When I am feeling overwhelmed or like my mind is going in loops, the practices of dance, cold exposure, and nature walks reliably get me out of my head and help me embrace the present moment. Each of these practices integrates mindfulness and embodiment in a different way. They are extremely low tech and accessible, and while perhaps obvious, they are so powerful I feel it’s worth reminding everybody about them. I am offering my tips in each area to help people deepen their experience and feel meaningful results.
I believe dancing is for everybody. Regardless of your age or ability level, you can move your body in some way to music and experience the pleasure of dancing. Not only is dance great exercise, it’s one of the quickest and most effective ways I have experienced to let go of stress and feel joyful.
Here are my tips for getting a solo dance practice going
Pick two or three songs that get you moving and queue them up
Start by keeping your feet in motion as you make your way around the space. Bring attention to moving other body parts after that
Continually bring your attention back to your breath as you dance
Work in some shaking and small repetitive jumps to help the body release tension
If you find yourself thinking a lot, try shaking and moving your head around to shift back into your body from your thoughts
Dance has the potential to wake up emotions and spark fresh ideas. Keep a journal nearby to collect any realizations or feelings that come up during dancing
For those who wish to dance in community and expand these practices I highly recommend 5Rhythms or Ecstatic dance.
A quick blast of cold water completely enlivens me like almost nothing else. The cold brings me right into the present moment and immediately brings me into the moment and powers me up to face any challenge. This article summarizes studies on the benefits of cold showers on mood, weight loss, immune response, as well as skin and cardiovascular health. One study it cites tracked how cold exposure increases endorphins and reduces cortisol. This hormonal change creates exactly the effect we are looking for in reducing stress and increasing a feeling of well-being.
To get started with cold exposure, I recommend taking a normal warm shower and at the end switching the water to cold. This is psychologically easier for me because I am already fully warmed up and under the water.
Aim to take at least five deep breaths while under the cold water. It’s okay if you don’t make it to five when you first get started, even a few seconds is good. Keep your body loose and relaxed.
Extend the practice to more breaths as you grow more accustomed to the cold
Learn more about cold exposure and breath work from Wim Hof
Mindful nature walk
A walk in the woods refreshes my spirit and helps shift my perspective. There is a growing appreciation of how much time spent in nature benefits our health and well-being. This study from the University of Michigan shows that just a 20 minute daytime nature walk will significantly reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. I experience creative benefits as well from walking in nature as it creates space for my unconscious mind to unfold and offer new insight.
Here are my recommendations to enhance your nature walk:
Build a practice of going to a familiar path that is highly accessible for you so that you can visit it routinely without much thought or planning
Observe your breath and slow down your pace. Notice how these two essential rhythms are harmonizing
Focus on individual senses and sensations. For instance, try closing your eyes and notice everything you hearing. What is the quietest sound you can here?
Find a regular spot to sit down and quietly notice all the small details of a wild space. Set a timer starting with five minutes and commit to sitting quietly and watching for that period.
Experiment with walking barefoot for part of the hike.
I hope these practices help you feel more peaceful and present! Let me know please how they’ve worked for you.