One of the most valuable moments we introduce to kids at camp is one of mindfulness. We plan our hike days to include silent hikes, where they are encouraged to temporarily leave conversations and focus on the sounds, smells and scenery of the trail. On rock climbing day, we ask them to check in to feel and notice their excitement or nervousness before getting on the wall. We encourage brief periods of silence while kids are on the water so they may observe their surroundings. These moments are invaluable because we teach kids to slow down and take in the present moment—techniques which they can take back into their daily lives where there are constant sources of distraction.
Mindfulness takes on various meanings for those who practice it—children or adults. It can mean taking three deep breaths before continuing the task at hand, checking in with your emotions or thoughts before sharing them to a loved one, or dedicating your full attention to a demanding activity. Essentially, mindfulness is practicing moment-by-moment awareness through quieting the mind, noticing and being nonjudgmental of thoughts. Researchers Davis and Hayes explain that mindfulness practices have been shown to “stimulate the middle prefrontal brain associated with self-observation,” and enhances attention mechanisms like emotion regulation, reaction to stressful situations, and healthy communication. It is easy for us to dwell on the past, plan for the future, or get stuck in information overload. But by focusing on self-observation, we can temporarily take a step back from the intensity of a racing mind, and choose where to focus our energy.
For many of us, the busyness of daily life can feel too fast to find the right headspace for mindfulness. Scheduling, dealing with traffic, answering phone calls and emails can leave us in states that feel outside of ourselves, which is why outdoor settings that are removed from constant stimulation can be ideal for practicing mindfulness. Mutz and Müller have conducted research on mindfulness specific to outdoor adventure, and discuss the following ways in which spending time outdoors can help cultivate more present experiences:
Outdoor adventure helps you pause from routineIn remote, outdoor settings, we tend to leave our “auto-pilot” mode that we fall into during routinized daily actions. We might have a different wake-up time, try a new meal, or spend a day away from checking our phone. Additionally, our decisions-making may be more active as environmental factors such as weather are more influential to our current situation. By getting out of our everyday environment and tasks, our usual routines that hinder us from mindfulness are interrupted, promoting more concentration on the present.
There are less distractionsIn outdoor settings, we are further removed from the usual stimulation of daily life. Instead of receiving constant notifications from news, work, and social media, the mind has a chance to slow down and turn down the volume of racing thoughts. This may also help us direct our attention to our feelings as well as the fresh air and beauty of our environment.
Outdoor activities are mindful in themselvesMost outdoor activities require having to cover long distances or take hours of concentration, and encourage us to focus on repetitive motions, deep breathing, and steady alertness. For example, during a multi-day backpacking trip, you may choose to listen to the sound of your boots crunching twigs and leaves to get fully immersed in the experience. Outdoor activities encourage us to deeply connect to our senses and feel our bodies reacting to challenging, yet rewarding movement.
No matter what mindfulness means to you or how you accomplish it, try cultivating it for yourself or your family on the next adventure. Notice how your thoughts and emotions may feel in closer connection to your actions and surroundings, and ask your young ones about their experience. For resources on great outdoor recreation areas for the whole family in the California Bay Area; Front Range of Colorado; and Portland, Oregon, click the button below.
For more tools on mindful activities and additional resources, explore the links below.