Written by Shelby Deering

I’ve never been a fan of crowds, even in a pre-pandemic world. As an empath, being in a crowd can be overwhelming. The loud noises. The unexpected bumping and “Pardon me’s.” All those individual energies in one space has always been a bit too much for me.

Now, in 2020, crowds are discouraged in favor of social distancing. The majority of summer events have been canceled. Crowded environments will be few and far between for the foreseeable future.

While this is a naturally challenging time for many, the pandemic also provides us with an opportunity for reflection, particularly in outdoor locales. Outdoor retreats free of crowds can offer a healthy dose of restoration that can help us to be mindful, too.

In other words? As many of us already know, nature is good for the soul. Outdoor activities are encouraged, and while a number of people might still be visiting those destinations, social distancing should prevent crowds.

This has definitely been a difficult year, but in the midst of it, we all have an opportunity to rest, reflect and appreciate quiet, mindful moments.

If you’re searching for outdoor experiences that are a bit off the beaten path, where you can truly soak up the crowd-free tranquility, to help you be more mindful and in the moment, here are some ideas to get you started.

Public Gardens

Since many people are opting for state and national parks these days, I have found that small public gardens have been a peaceful respite instead. There’s a university research garden located nearby that’s free of charge and often without other people. I love to walk the rows and rows of flowers and vegetables, seeing what’s in bloom this week and turning it into a sensory experience filled with lovely sights and scents. And as many people have been discovering lately, a little time in the garden is really good for the soul.

Wildlife Sanctuaries

From gardens built for honeybees and butterflies to areas dedicated to threatened birds, reptiles and other animals, a wildlife sanctuary can be a place where you can connect with nature and unwind. In addition to supporting endangered species with an entrance fee or donation, you can unplug and spend the day spotting animals instead.

Outdoor Yoga

Since the pandemic first started, I’ve rarely exercised indoors. Instead, I take my workouts to my deck, where I watch instructor-led videos on my tablet and listen to music. I’m used to my hot yoga studio, so moving outside on my own has definitely been a more mindful experience. Whether it’s your backyard or a nearby park, try an outdoor yoga workout to boost those relaxed, blissed-out vibes. And depending on where your outdoors is located, maybe you can also enjoy the calming soundtrack of nature.

Forest Bathing

Speaking of nature’s calming force, have you tried forest bathing? Otherwise known as shinrin-yoku, it’s the Japanese practice of immersing yourself in trees, mindfully appreciating their beauty and wisdom. I had the chance to go on a hike last year with a professional forest therapy guide, and the experience was indeed calming and enlightening. Forest bathing can be done anywhere - “in a state park, a local park or even a tree-lined street. Simply put away your phone, turn off any music and slowly walk among the trees as you reap the mental health benefits.

Stargazing

When was the last time you went stargazing? When I was little, I loved nothing more than to pull out my telescope and watch the shooting stars as they streaked across the sky. Relive those magical memories from your childhood and cherish the wonder of nature, too. Seek out a low-light locale, take a family member along and use an old-school guide to the constellations to point them out in the sky. It’s a beautiful, and mindful, way to spend an evening.