School is back and many children who spent their summers running through sprinklers, building sand castles at the beach, riding bikes in the neighborhood, and swimming on the swim team are now at their desks. After nearly 20 years of teaching mindfulness yoga programs in schools and day cares, I have seen first hand what happens when our children are indoors more than outdoors. I would imagine a decrease in stresses, behavioral and emotional issues would happen if school allowed for more outdoor educational time. This is one of the motivating factors in building the CommUnity Yoga Preschool and re-imagining an educational environment that considers our green spaces as much, if not more, our classroom than indoors. So I researched and found some benefits to outdoor, nature-based schooling which can benefit us all:
- Children or anyone out in the sunshine, digging in the dirt, walking on the earth increases levels of serotonin in the body. This is the yoga equivalent of Santosha, being content and feeling a sense of wellbeing in the now moment.
- Spending time outdoors increases levels of Vitamin D, a crucial nutrient for bone and muscle health.
- Being outside increases a child’s coordination as they run, climb, walk, and explore their terrain.
- Exposure to the outdoors and nature boosts children’s mental health, cultivating a positive, healthy mood while alleviating the stresses seen and unseen in the world of technology, noise, and near constant stimulation.
- Hugging trees makes us happy!
So, whether you have children or want to take care of your own mental and physical health this autumn, get outside every day for more than 30 minutes. That’s all most school children get for recess. While you are outside try one of these activities:
a) Lie on your belly and focus on the ground. See how many different plants or insects you see.
b) Roll onto your back and look up into the trees and see how many shapes and colors you discover. Or look up to the sky and see if you can make stories of the clouds.
c) Take a slow listening walk and see how much you can hear when you slow down and are silent.
d) Plant a fall/ winter garden and feel your hands in the soil as you plant spinach, chard, pumpkin, or sweet potatoes.
e) Hug a tree like you are hugging someone you love dearly. Feel that love deeply and take a few cleansing breaths as you feel your feet rooted down and your arms fully embracing the tree trunk.