THE SAVORING WALK
By Martha Fagan
It’s spring, so even with our unpredictable New England weather we should be in store for warmer temperatures and sunnier days. In other words, the weather is beckoning us to get outside to breathe in some fresh air and soak up a little sunshine. And longer days mean more opportunity!
Recent studies have shown that getting outside and spending time in nature has a positive impact on our overall health. When we experience natural environments—walking in the woods, sitting under an oak tree, smelling the ocean air—our attention is captivated through our senses, which requires little or no mental effort and therefore allows space for reflection. In contrast, when spending the same time in unnatural environments—a busy urban street, a crowded shopping center or sitting on a metal city bench—our attention is captured dramatically and then directed at trying to force our attention elsewhere, for example, trying to read while ignoring the cacophony of city sounds. This second process is draining rather than uplifting.
So, while urban or artificial environments foster weary minds, natural environments are restorative, boosting feelings of happiness and reducing feelings of stress. Just fifteen minutes spent in a natural setting can give way to increased pleasure and rejuvenation.
Spending time in nature is also a beautiful and easy way to hone our skills of practicing mindfulness. Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer offers this definition of mindfulness “Mindfulness is a flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things.” Actively practicing mindfulness in the simple moments of our daily lives keeps us in the here and now and not in the past or the future. It’s as simple as that.
We can both rejuvenate and practice mindfulness by taking a Savoring Walk in nature. Here’s what I’m suggesting.
Walk outside for twenty minutes with a focus to notice your surroundings. Observe the sights, sounds and smells around you—notice the gentle wind, the crocuses and hyacinths poking up from the earth and the tender leaf buds on the trees. Take time to absorb these details with all your senses. And spring is a delightful time for this!
In a study done at Loyola University Chicago, participants who took Savoring Walks daily for a week reported greater increases in happiness than participants who went for walks as usual. “Making a conscious effort to notice and explicitly acknowledge the various sources of joy around us can make us happier,” explains Bryant and Joseph Veroff in the book Savoring.
We’re lucky to have so many beautiful choices for walks in Natick and our surrounding communities. Here are just a few:
Pegan Hill—Located off Pleasant Street, at 410 feet, Pegan Hill is the highest point in Natick. This classic glacial drumlin is forested with pine, oak, maple and birch. You can take in partial views from the summit southeast toward the Great Blue Hill.
Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary—With an entrance off Route 16 this expansive retreat sits along the Indian Brook and the Charles River. Broadmoor has over 9 miles of trails where you may witness more than 150 species of birds. The trails, some of which are wooden walkways, lead you through mature woodlands into open fields and along the edges of vibrant streams, ponds and marshland.
Sudbury Aqueduct—Spanning over 16 miles from Framingham to Chestnut Hill, this aqueduct runs right through Natick. One entrance is on Cottage St. This secluded trail through the woods is ideal for a morning run or a leisurely walk.
The Gardens at Elm Bank—Heading east on Route 16 the entrance is just past South Natick center. Located on Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s 36 acres, these grounds include open fields and meadows, streams and pools, wooded areas and formal gardens. There is something special to see and absorb in every season.
Lake Waban Path—This 3 mile loop, which starts on the campus of Wellesley College, features beautiful wildflowers and is a hiking trail for all skill levels. Enjoy stunning views of the lake and nature at it’s best from benches along the path.
South Natick Falls—Built in 1934 this dam replaces one that was built in 1760. This is not much of a walk yet it is ideal for playtime with young children on the grass and great for family picnics. Benches provide seating to soak in the magnificent views and listen to the soothing sounds of moving water. This gem is located in the heart of South Natick center.
Whether you choose one of these walks or discover some of your own, I hope you will give yourself and your family the chance to experience the beauty surrounding us. May you savor your time walking, noticing nature and being present in the moment. An added benefit is that you’ll be creating memories to recall and savor again in the future…like when we are once again forced to stay indoors.
Martha Fagan is a Life Coach and Mentor who’s practice is aimed at helping people navigate life transitions, weather life’s storms and foster more resilience. She lives in South Natick with her husband Don and their dog Stitch. Visit her website at marthaefagan.com