As the leaves change color, it reminds me that once again a season has come to an end. In the past, I’ve always hated leaving summer behind. However, I’ve been trying to shift my perspective from endings to embracing new beginnings.
There is a brightness to fall, an incredible burst of color that fills our world before the leaves cover the ground and we welcome winter. Even though the air is cooler, there’s a smoky, woody scent only autumn seems to have. Autumn is truly magnificent.
I begin and end my daily fall practice with a meditative walk and a cup of tea. As I walk, I try to take everything in, allowing all my senses to absorb the environment. My practice isn’t always silent. To be honest, my most favorite fall walks are with my children. Not that I don’t enjoy the silence when I’m by myself. I do. But there’s something in their impulsivity, their expressiveness, their awe, that’s contagious. If it’s a milder day, we all take off our shoes and socks and feel the crunch of the leaves under our feet. The coolness combined with the crumbly texture of the ground is truly a magical feeling.
According to a 2008 University of Michigan study, walking in nature can improve one’s attention span and memory performance by as much as 20%. Now who wouldn’t want that benefit?
Once I’m in the thick of the forest, I take my time and spend some moments either reflecting, telling autumn stories (why the leaves change color, what happens to the animals) or practicing yogic asanas. My favorite poses in nature are the more grounded ones: the ones that help me feel my connection to the earth.
Taking a deep breath, I reach for the sun in Tadasana and begin a full Sun Salutation. In the forest, I typically practice a gentler version of Hatha yoga. This is a slower practice, not yin, but a practice where I try to consciously spend time absorbing each pose and noticing the earth my body is connecting with. I love the feeling of the earth beneath my fingers and toes in Downward Dog, and its gentle, warm embrace in Child’s Pose.
My daughter insists we practice Tree Pose. As our bodies sway in unison, (I’m usually holding each of my children’s hands), it feels almost musical. As I sway with my family, we try to move together with the rhythm of the tress. Usually we topple down together, sometimes on purpose and sometimes when our bodies just tell us it’s time to lie down. It’s a simple practice, a place where I try to take the time to breathe and reconnect to things that are important: the earth, my family and the strength and power in my own body.
I always try to end my practice, with Savasana. As we lie on the ground, I look up and talk about the magic of the trees. My daughter shares how the wind tickles her nose and my son usually comments on the sounds in the forest or the small insect that wanders by his hand.
I recently read about the Japanese practice ShinrKin-yoku: forest bathing. As I read the description, I realized that this is what I’ve been practicing with my children on a fairly regular basis.
But here’s what’s amazing, Japanese researchers found that immersing yourself in trees and plants in a forest setting can be an extremely powerful practice. In fact, this month’s Yoga international reported that forest bathing can:
- Boost immune function
- Increase cancer battling proteins
- Lower the concentration of cortisol
- Lower pulse rate
- Decrease blood pressure
- Reduce anxiety, depression and even anger
Now if that’s not a reason for a walk in the forest, I’m not sure what is. It’s funny when you read about something that your body, mind and spirit already instinctively know. I’ve been walking in the forests to get reconnected with the earth and remember what’s important in my life. Yes, it felt amazing. But who knew all the benefits this practice could have? It reminds me that sometimes we just have to trust our instinct. Our body and mind know what’s right for us. We just need to learn how to pay attention and listen.
So grab a travel mug of your favorite tea and head to the woods for some well deserved nourishment!