Boost your wellbeing with a ‘noticing walk’

How many times have you set off on your regular walk and realised, when you got home, that you barely remembered anything about it? Maybe autopilot took over and got you safely there and back while you were completely lost in thought. There’s actually nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s a very useful ability that helps us get all sorts of mundane jobs done. Walking can give us time to decompress and process our experiences – and that’s a very useful thing.

However, you might want to exercise more choice over the time you spend revisiting the past or planning the future. Perhaps you’d like to spend more time in the present, noticing all the things here right now. By introducing a few simple techniques to connect with nature, you can transform your sense of wellbeing. There’s no better time than spring to practice this, as nature is bursting into life with new changes every day.

You’ll find hundreds of ways to connect with nature, many of which are detailed in my Other Ways to Walk cards. Today, I decided to follow my own advice and make use of one card in particular. This one invites us to ‘Count all the things that are opening’ while out on a daily stroll. Activities like this help us to focus on pulling our attention from our internal monologue back into the present world. Better still, they help us notice and appreciate things that are beautiful or have meaning. Both of these exercises are proven ways to improve wellbeing.

I set off along a path between an arable field and a playing field. I found myself wondering if it was too early in the year to find many things that were opening. Then, my attention fell on a new pink bud starting to open on an oak sapling with acid yellow lichen. It seemed to be a brave pioneer, with all the other buds staying tightly closed in their tough outer scales.

Brightened by this discovery, I looked up to see a rook opening its wings to take flight across the field. This was my second ‘opening’ in the space of a few minutes.

I continued walking past a row of terraces, skirting a small copse and returning along muddy paths beside fields. Along the way, I noticed another nine things that were opening, some admittedly more poetic than others:

  • the clouds opened to reveal the sun, which drenched me in a hazy warm glow of light
  • my heart opened with gratitude at the feeling of warm sunlight on my cheeks
  • a small opening at the bottom of a crumbling dry stone wall had a track running through it, probably frequented by badgers after sunset
  • dog walkers were opening and closing their mouths as they talked
  • someone had left a window open on the top floor of one of the terraces, letting in the spring air as it has done since the early 19th century when it was built for the cottage weaving industry
  • now that the last of the snow had melted, the snowdrops were finally open on the verge opposite the cottages, showing their little green moustaches

Celandines were opening. These are a good early source of pollen for insects and provide a bright, shiny yellow colour to gladden the heart.

I found one single daffodil amongst all the closed flowers. They will be a riot of yellow in a few days’ time.

Best of all, I felt a sense of opening in my mind and more space to breathe as I returned home, grateful for a few moments of spring at the end of February.

There are so many different types of landscape in Yorkshire. It would be impossible to list them all here, but whether you are walking in formal parks, coastal paths, over moorlands or through ancient forests, it will do you good to take the time to soak it all in with every one of your senses. Research shows that connecting with nature has measurable benefits for wellbeing, boosting the immune system, reducing stress and improving sleep. So don’t let it pass you by unnoticed.

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