At Resourceful Me Art Therapy I support families to move towards well-being, which means taking good care of their minds and their bodies. For me, spending time in nature has always been a key element to my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I’m incredibly grateful to my mom who, from the very beginning, brought me to the forest where she taught me how to connect with myself and with my surroundings. Outside time was part of our daily routine, and nature walks became one of my favourite childhood activities. Now, as an adult, they are my go-to calming strategy when things are feeling out of balance or a bit too overwhelming.
I appreciate that spending time outside with little ones can seem difficult or daunting. It’s a lot to manage! But I believe that time in nature is incredibly important for our growth, development, healing, and wellbeing.
Today, in honour of my mom for Mother’s Day, I’m sharing one simple idea for how you can get outside and connect with your kids that will benefit your relationship, your mind, and your body. To jump ahead to the Mindfulness Photo Walk instructions, click here.
If you have a minute, here’s how my favourite childhood activity has evolved into a mindfulness practice that supports my well-being.
My mom and the forest
My mom holds a deep love and reverence for the forest, and she has invited me to experience and grow into my own love for it. Since my earliest days of life, my mom took me for regular nature walks. First she carried me in utero, then in a baby wrap snuggled under her coat, in a big blue baby backpack, and finally she supported me to take my own wobbly steps.
Nature walks as treasure hunts: a frame for connection
As I got older, my mom would often turn our nature walks into an adventure by setting a mission or a theme. Sometimes we would count how many bird sounds we heard, or look for animal tracks in the mud, or collect pine cones for a nature craft.
I loved that time with my mom. By turning the walks into a treasure hunt, she created a frame in which I could participate as an equal.
The walk offered a space that felt different from our day to day parent-child relationship. It provided an opportunity to be fully and uniquely connected in the present moment, through our shared mission.
We had a focus, but neither of us knew what we were going to find along the way. We were a team working together towards our goal and co-creating the adventure. During our walks, I felt empowered, valuable, and needed.
Nature as a sensory experience: connecting with my body’s inner wisdom
I still find nature walks to be one of the most calming and healing activities. It’s the fastest way for me to feel grounded and reconnected with myself.
In wondering why this is, it struck me that being in the forest is such a sensory experience.
I often find it difficult to connect with my physical body, but when I’m in nature I am so aware of the sights, sounds, smells, and textures that surround me.
This is another thing that my mom taught me. (She’s amazing!) There was a creek running through the woods beside our house. When we went to visit the creek, my mom would invite me to stop, stand still with my eyes closed, and tell her what the creek was saying. This moment of stillness allowed me to truly feel what it was like to be in my body, to focus on my sense of hearing, to connect with my surroundings, and to listen to my own deep inner wisdom. The creek always held affirming messages for me.
Physical sensations and our emotions
In my own journey towards well-being, I am learning more about the connections between our emotions and our physical bodies. I’m discovering the incredible power of our senses to help us feel grounded and to calm our nervous systems. And I’m learning that mindfulness is a wonderful way to drop in and connect with our senses.
Mindfulness: the art of paying attention
I once heard mindfulness described as “paying attention with loving kindness.”
Mindfulness is the idea of noticing what’s around us, and within us, while withholding judgement. It’s about working towards being completely present in the moment. It’s about connecting with ourselves and our surroundings, exactly as they are, and simply noticing. No pressure to change anything.
Mindfulness sounds lovely to me, but my anxiety can creep in and make it feel futile, daunting or overwhelming. That’s why I have found it helpful to start with something that comes easily to me. So, I practice mindfulness when I visit the forest.
Finding my way towards mindfulness
In recent years I have created my own version of the childhood treasure hunt walks I once shared with my mom. I call them Mindfulness Photo Walks. Here’s how it works:
Just like I used to do with my mom, at the trail head I set a mission (or in mindfulness language, an intention) defining what I will look for during my walk. For example, my most recent theme was “tiny signs of spring.”
Then, as I walk along the trail I pay attention, with loving kindness, watching out for that thing. This practice invites me to focus on my mission, to be in the present moment, and to use my senses to find my photo subjects. It’s hard for anxious thoughts to creep in, because my brain is busy paying attention to my surroundings.
When I find a subject that fits my theme, I stop and take a photo using my phone. I am drawn further into the present moment through the act of composing and taking the photos. As I try different camera angles I bend down, reach up, or get closer. This allows me to notice the way the light hits my subject, the contrast with the background, and the close-up details of it. Here are the photos I took on my most recent mindfulness photo walk:
Tiny Signs of Spring
Walking towards well-being
At the end of my walk, I usually feel pretty accomplished – I’ve moved my body, breathed fresh air, and created some art along the way. I have a whole photo collection based on my theme or intention. I love sharing my photos with someone, but I also love just knowing that I have them.
I can even use the photos to extend my mindfulness practice beyond my walk. Later in the day or week, if I begin to feel anxious or overwhelmed, I can look back at the photos and remember my calming time in the forest.
The photos provide a visual clue that triggers my physical body to remember that peaceful feeling. The act of looking at the photos helps me to reconnect with myself and remember my inner calm and wisdom. I love having the photos on my phone, because it means I’m taking a little piece of the forest with me, but in a way that’s sustainable and doesn’t hurt the forest. It’s simple and practical but so very meaningful.
Paying attention together
Mindfulness Photo Walks are a wonderful way to connect with yourself, but they can also be a great way to introduce kids to a nature mindfulness practice. They’re easy, mess-free, and they don’t require much planning. They give you a focus for spending time outside together. And the benefits are many:
- they provide a frame in which you can both focus on connecting in the present moment,
- they incorporate some physical activity,
- they train your observation skills which helps for mindfulness,
- and they allow you to create a calming tool you can use together even after the walk is over.
Ready to give it a try? Here’s a recap of the instructions.
What you’ll need: phone camera, nature trail, and your body!
This can be a solitary mindfulness practice, or a shared practice for you and your child. You and your child can each take photos with your own device, share a device and take turns, or take the photos together.
Time commitment: up to you! This practice could take 10 minutes to 2 hours, depending on your attention span and walking stamina.
- Choose a theme or intention for your mindfulness photo walk (eg. the colour green/ wildflowers/ textures of tree bark/ mushrooms or fungi/ ferns/ puddles/ tree knots/ roots/ straight lines/ snails/ colourful rocks/ moss – anything you can imagine!)
- Go on your nature walk. Enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest. Look out for anything that might fit with your theme. If you notice your mind wandering and pulling you out of the present moment, gently refocus on your mission.
- When you find a subject that fits your theme, stop and take a photo using your phone. Really take your time, noticing the complete sensory experience as you pay attention to your subject. Try a few different camera angles. Move around. Take one from above, and one from below. See which photo you like the best.
- Continue on your walk, repeating step 3 as often as you notice something that fits your theme.
- At the end of your walk, take some time to look through your photos. Name your photo collection and save it in its own special album.
- (Optional) Share your photos with your family or friends. Tell them about your experience.
- As you go about the rest of your day, if you notice that you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, take a moment to revisit your photo collection. Looking through the photos can help you to remember the feeling of being present and peaceful in the forest. Know that you have the power to internally recreate and take this feeling with you, no matter what’s happening around you.
I’d love to hear about your experience. What was your theme? How was your walk? What did you notice? Is mindfulness already part of your family’s well-being routine?
I would also LOVE to see your photo collection! If you share it on social media, be sure to tag @resourcefulmearttherapy.
Written by Rubi Garyfalakis, DTATI, RP, RCAT