THE BLOG
11/05/2015 11:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Mindfulness: Why Nature?

Interview with Dr. Bjarte Stubhaug, M.D., Ph.D.

"There are great benefits in practicing mindfulness. In pure relaxation, in peace of mind, in the defusion of painful thoughts, memories and worries, in the experience of acceptance in just being here, being good enough", the psychiatrist says.

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Dr. Bjarte Stubhaug is a Norwegian psychiatrist and mindfulness-expert. Photographs are taken at Fitjar/ Norway by Hanne Suorza

In this interview with Dr. Bjarte Stubhaug I ask him about mindfulness in nature - a practice which seems to put me in a state of serenity and clear mental focus.

That makes me wonder:

Why nature?

Nature is always her and now. Your breath, your senses, anything around you. When you are being aware of the life within you and around you, you are being mindful of this present moment, and it will always calm you down. You can not do nature, you can just be there. Being is calming.

There´s calmness in nature. Is it contagious?

It is more like tuning in with some melody, a harmony of life being what it is. Right now. And then of course, nature provides some basic sensations to our mind and body that has always caused calmness and peacefulness. Somehow, it creates some old, primitive yet soothing experiences of rest, being embraced by acceptance.

Acceptance?

Accepting things as they are, that you are here with all of you, irrespective of wrongdoings and worries. No achievement right now, just being here.

How can nature help us regulate emotions?

By merely listening and being aware of nature around you. By letting your senses and sensations of nature fill your room of awareness, and you will experience a distance to your emotions, making it possible to let go of them.

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What´s the deal about nature and the present moment?

It is always here and now. Nature is always fresh. Never past, nor future.

It´s about conscious awareness?

Yes and no. Conscious of being here, of the awareness of the present moment, but also letting your senses reach you at a subconscious level.

Simple, not easy?

Basically, simple. The ultimately simple experience, naked, stripped of any thought, analysis or evaluation. And yes, complicated somehow, when your mind tends to wander wildly high and low.

You take your patients for walks. What do you want to teach and show them?

I want to help them touch the experience of opening up their awareness of their senses. In the moment of here and now- which is the only sensation your senses can bring you - there is some peace of mind you can never reach elsewhere.

Yes. Peace of mind, but also clarity of mind. Fresh ideas and even answers often come to me by surprise when I´m walking in nature, simply dwelling in silence. How come?

Your mind is often being loaded with thoughts of stress, worries and to-dos. Minding the present moment will often clear this fog of distracting thoughts, leaving you in this state of clarity.

Still, the whole concept of paying attention to the flowers, birds and skies... To some it might seem a bit ridiculous and boring?

It does? Not to me. And yet, I hear some people say that. The younger, the more impatient and immature the person is, the more boring it may seem. In the beginning. If you stay on, it will definitely change...

Can anyone benefit from this?

Can anyone not? Oh yes, there are great benefits in practicing mindfulness. In pure relaxation, in peace of mind, in the defusion of painful thoughts, memories and worries, in the experience of acceptance in just being here, being good enough.

What kind of feedback do you get?

Always positive, although some people struggle with being still, not doing, just being. And sometimes, in the beginning, it might cause anxiety and physical unease. If you don't give up but stay on, this will get better.

I´m in no doubt that practicing mindfulness, not least in nature, helped my chronic pain vanish. How is that?

It is hard to be certain about medical phenomena, but you share the experience with thousands of people reporting the same response and change in health complaints like pain or fatigue, when practicing mindfulness, being in outdoor nature or elsewhere. We know that the physiological systems of pain, stress and immune activation are all down-regulated in mindfulness practice, and maybe that is an explanation good enough? After that, your feeling of relief will reinforce your coping and painkilling experience, like a positive spiral.

What else can we learn from nature?

The hardiness and safeness of being there, in changing outfits and seasons, yet recognizable and loyal.

Then how to practice mindfulness in nature? How to get started?

By going out, using your senses in taking in whatever is around you, leading your mind consciously to your senses, to the unique experience of being here, right now. In the beginning, try to notice the big picture, anything around you. Further down the road, you can practice the mindfulness of little things. They are all waiting for your attention.

Bjarte Stubhaug is a well-known Norwegian psychiatrist and researcher with thirty years of clinical experience. During the last ten years his main interest has been within the field of stress medicine.

This post originally appeared on the blog hannesuorza.no