Follow Erin Casperson—dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda and a yoga and stand-up paddleboarding instructor—for a meditative hike as she talks about the power of outdoor mindfulness.

By Erin Casperson as told to Kylie Gilbert
Updated May 31, 2019
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Plenty of people want to be more Zen, but sitting cross-legged on a rubber yoga mat doesn't resonate with everyone. Adding nature to the mix allows you to be more mindful by engaging and nourishing your senses in a way that might not be possible indoors.

The aim of forest bathing isn't exercise; it's cultivating a relationship with the living world. It's a really easy way to get into meditation, especially if you're new and don't feel like sitting serves you. Trees release phytoncides, airborne chemicals that can boost our immune system and have a direct effect on our nervous system. Plus, studies show that phytoncides can lower our blood pressure and bring down cortisol levels—a bonus since stress has been shown to contribute to a slew of health and skin conditions ranging from migraines to acne.

What's more, research suggests that listening to water can settle your nervous system. (Here are more science-backed ways that getting in touch with nature boosts your health.)

To try a full-body nature meditation, go for a walk in the woods or your local park, or just find a tree in your backyard. Focus on one sense at a time. Look at the drifting clouds above; breathe in the greenery; feel the temperature of the sun on your skin and the texture of the roots beneath your feet. Head to a brook, a river, or a fountain and listen to the changing tones of the rippling water, paying attention to the high and low frequencies as the water hits the rocks. Even five minutes can be enough to switch your mindset. Just get started.

By slowing down and becoming more aware, you'll open yourself up to moments of awe along the way. I still remember the amazing feeling of backpacking to the top of Maine's highest peak and sitting in pure silence to take it in.

There were no planes, cars, birds or people. This was 20 years ago and I still freak out about how amazing that moment was. But it doesn't have to be an epic event—just looking at a sunrise gives us the opportunity to realize we're meant to be connected to nature, not separate from it. And making that connection can really shift our thinking. (Next up: Try This Guided Meditation the Next Time You Feel Overwhelmed with Anxiety)

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