The modern world is a stressful place and the average person’s lifestyle does nothing for their mental health.
It’s all about instant gratification and transient pleasures these days as we scroll left and right on our mobiles and tablets, waiting for something to catch our eye before we pause, just for a moment, and then carry on scrolling.
Add to that the worries and stresses over our health, our jobs and our loved ones and we have a worrying recipe for a serious deterioration in our mental state and ability to cope.
So how can we go about restoring some balance in our lives? What do we need to do to regain control of our minds and reduce the stress?
It starts in the great outdoors
Everybody recognises that Mother Nature is one of the greatest if not the greatest healer on the planet.
There have been numerous studies and reports in recent years that highlight the huge benefits that we gain from spending time outdoors.
Whether it’s pottering in the garden, going for a walk or taking to 2 wheels, fresh air and exercise makes us feel good not only physically but mentally too.
But when you’re out walking, do you actually notice your surroundings, I mean really notice what’s around you?
Take my brother’s visit to the Pyrenees a few years ago. He’s the perfect example.
It was an especially stressful time of life for him. When we went out for a walk, he’d shuffle along, head down, lost in his own little world of busy thoughts, distracted by worries and the pressures of life.
He was going through the motions and oblivious to his surroundings. In his mind he was somewhere else and he was mentally exhausted.
He wasn’t in a good place, but more about him later.
How the art of mindful hiking can help
So what is mindful hiking exactly?
At the best of times, the act of walking is an excellent way to disengage from the stresses and strains of everyday life.
However, walking should not simply be about getting to your destination but more about the journey that you take to get there.
Mindfulness makes that journey a whole lot more fulfilling and enables you to truly experience the full cathartic effect of your time outdoors.
It’s about having a conscious awareness of the here and now, of being present, of observing what’s around you and letting your mind fill with the detail of its beauty.
It’s about engaging every sense to soak up the peace and calm of the natural world, leaving no space for negative, stressful thoughts.
Tune in, pay attention and you’ll notice the vibrant colour and fine structure of a flower that you’ve never seen before.
Be mindful and notice the touch of the breeze on your cheeks and how it makes you feel or listen to the sound of your footsteps as you rustle through the autumn leaves.
Soak up the fragrant scent of the warm pine trees, notice the texture of the bark and hear the sounds of the ground crickets as they shout out their summer chorus.
Take time. Stop and allow yourself to simply be.
Cherish the sound of silence on your mindful hike. Although it may make you feel uncomfortable at first, it’s such a precious and rare commodity in this noisy world,
Take mental snapshots of things that you see, touch or hear during your hike and imprint them on your mind.
By doing this you’ll be able to bring back those precious moments and the feelings that went with them after you’ve returned home.
At the end of a mindful hike, especially if it’s in a beautiful mountain location, you’ll feel grounded, at peace with the world and more relaxed than you can ever imagine.
Oh, and my brother? Over the course of a few days with us in the foothills of the Pyrenees I noticed him becoming more mindful, more aware of the birds, the flowers, the scents and sounds in nature.
I noticed his shoulders relaxing and the tension easing from his face as he finally noticed the full beauty of his surroundings.
“This place is SO good for the soul!” he said, before sadly having to leave us to return home.
Our year round wellness and adventure retreats include mindful hikes with one of our lovely mountain guide partners who’ll take you to the most unspoiled corners of the Pyrenees.
Once travel restrictions are lifted do your mental health a favour and consider a stay in the wide open spaces of the Pyrenees mountains. Your mind will thank you for it!