I recently published a new challenge on my site’s app called ‘The 5 Day Stillness Challenge.’ For those of you who haven’t got the app, here’s the full 5 step guide to practising stillness in Nature. It would be lovely if you could send me some feedback about how you got on with the steps and if you have any techniques that you have come up with yourselves.
Being still in Nature gives you a unique experience of the natural world, enhancing your connection to the environment and raising your own self-awareness. Taking the opportunity to be still with Nature for even just a short time every day has a numerous positive benefits for both your physical and mental health.
This 5 day challenge encourages you to take time out and be to be still in the natural world by offering a daily exercise designed to improve your wellbeing and connection to the environment around you. During your experience you will notice that your levels of stress decrease and you begin to feel more relaxed and attuned to the natural world.
Often, your stillness allows you to see different aspects of nature by perhaps being able to focus on a single tree, flower, bug or landscape for a few short minutes. You will begin to see the connections between different aspects of nature and your own place in the natural world. By practising stillness, you will begin to feel a sense of calm, allowing you to access this feeling through tangible, visual and auditory memory wherever and whenever you feel anxious or stressed.
Each exercise is designed to help you relax, focus and take time for yourself and can be done either in your own space or a natural spot of your choosing.
Step 1: Reset Sitting
This exercise should take about 10 minutes but can be extended depending on how much time you have and whether you wish to extend the experience (especially if you are trying this challenge for a second time or more).
You may need something dry to sit on e.g. a bin bag - but it is important that you are able to feel your connection to where you are sitting.
Take a little time to walk slowly around a place of your choosing (this could be your own garden if you have one or a public space with trees and plants). Allow yourself to be drawn to the world around you, noticing it rather than searching for something interesting.
If something captures your attention sit down and allow yourself to relax. Get comfy - perhaps there is tree to lean on, or a bench...
Look at what has captured your attention as if you are seeing it for the first time. It is fresh, new and you are seeing it with the eyes of a child, full of wonder. Look at it closely, what do you notice about it? Consider what drew you to it.
Then, widen your gaze. Allow yourself to take in the world around the thing you have been drawn to. What is its position in relation to the rest of the world? Is it connected to it? Separate from it? How does it interact with the world it lives in? What do you notice about its connection with you? Does it make you feel differently in some way?
Take time to draw your attention away from the thing you have been focusing on. Bring your attention to how you are feeling physically and mentally. Look around you and take in the scene. Breathe in deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Do this five times before slowly, standing, stretching and moving on.
Step 2: Sound of Silence
This is a very simple exercise that you may wish to expand on afterwards - especially if you are doing this exercise with children. You do not need any equipment, just an open space where you feel comfortable to close your eyes.
Sit or stand in an open space and close your eyes.Take some time to relax, try a simple breathing technique - breathing in through the nose and slowly out through the mouth five times.
Then, listen to the sounds all around you. What do hear? As you continue listening do you start to hear different sounds, ones that weren't immediately apparent? Can you categorise them? Are they natural or man-made sounds?
As you listen, pick out different sounds and slowly turn towards them. Are there more sounds from certain directions? Are there silent spaces between the sounds?
As you begin to bring your awareness back to yourself, rub your hands together and gently place them over your eyes. Then, gently pull them away. Slowly, open your eyes, looking into your palms as you lower them away.
To extend this experience, you could mark out a chalk compass on the ground (or use other materials e.g. twigs, leaves etc). As you locate each sound, place a symbol for each sound in each quadrant (you could make these symbols yourself or use natural ones). If you do this over a number of days, you could see if the sounds move, increase or decrease.
Step 3: Sustaining Stillness
This challenge is another simple exercise that requires very little in the way of preparation and can be done inside or outside. Of course, I prefer working outdoors and always feel that this experience is enhanced by using natural resources in the environment they occur in.
You will need a favourite fruit or vegetable (if you are going wild and the time of year is right, this is great with wild blackberries or dewberries).
Take your time with this challenge and do it as slowly as you are able.
Close your eyes and put your chosen fruit in your mouth - don't eat it straight away (if its wild best to check there are no unwanted visitors in there first!). Notice the shape of your fruit in your mouth, explore its shape with your tongue.
Slowly, eat it - noticing how you use your teeth to chew it up. Is it juicy? Does the juice burst in your mouth? Notice your physical response. How your saliva reacts to help you digest the fruit. What happens to your tongue? Notice the taste. Is it sharp? Sweet? Sour? What do you notice about your enjoyment of the fruit? Does it make you want more?
Consider how the chosen fruit/vegetable has evolved over millennia to take into account its needs and how it matches our own, enticing us to eat the fruit in order to aid the wider spreading of its seeds. How it has added sugars to seduce animals to eat it and then produce ready made fertiliser to plant the seed elsewhere. Think how easy it was to find in contrast to the green foliage that surrounds it. Think how our place in the world has been considered by the environment that has evolved around us...
Step 4: Breathing Nature
Again, a very simple challenge that requires only a spot with a view and perhaps a bin bag to sit on if the ground is wet. This challenge combines different aspects of the previous exercises but is really useful in helping you to visualise and re-experience nature in times of stress. Bringing this experience back to mind helps to slow heart rate and breathing, inducing a sense of calm.
Choose a place where there is a view of a natural environment and where there is little human activity to distract you. This is a great task to do in a wood, where there is plenty to see and hear going on all around you and you are likely to be able to find a private spot.
Sit on the ground and perhaps lean against a tree. Practice your breathing exercise to slow yourself down: in through the nose and slowly, out through the mouth for at least five breaths. Notice what is around you, what draws your attention? Notice how you are feeling at this moment. Where do you feel it? Make yourself comfortable and then begin...
On each exhalation complete the sentence, 'I notice...'
e.g. 'I notice... the birds singing'
'I notice... the wind in the trees'
'I notice... a bird foraging through the undergrowth, busy in its own world.'
'I notice... the clouds passing slowly, relaxing me as they drift by.'
Afterwards, think about how you are feeling now. Did anything that you noticed today stand out? If so, what do you think it was that drew you? Would it be different on another day?
Extend the task by practising your breathing again, bringing to mind the things you noticed as you exhaled. The more you practise this exercise, the more you will notice and be able to recall.
Step 5: Lean Into Nature
In this last of the the five day challenge exercises, you will learn to develop a way of connecting with nature in a way that will help you find inner strength and resilience. As well as developing an awareness of the healing power of nature, you will be able to draw on this experience and practise it whenever you feel disconnected from yourself and the world around you.
You will need to find a tree which is able to support your full weight when you lean against it. It can be done alone or with another person and will require your imagination as you lean into what it is like to be a tree.
Lean against the tree, making sure that your feet are firmly planted on the ground and your back is comfortable against the bark. How close can you get to the tree? Feel it take your weight, supporting you as you relax. Check your breathing and with each exhalation, feel yourself more and more connected to the tree. Continue to do this until you feel completely comfortable.
Take in your environment. Where are you? What is it like here? Consider the tree... Why has it chosen this place? What is its connection to the place you are in? Imagine that you are the tree... How old are you? What might you have seen in this place? How have the seasons shaped you? How close are you to your neighbours?
Everything you need to live is here: food, water, sun and rain. Feel your roots spreading beneath the earth, holding you to the ground, feeding you. You need nothing else. What is it like to be rooted to one space? To grow and to accept where you are?
Spend some time allowing these thoughts to wash over you. Is there anything you can learn from the tree? Is there anything you can offer?
Extend this exercise by finding different trees and exploring their environment with them.
If you enjoyed these challenges or if you have any suggestions, please get in touch.