Four playful ways to be mindful

Man and two boys running on grass surrounded by trees
Photo credit: Johnny Hathaway

Four playful ways to be mindful

A walk in the woods is usually our favourite way to wind down after a long day. However, it can be hard to enjoy nature’s soundscape over the racing thoughts of day-to-day worries. But what happens if we change our perspective, and look at mindfulness with a more playful view? 

When we think of play, most of us think of children. The gift of being able to turn a mossy twig into a powerful wand, or a hollowed-out tree into their secret den. When we play, we’re encouraged to become absorbed in the environment we’re in and story we’ve paired with it – this is mindfulness in its simplest form.  
The value of play is being increasingly recognised for adults too. Play, be it on our own, with others or even with a pet, can help to relieve stress, improve brain function, stimulate creativity, improve relationships and boost energy. Play also enables us to immerse ourselves in the present moment, to connect with others and the environment around us, and to develop a closer relationship with nature. 

Forests are the perfect place for play. The unique landscapes and twisting trails are exciting to all ages, and naturally draw out our playful instinct as we find fun in the everyday. Want to give it a try? 

We’ve put together our top four suggestions to help you rediscover your inner playfulness

Family paddling in a brook

1. Marvel at all things great and small 

Connecting with nature by engaging with our senses can help lower stress levels, help us feel calmer and improve wellbeing. Take a moment to pause, look closely at the pattern of the bark on a tree, pick up a leaf and feel its texture and listen for the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves of a tree. 

2. Share the fun 

Play can be a great way to build on or form new relationships. Sharing laughter with a friend or stranger fosters empathy, understanding and connection. Next time you’re on a forest adventure, smile at a stranger, invite a friend to join you in a game of hide and seek or share a photo with a loved one of a funny looking tree that caught your eye!  

A couple on a forest road in a conifer forest pointing at the trees
Fit4life Paul and runners stretching before class

3. Make exercise fun 

Did you know that we’re more likely to maintain a physically active lifestyle if we enjoy the exercise we do? Forget step-counters, running pace or miles cycled. Move in a way that feels good for you, go where your body takes you, at the pace it wants to travel. Be curious – try a new route, explore an area of the forest you haven’t been to before or try walking your usual route in the other direction.  

4. Go where your imagination takes you 

Play England defines play as "what children and young people do when they follow their own ideas and interests, in their own ways, and for their own reasons". Resist the urge to pop on your headphones and instead let your your surroundings capture your imagination. Where is that bird going? What does that tree remind you of? How many green things can you spot in 30 seconds? 

Family nature spotting

In ‘Book of Play’, Michael Rosen reminds us that playfulness means “being in the state of mind that says, ‘I wonder what might happen if I tried this’ and then not worrying or being afraid of the outcome”. This ability to cope with, and even enjoy the unexpected can help to ease our worries in our day-to-day life. So, we hope that when you go down to the woods today, you might be in for a playful surprise! 

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