Mindfulness in Green Spaces

Each month in our Open Voices blog we share insight from leaders in our communities who are advancing what it means to have sacred, open green spaces in our cities. This October we share in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Urban green spaces provide opportunities to enjoy natural scenery, relax, sit quietly, commune with others, meditate, pray, or self-reflect. Yet your surroundings, whether a small urban park or a few plants outside your window, aren’t just a backdrop for beneficial activities. The places and spaces we inhabit interact with our bodies and minds in amazing and sometimes imperceptible ways.

Research continues to expand on the mental and physical health benefits of spending time in nature. We are less stressed, more focused, and generally happier when we spend time in the outdoors. Urban green spaces, especially those small pockets of green you find hidden among your neighborhood, can provide a moment of peace and quiet. We know exercise provides innumerable benefits, but so does pausing to appreciate your surroundings and breathing with purpose. In studies investigating benefits of meditation, the list continues to grow:

Lowered heart rate, lowered blood pressure, improved metabolism, improved respiration, improved cognitive functions, longer attention spans and improved perceptual ability, memory, intelligence and empathy 1.

Amazing Grace Lutheran Church Labyrinth in Baltimore, supported by TKF
The Amazing Grace Lutheran Church Labyrinth in Baltimore, supported by TKF, provides opportunity for meditation.

For cancer patients and survivors, meditation also reduces anxiety and pain and improves psychological well-being, overall mental health and quality of life 2 3. And, in a study with breast cancer survivors, meditation demonstrated positive outcomes including openness to change, greater self-awareness, personal growth and increased spirituality 4 .

Several studies report that exercise and meditative activities in green spaces are more effective than the same activities performed in areas without 5. For example, one study investigates levels of self-esteem, anxiety and happiness of women in forest or indoor settings. The participants walked in both settings with intent to meditate or increase their heart rate. Meditative walking in the forest was the most effective at increasing measures of “happiness” 6. And in an Edinburgh study, participants took part in a short walk in urban or green spaces while connected to a mobile EEG recorder 7. The equipment provided continuous recordings of arousal, frustration, engagement, and meditation. In this study, those in the green space showed evidence of lower frustration, engagement and arousal, and higher meditation when in the green space zone.

Although scientists will debate about the extent of measurable benefits, coupling mindfulness practices with time spent in nature does provide benefits most of us will notice in real-time. Research investigating benefits for cancer patients or survivors while in green environments is lacking. But, we hope those of you who need a space to simply be and breathe will continue to test this interaction out for yourself.

1 PubMed result for systematic reviews and meta-analyses of meditation and health outcomes.
2 Biegler, K., A. Chaoul, and L. Cohen. 2009. Cancer, cognitive impairment and meditation. Acta Oncologica, 48, 1: 18-26.
3 Nidich, S., J. Fields, M. Rainforth, R. Pomerantz, D. Cella, J. Kristeller, J. Salerno and R. Schneider. 2009. A randomized controlled trial of the effects of transcendental meditation on quality of life in older breast cancer patients. Integrated Cancer Therapies, 8, 3: 228-234.
4 Matousek, R. H. and P.L. Dobkin. 2010. Weathering storms: a cohort study of how participation in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program benefits women after breast cancer treatment. Current Oncology, 17, 4: 62-70.
5 Sternberg, E.M. 2009. Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-being. Belknap Press: Cambridge MA.
6 Shin, Y.K., K. Jung-Choi, Y.J. Son, J.W. Koo, J.A. Min, and J.H. Chae. 2013. Differences of psychological effects between meditative and athletic walking in a forest and gymnasium. Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research 28, 1: 64-72.
7 Aspinall, P., P. Mavros, R. Coyne, and J. Roe. 2013. The urban brain: Analysing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG. British Journal of Sports Medicine. (Accessed Online)


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