Winter wellbeing – the mindfulness tools you need to recentre

Take a break from the screen and indulge in a regular dose of winter mindfulness in the outdoors. Sonya Dibbin will be your guide…

Do you suffer with the ‘winter blues’? Winter is typically the season when we start to feel low, as the darker days and often gloomy weather take their toll. And let’s not mention youknowwhat.

I’m digging deep and calling on my resilience to dampen down the stress response. The daily walk is once again a lifesaver, but these days on the rare opportunity to go out alone I do more than simply stomp to get my steps in and heart rate up.

Cardio exercise is important, so I’ll do at least 30 minutes at a brisk pace, but I also allow myself enough time afterward for a slow and meandering wander, without any real destination in mind, merely basking in soft fascination at my surroundings.

And yes, you can still go Forest Bathing in winter, and I am confident that if you slow down and intentionally engage your senses (look, listen, feel and smell), you will notice winter beauty all around that you’d otherwise miss.

In fact, there are many reasons why being outdoors is actually more enjoyable in winter.

You won’t get hot and sweaty, for a start. There are usually fewer people around – and there are very few quiet places left, so this is a real treat. As the ground cover thins out, less-frequented areas of the forest become accessible, and the flash of vibrant colour from a flower or fungus or the luscious green patch of moss is so much more appreciated in winter.

Here are 5 easy ways to help you practice the miracle of mindfulness using Forest Therapy techniques to find peace in a frantic world:

5 Mindfulness Exercises for Wellbeing in Winter

Always bundle up appropriately for the weather and head outdoors when you know you have enough daylight left to be safe (top tips – take extra layers and a hot drink).

Allow yourself plenty of time, these walks and activities should be slow, intentional and immersive. Each experience is designed to be simple to follow and available to all, you don’t need any fancy kit or existing knowledge; these are everyday mindfulness techniques for beginners.

The intention is to disconnect from tech so if you can, switch your (fully charged) phone to aeroplane mode or at the very least, to silent. If you need to be back for a certain time, set the timer or alarm, but resist checking the time.

Once you start to develop your connection to nature, reconnecting with a part of yourself that has been dormant for too long, it really can transform your life; a regular mindfulness practice is capable of ‘rewiring’ the brain thanks to neurological plasticity. 

1. Mindful Forest Nature Wander

Head out to your favourite woodland or forest. Notice the colours and allow yourself to be drawn to touch whatever captures your interest and notice its texture, temperature and humidity.

If you get a chance, inhale the scent of some nearby moss deeply – you will probably be very pleasantly surprised as you breathe in the earthy aromas that will be particularly pungent on the underside.

You might also notice the fluffy or lace-like lichen growing on the branches and trunks of trees. Once you start noticing the intricacies of moss and lichen, you don’t stop. The slower you walk and the quieter you are, the more the natural world will accept you and the more beauty you will be shown.

As you move through the landscape, take note of what colours, energies, and qualities you sense. What feelings do these evoke within you? How does your body feel? How does your heart feel?

2. Mindful Nature Photography

On a frosty, chilly but clear morning head out early to walk around where you live. Engage your senses. Are you early enough for the sunrise? Allow yourself the time to watch it without checking the time and feeling rushed. How do you feel as you watch it transform?

Perhaps you notice the gorgeous yellow of winter jasmine, the intricacy of frosty cobwebs or your attention is drawn to what you hear? Listen to the bird song, stop for a while, and hear it. Engage your imaginary sense… what is being discussed? Don’t worry about identifying the chatter, just immerse yourself fully in the sounds.

When you feel relaxed and the chatter in the mind has eased, your childlike sense of fun and curiosity might really come alive. Experience the world around you in a new way by homing in on the minutiae.

Look through the lens of colour and then notice the textures, shapes and patterns in nature all around you. Take no more than 15 photos on your walk and take your time on each one.

3. Mindful Garden Gratitude at Dusk

Just before dusk, wrap up and take a warm drink out into the garden. Find a quiet place to rest comfortably for fifteen minutes (or longer if you like).

Sit in quiet contemplation and notice nature putting itself to bed for the day. You might see bats taking to the sky or perhaps you have hedgehog guests waking up?

Feel yourself settling down and quietening inside. Think about the people who have contributed to your garden and reflect on how the plants and shrubs got there, and how you are now benefiting from their actions and existence. Take some time to connect with all that you have to be grateful for – in and outside of your garden.

There is no right or wrong with this, and your thoughts, feelings and reflections during this exercise will be personal to you.

4. Mindful Self-Reflection

Another mindfulness exercise that is wonderful for winter is mindful self-reflection and journaling. Head outside. Try to connect with your feelings about the year that’s just ended, and what lies ahead. Be kind to yourself and focus on what’s made you proud, any transformations, support both given and received. This is an opportunity for reflection and intention setting but from the heart and body, rather than the thinking brain.

If you get stuck, use the prompt, “Winter is an opportunity for me to…”. 

5. Slow Mindful Movement

How about exploring a mindful movement practice that you can do outside such as Qi Gong (pronounced Chee Gung)?

I recommend you do this mindful movement outside near trees, ideally pine or oak trees. Deeply inhale the pure, phytoncide-rich fresh air, and connect with the physical sensations in your body. Notice the feeling of the breath in your nostrils, the change in temperature on the way in vs on the exhale, and marvel at how it is keeping you alive. You are breathing nature’s nebuliser.

Introduce some mindful movement. It doesn’t have to be perfect Qi Gong, some simple stretches would be fine, but if you wanted you could follow a decent video on YouTube. All the while staying focused on the here and now, and if the mind wanders, accept that it is normal and gently bring your focus back.

Mindfulness and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

There’s no doubt that winter can and does leave people feeling depressed, demotivated and withdrawn. You might have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? It seriously impacts people’s lives as they suffer with persistent low mood, lethargy and loss of interest in usual everyday activities. 

Research has shown that one in fifteen people in the UK suffers from SAD, with scientific studies pointing to the lack of sunshine – vitamin D – as the culprit. This means levels of serotonin and melatonin drop and the body’s circadian rhythms are disrupted. So how can mindfulness make a difference?

By developing your sense of gratitude and building resilience through a regular mindfulness practice you are less harshly impacted by change and able to bounce back from difficult experiences faster. You spend more time in the present moment and less in the past or future, understanding the impermanence of everything in life and knowing periods of low mood will pass soon enough.

If any of this has tempted you into getting outdoors this winter I’d love to hear from you or see your mindful photos. Contact me on Facebook. I also run Mindful Photography courses for beginners and Forest Bathing events and would love to see you there!

Wrap up well and keep warm!

All photos are my own.

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