ball of your foot and finally your toes.  Keep moving forward in this way, one foot at a time.
  6. Walk at a steady pace and ensure it is slightly slower than your normal walking pace.  If you become distracted bring your awareness to each foot individually touching the ground and how that feels for you.

However, if you are going to introduce your children to mindful walking, you need to view your walk as an opportunity to walk a bit slower than normal and the chance to take note of everything going on around them – including how they feel.  Children, especially young ones will not embrace a slow more formal form of mindful walking.

As parents I am sure you can identify with the overwhelm of spending quite a bit of your time dashing from one place to another dragging your kids along with you.  Think about how often you collect the kids from school, race home quickly to fetch something, dash off to one of your children’s activities, dash home to quickly make dinner, race back to the venue to collect your child and possibly a second venue to collect your other child.   Most of this might be done with a  car, but you could also be walking or running!

This weekend, slow down and encourage your children to notice life around them.  Take a child friendly mindful walk, ideally somewhere in or near nature like a park, forest, field or if you are lucky enough to live near the sea, walk on the beach.

If you can, take off your shoes and feel the ground beneath your feet. If you can walk along the beach notice the grains of sand.  If you are walking on the grass, feel the grass between your toes. Notice the temperatures and textures of the ground beneath you. Extend your awareness and look at the texture of the ground, hear the sound of your footsteps as you walk and notice any smells in the air.  Feel the temperature of the air around you on your skin.  What do you see?  Cats, dogs, leaves, trees, flowers…litter? In colder countries if you are walking with your shoes on, notice how your feet are feeling inside you shoes. Reflect on how your body feels as you walk.  Do your muscles feel stiff, or is your body feeling fluid? Is your breathing deep or shallow?

To inspire children, you could introduce the game “I spy”.  For example, I spy something orange and crispy to the touch….. autumn leaves. Doing this makes a mindful walk a bit more fun and interactive for younger children and teaches them to pay attention to the world around them… without them even realising that you are cultivating within them an interest in slowing down to become more mindful.

The benefits of mindful walking are many.   By bringing more calm, clarity and connection into daily life, you will enjoy heightened awareness of yourself and life around you, better concentration (good for school and work) and enjoy an overall feeling of calm and peace, which is often missing in our lives.    If you are keen to develop your own meditation practice, mindful walking can enhance your practice, increase your mindfulness reducing your anxiety and stress levels and  lead to increased feelings of contentment and joy.

Contact me here to find out about developing your own meditation practice and learning how to facilitate mindfulness in children and teenagers.

 

 

Connecting to nature, mindfulness, stress management

Mindfulness and the anxious child.

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychological problems among children of all ages. Anxiety triggers the psychological and physiological fear response even when a child is in a safe situation and this is where chronic anxiety becomes problematic. Taking time out in nature is one way to help reduce anxiety and encourage children to re-connect with nature.

If a child is constantly feeling anxious, the body is constantly releasing adrenaline and cortisol to counter the effects of heightened adrenaline. 

The body eventually becomes used to this heightened feeling of unease and this becomes a new set point – a new normal.   Learning to be more mindful helps increase awareness of the thoughts and bodily sensations that are part and parcel of this mental fear.  The benefit of this, is that we can learn to recognise when we are feeling fear over an event or situation which does not need to be feared, before the fear really takes a hold and we are totally caught up in our cycle of anxiety.

A direct route into the present moment is through our senses, which is why as parents we should look at different ways of bringing awareness to our senses whilst continuing with everyday life. Remember that when we are being mindful and are in the present moment, at that particular moment…feelings of anxiety are not at the forefront of our thoughts.

Keep it simple; when you next go for a walk, start by noticing sights, sounds and smells.

In the UK we are enjoying Autumn.  The leaves are a fantastic display of light to deep oranges and fiery reds.  It is a very beautiful season.  To connect with nature and inspire some mindfulness you could take a country walk and pay particular attention to sounds you year, the  sights you see and the smells you notice.

Sounds in the environment.   Ask children if they heard that sound (bird, aeroplane, car, insect etc.) and start a discussion about the noise they heard.  If it was a bee buzzing, you could talk about the importance job bees have in nature.  If it was a car sound, you could ask them what car they think it might have been?  You could turn this into an opportunity to play a game where they close their eyes and try and hear as many sounds around them as possible.

Sights all around.  Life tends to flash past us as we rush around.  Helping our children become more aware of their environment and “seeing more” not only enhances their life experience, but can also protect them from danger (ie. being more aware when crossing roads).   Children (and adults) tend to walk around mindlessly – either rushing or daydreaming.   In either “mode” we are not aware of our surroundings.  When you next take a walk, ask your child what they see (it could be flowers on the side of the road or in the park, beautiful trees, squirrels, insects – or it could be litter).  Either way, start a conversation around what they see around them.

What is that smell?   Admittedly some smells are not that great.  But if you are smelling pollution in the air, then it does give you an opportunity to talk to children about looking after the environment.  On the other hand, you could bring your child’s attention to the smell of any beautiful flowers you are walking past, or the smell of rain in the air.

When encouraging children to be more mindful, make a game of it and approach the mindful activity playfully.  Children may not want to be told that they are about to go out on a mindful walk and that the idea is that they pay attention to the world around them.  Cultivate their awareness in a gentle way so that they do not feel they are being observed or having to do something which reminds them of a school project.   Your child might not appear to be paying that much attention to sights, smells and sounds around them, but on a deeper level they are noticing and will be connecting with nature.  The more you walk outside and the more fun you make it, the more likely they are to take notice of life around them and may even point out things you are not seeing, hearing or smelling.

This week, before it gets too chilly out there, enjoy some walking in nature.

Contact me here to find out about developing your own meditation practice and learning how to facilitate mindfulness in children and teenagers.

being-mindful-in-nature