This Duo Is Preaching the Power of Healing Through Mindfulness In the Outdoors
Community is a word you hear often. It not only gives you an opportunity to be a part of something larger, but it also creates a safe space for the exchange of ideas and feelings. This is exactly what Kenya and Michelle Jackson-Saulters hoped to build when they founded The Outdoor Journal Tour in 2015 as a wellness organization aimed at helping women form a deeper connection with themselves and the world around them through mindfulness and movement.
"Women often don't center themselves," says Michelle. "We often feel like we are alone, and the feelings that we are experiencing are only ours. What we have noticed, though, is that many of us are having similar experiences, and this level of camaraderie is what helps women feel less isolated and more confident."
The Outdoor Journal Tour forges this fellowship in group settings through a combination of outdoor movement—often hiking—journaling, and meditation. This mix is not only a natural synergy that works well with their program but also these interventions are scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety and increase serotonin and dopamine production, which makes people feel good, explains Kenya. "It exposes so many people to the healing tenants of nature," she adds. (Related: These Gorgeous Nature Photos Will Help You Chill Out Right Now)
Plus, "there's something about that exhaustion after being physically active that takes down some of our internal walls, making us feel a little freer and more open," adds Michelle. "There's also a part of us that feels accomplished." (Related: The Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Outdoor Workouts)
Kenya and Michelle both say they have struggled with depression and anxiety in the past and were chasing more feel-good moments in their own lives—and were sure other women were too.
Their hunch was confirmed after a hike in Stone Mountain Park in Georgia, when Kenya, Michelle, and a few other friends were meditating. When they opened their eyes, two other women had joined in, asking how they could be a part of the group. While her initial motives were to help tame her own anxiety, Kenya saw the other women's interest as an opportunity. (Related: Journal Apps for "Writing Down" All Your Thoughts)
So, what started as a hike paired with a moment of mindfulness and healing among friends has now, three years later, blossomed into a community of roughly 31,000 women who participate in monthly in-person hikes as well as an annual program called #wehiketoheal. The month-long initiative includes a host of online resources such as eBooks, masterclasses, and seminars, as well as in-person community hikes all over the world. They've even recently launched a #wehiketoheal at-home box which is chockful of journals, prompt cards, essential oils, a candle, and a plant—perfect for those who can't get to the outdoors right now. And while this group was created to uplift and empower all women, Kenya and Michelle, who have been together as a couple since 2010, are not shy about being their authentic selves. "Michelle and I show up in the world very unapologetically and proudly as Black women and queer women," says Kenya. (Related: What It's Like Being a Black, Gay Woman In America)
The duo shows no sign of slowing down. "In the beginning, I don't think we really understood that we were leaders and that there was a responsibility in holding and creating space for these women where they feel safe to be themselves and to be honest and vulnerable with themselves and others," says Michelle. "Having women say that this experience has shifted their lives or they have felt some sort of release is why I'm most proud."
This impact is why the couple didn't let COVID-19 put a damper on their programming or impede their ability to provide respite. Instead, they channeled their efforts into online gatherings, offering journaling activities, conversations, and even a special edition virtual #hiketoheal week honoring Black healing, featuring a range of topics from mental health and money to racism and the running community. This seven-day event was created as a response to the issues of racial injustice plaguing the country, namely the tragic killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. They also still encouraged members to make time to head outdoors solo even when larger communal gatherings were put on hold. (Related: What I Want People to Know About the Protests As a Black Business Owner Who Was Vandalized)
That time outside doesn't have to be lengthy, according to the couple. Even just 30 minutes, which can mean anything from going for a walk to sitting outside on your patio, is enough to reap the benefits. (FYI: A review of studies revealed that being outdoors in green spaces helped improve self-esteem and mood.) But getting outdoors and basking in nature isn't the only way they've encouraged their tribe to take a moment of self-care. Other recommendations include: jotting down 5-10 things you are grateful for each day and tuning into Meditative Mind on YouTube, a channel that offers binaural beats, which is music using two different frequencies that can create certain emotions, feelings, and physical sensations such as creating a sense of calm. Even spending just five minutes with one of these self-care practices, can make a difference—maybe not the first, second, or even fifth time you do it, but with a consistent commitment to yourself, you can create lasting change. (Related: The Best Meditation Videos On YouTube for Sanity You Can Stream)
"We are socialized as women to be caretakers and nurturers," says Michelle. "We inherently tend to put ourselves last, and this movement is meant to help women put themselves first for once."