For those depleting, down in the dumps kind of days — something we’re feeling too often right now — an outdoor jaunt may be just the emotional and physical boost that’s needed.
Perhaps one of the most healing and delicious practices of InsightLA’s Mindful Aging retreats is the Awe Walk or the Sense and Savor Walk as ILA’s Mindful Self Compassion students have come to know it on our ½ day retreats.
The practice involves nothing more than a slow, outside ramble – sensing and savoring nature’s bounty. It might be the fragrance of freshly mowed grass, a close study of ants’ industriousness as they forage for food, the sound of the wind whispering through a canyon pass or catching just a few notes of the ecstatic trilling of birds during mating season.
When we experience nature, just as it is – at once ordinary and extraordinary, we experience awe. And research suggests that an Awe or Sense and Savor Walk seems to do the mind and body good.
Green exercise, as researchers are now calling outdoor exercise and leafy walks, decrease stress, reduce inflammation and even increase feelings of gratitude and compassion according to a UCSF study of older adults. “One of the key features of awe is that it promotes what we call ‘small self,’ a healthy sense of proportion between your own self and the bigger picture of the world around you,” says UCSF scientist, Virginia Sturm.
Other studies have shown that nature walks also improve memory and concentration as well as elevate mood. One theory holds that nature provides “soft fascination” – offering us a powerful mental reset — replenishing and nourishing our fatigued and frazzled beings without demanding too much else.
And for an extra dose of “natural” happiness, just a brief listen to the sonorous sounds of birds on your walk may do the trick. A European study last year found that only 6 minutes of listening to birds’ sounds decreased depression, anxiety and paranoia (learn more about birdsongs).
Try them: Greater Good Science Center’s Version of a Savoring Walk
Awe Walk: Version 1 and Version 2
Wendy Schmelzer, LCSW has been teaching meditation in health and healing environments since 2006 — most recently as an instructor at the Greater Los Angeles VA where for five years she taught mindfulness and compassion practices to staff, veterans, and family caregivers as part of InsightLA’s VA CALM team. A longtime meditator, she is a graduate of InsightLA’s first MBSR class, as well as its initial MBSR teacher training course and Mindful Self-Compassion’s (MSC) inaugural Teacher Training program.
Wendy is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist specializing in aging and end of life concerns. In addition to private practice, she teaches Mindful Self-Compassion at InsightLA, and leads ILA’s Mindful Aging Sitting Group every Wednesday morning. In an earlier professional life, she was an award-winning Science Correspondent for NPR, specializing in aging and health-related issues.
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