When was the last time you took a few hour hike through the woods, or green fields? Countless studies show that getting outdoors more often produces amazing benefits for our body and mind. From better results exercising to increased concentration and memory, better creativity and major mood boost! But there is more…
This article was inspired by my own personal experience from spending all my time in my safe cave, to getting myself outdoors more often.
Short answer - the combination of two simple daily practices: meditation, and a walk outdoors. These require a minimum of fifteen minutes a day, each.
I realise that a spare hour or half an hour a day might not be available to some people. Personally, a significant increase in focus saves me a lot more time than it takes away.
I am an artist, and I work from my home studio. I started working from home 5 years ago, and as a result, my only outings became shopping and indoor entertainments like cinema, live music, and friend meet-ups once in a while. Once a month I would go out for a long walk, but that was about it… I exercised on my running machine, and if I ever needed to get myself out in the rain, I did not like that at all. Sun is not an everyday occurrence in the UK, sometimes during the winter, we get entire months of grey sky…
After long periods of “indoor-living” I would walk out on a sunny day, and even when the sun was behind me I would not be able to see anything as the brightness levels were just “through the roof” compared to what I was used to! And yet I was wondering why my productivity levels were unbelievably low and why is it so hard to force myself to do anything. I had no discipline. I had no focus. So, I tackled discipline first.
By developing that unwavering discipline to sit in half lotus with my back straight and think about nothing for 20 minutes a day, made it so much easier to develop other good disciplines. Once this natural progress starts, your best chance of success is to keep that ball rolling. When other good habits start developing naturally, with little effort required of you, do your best to keep them going – take them just as seriously as you did the discipline that started it.
It does not matter if those little disciplines were as insignificant as putting your house key back in its rightful place after use, or tidying your desk up every time you finished with your work for a day (I love this one!) – commitment can be exercised in so many different ways, and as long as you truly commit – it doesn’t matter! I made a mistake thinking that by not intending to develop these habits, I had no reason for sticking with them. This slowed my progress by damaging my “good habit development muscle.” Don't make the same mistake! Keep it going!
After starting daily meditation, it felt like these little habits started developing all by themselves, and they were all beneficial to my lifestyle in some way, shape or form.
After continuing regular meditation practice for at least four months, my focus improved notably, but not significantly. I lacked quality in this practice. I decided to improve on another discipline – regular walks.
Even though regular walking was something I started before regular meditation practice and even made my development of daily meditation practice easier – I did not walk often enough. I decided to start walking every single day.
This is where the ice broke – somehow, meditation was the gate that led me to greatly improve on another discipline (walking) that in turn had a direct impact on the quality of my meditation practice.
Personally, I feel that taking regular walks on your own can be significantly more beneficial than doing the same thing with another human being (a friend or a partner), purely because you pay more attention to your environment – but this might work differently for different people.
To save time and extract more benefits, I used my walks as an exercise – I speed walked. Using my treadmill had nowhere near as much impact on my focus as when I took it outdoors. There were a few things that treadmill was better at providing – like using the incline function. Unfortunately, due to a very flat landscape where I live, I feel like I’m not getting enough of a “hill.” However, exercising outdoors does something amazing to your brain, and switching to outdoor mode was worth sacrificing this feature.
There has been studies suggesting that people, who exercise outdoors, push themselves harder and generally have better results at the end of the exercise compared to people on treadmills. I personally did not notice any significant changes, but I most certainly found that I reap benefits another way – huge increase in focus.
One evening, after dutifully continuing this dual practice of meditation and outdoor exercise for roughly 2 weeks, I suddenly looked back at my day. I barely wavered – I managed to tick all the boxes of my “to do” list and was already halfway through what would have been tomorrow's to do list! I admit, this list only consisted of 3 little boxes. However, the tasks were lengthy. I rarely used to get past the first one, and here I was doing what could have been the entire 2, possibly three-day work in 11 hours. I looked back at my day, and I couldn’t remember a single time I was distracted – all my time was solely focused on my tasks. I knew then, I was doing something right.
After a few weeks I had noticed that when some days were very high performance, others were not as good - yet still, miles better compared to what it used to be. I haven’t quite figured out the factors that contribute to my practice, but I have discovered that more regular sun exposure does seem to have a significant effect. I live in England, so it might not be the same for someone in LA or Manila, or anywhere where blue skies don’t feel like an “unusual thing to happen.”
There are plenty of other factors that might influence this practice, like the amount of greenery where you walk or like some studies suggest, exposure to water, i.e. if there are any ponds, lakes, rivers or sea in sight of your regular path.
My walks used to be quite lengthy, I aimed for 8 miles a day, five days a week. Some weeks I walked more than that. While speed walking, I could make this distance in 2 hours. However, I recently cut down to half-an-hour every day, and still it had little to no effect on my focus. I am planning to up this time back to at least an hour a day, but this is purely for fitness reasons. You can start from 15 minutes a day, five days a week and increase this time as you go along if you find it necessary.
Speed walking is also unnecessary if you also exercise indoors; you can keep a comfortable pace, or even replace your walk with fifteen minutes of gardening (if you're lucky enough to have a garden!) - and still reap the benefits. Just keep in mind, that exercise is also a hugely important part of keeping your brain healthy, so if your day does not include any such practice, giving yourself a little push while you're walking becomes a lot more important.
Studies show, that green environment has more beneficial effect on your brain than a typical street walk.
If you live in a city, look for any green spots in your area, a pond is a bonus! It might get more difficult if you’re located in a dry desert environment, or worse still, where you have snow all year round. But don’t let it discourage you, as long as you keep hydrated, warm (in a winter climate) and protect yourself from merciless desert sun rays adequately you might still find ways to benefit from this practice.
I personally believe, that specifically, this combination of meditation practice and walking outdoors is what makes it exceedingly effective tool to increase your focus. Both practices on their own never had such a profound effect on me before.
If you need advice on how to start a regular meditation practice, I will be covering this topic fairly soon; I will put a link below once I post it.
Keep in mind - results are not immediate. As with any practice, the time it will take to achieve better focus may vary greatly for different people, and so far I can only tell you about my own experience. It took me two weeks until I realised a massive increase in my performance. It’s fair to say that I wasn’t expecting it to happen, and only after noticing these changes and doing a little research on this topic – it suddenly made sense.
If you decide to try this method anytime soon, I would love to hear how you got on!
So get out and get walking!
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Aug 15, 17 01:35 PM
Did you know, that something as innocent as a daydream can completely take over your life? Isn't daydreaming healthy and good for your creativity? Not when it becomes something you can't control.
Aug 06, 17 07:34 PM
New Age is a term we hear more and more often these days. It sticks to a lot of things weird or crazy. But how weird or crazy is it really, compared to "normal" everyday reality?
Jul 29, 17 03:34 PM
With all this meditation and living in a moment craze going on - we should probably ask ourselves - what on earth is wrong with thinking?