As the days get shorter and the ground gets colder, it's time to face the fact that our outdoor activities look a little different this time of year. Our beloved Summit County trails are hidden beneath layers of mud, ice, and snow, and while I’m excited to wax up my skis, I always feel that twinge of sadness as I rack up the bikes and store away the trail running shoes.
If you’re like me, the darkness and colder weather can be major deterrents from making time for outdoor exercise – it’s just TOO COLD. The bad news is that when we don’t prioritize that outdoor time (120 minutes/week, remember?!), we may start to notice a steady decline in our mental health. Essentially, less sunshine combined with lower temperatures and fewer minutes of exercise does not bode well for our overall wellness.
So, what to do? Bundle up, get outside, and keep moving. I know that it can be difficult some days, you may feel sluggish or unmotivated this time of year, but research continues to show us how helpful even a short walk outside can be! If walking/hiking just isn’t your thing, your nature therapist is here to help! Here are eight ways to spice up your winter walk/hike so you can focus less on the temperatures and more on the benefits of mindfulness, movement, and the outdoors!
Set an intention
Before you start, set an intention for your walk. Keep it short, just a word or two. Maybe it is something you need to gain or release, something you need more of in your life, or something that you need to let go of. Once you choose your intention, look for examples of how it shows up in nature. For example, if your intention is “resiliency,” stay present and observe where nature is resilient along the way. Maybe it’s blades of grass growing through cracks in the sidewalk, or sunlight shining through a thick canopy of branches. Soak it in.
Carry an object
Is something weighing on you? Stress, work, sadness, family, fear? You’re not alone. On your next walk, bring along a natural object that represents this weight. It can be heavy, like a large rock, or small and sharp, like a pinecone. On your walk, bring your awareness to how heavy it is and how this object may be holding you back. Then get rid of it - leave it on the path or the trail. Notice if anything has shifted once you leave that weight behind.
Bring attention to your senses
This is a super simple way to bring yourself into the present moment and something I practice a lot with my therapy clients. As you walk, call upon your five senses. First, bring your awareness to what you can hear – the sound of birds chirping, maybe the crunch of snow or leaves beneath your feet. Then move onto your sense of smell – pine needles, the freshness of the outdoors. Next, notice anything you taste – are you eating or chewing gum? If you don’t taste anything, that’s something! Bring awareness to the position of your tongue in your mouth. Move onto what you can feel – rub the pads of your fingertips together, notice any comfort or discomfort you’re feeling in your body. Finally, call upon your sense of sight, shift your attention to all that you can see – and pick your favorite!
Speaking of the senses, use your next walk to submerge in silence. We spend so much of our time consumed by sound – the voices of ourselves and others, music, television, podcasts, the chaos of daily life. Forego your headphones next time and notice what comes up when you intentionally seek silence. It may feel uncomfortable, your mind may wander, and that’s okay! Gently bring your awareness back to the peacefulness of silence.
It may sound silly, but don’t forget to pause and look up sometimes. When we’re walking, we focus on what’s below us and in front of us. This makes sense, right? It prevents us from tripping and hurting ourselves! That said, bring awareness to the idea of “pausing” on your next walk. Stop, take a deep breath, look up, change your perspective, notice what you see. This is also great practice for daily life - we could all use more pauses.
Inhale what serves you, Exhale what doesn’t
Begin this activity by first bringing your awareness to each step on your walk, one foot in front of the other. Once you get into the rhythm of your movement, shift your attention to your breath – inhale and exhale. Notice if your breath is shallow or deep, long or short. Finally, tie a mantra or intention to your inhales and exhales. Breathe in what you need to gain, breathe out what you need to release. Inhale self-acceptance, exhale insecurities. Inhale love, exhale resentment. Repeat for as long as you need. Again, your mind may wander. Just gently bring yourself back. Let your body take in the information your mind may already know.
Pick a color
This is a great way to engage kids on a mindful walk. Before you set off, pick a color! Along the way, find that color in nature, on houses, street signs, coats, passing cars, dog leashes. You’ll be surprised how colorful our world is, even on dreary days!
List three things you’re grateful for
Finally, at the end of your walk and before you go back inside, close your eyes and list in your head three things you are grateful for in that very moment. I know we’ve heard it all before, but it’s very true – a little gratitude goes a long way.
Stay safe and warm out there! And let me know if you have any favorite ways to stay mindful in your movement!
Carly Schaller is a clinical mental health counseling intern who serves individuals, couples, and families of all ages and backgrounds at Grit Therapy. She offers traditional therapy as well as eco-therapy and incorporates natures into many of her sessions. Email firstname.lastname@example.org learn more about working with Carly!