Photo by David Ede
By Bridget Baker
I’ve always been a self-proclaimed “city girl.” I love to walk, and I especially love a good stroll to a local coffee shop or to meet up with friends. Considering myself an “urban hiker,” I was one of the few people I knew who actually walked when I lived in Los Angeles, and I felt freedom in the mobility that my feet offered me.
To me, “opting outside” meant taking a long walk, even if the path was littered with trash, graffiti, and the sound of honking horns. I made it a point to step away from my computer — I’m a web designer and branding consultant by trade — to see the sky, to watch trees sway in the wind, and to capture what little moments of nature in the city that I could.
In the city, I found myself susceptible to taking on the stress of what was around me. Type-A personalities were in a hurry, trying to get in last-minute shopping before a dinner party, or drudging through their morning commute. There was a hustle and bustle that I would get hooked into, noticing my stress level increasing with the tempers and demeanors around me. The pace was fast, and I constantly felt like I had to catch up to it.
I had taken all of this time to craft a business in which I had location freedom — I could work from anywhere as long as I have phone service — and I was wasting it by living in a place that no longer matched what was important to me. I valued a slower-paced way of living, where I take time-outs, just to hear a bird chirping, rather than being locked indoors all day long. Going out on the road forces me to get outside and enjoy more.
A few years ago, we left Los Angeles to venture out on the road in a travel trailer full-time. We were craving adventure, and I was ready to breathe fresh air, and just “be” in nature. To move away from the constant buzz and noise that is Los Angeles meant freedom from helicopters whirring overhead, and the sounds of birds chirping in the morning. We did not have an end goal or destination in mind, but simply to wander and travel as long as it was fun for both of us. Three years in, we’re still traveling strong!
Living mostly in RV campgrounds, I’m surrounded by trees and wildlife. I was missing, however, that city walk where I felt like I could be productive — and I missed being able to walk anywhere. I didn’t have to drive to a store, and I liked the ease of living within walking distance of several great places to shop.
What I didn’t realize was that being able to hike out in nature offers such a different opportunity. I am not racing to get to and from somewhere. I am walking just to walk, pausing when I want to as I enjoy the craftsmanship in a well-tended footpath, or to curiously wonder what type of moss is growing on the bark of a tree.
I was reading an article the other day about a Japanese technique called “forest bathing,” which is shown to boost immunity, alleviate stress, and lower blood pressure and heart rate. As I walk through the trees and breathe in fresh air, I hear the gentle message to “just be” — to be present in that very moment. This mindful awareness shows me how to relax when it’s time to relax and create when it’s time to create. No worry. No stress. Nothing to do other than what is right before me.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation lists the benefits of forest bathing here:
- Boosts the immune system.
- Lowers blood pressure.
- Reduces stress.
- Improves mood.
- Increases the ability to focus, even in children with ADHD.
- Accelerates recovery from surgery or illness.
- Increases energy level.
- Improves sleep.
Simplifying this view on productivity has decreased my tendency to worry, which is something I’ve struggled with often. In the city, I was prone to insomnia and anxiety. While I’m not sure I’m destined to be a full-time country girl, as I love the creativity, diversity, and productivity the city has to offer, I know that taking the time to forest bathe is something I want to do, no matter what. To venture out and absorb the beauty of a place, to breathe in unpolluted air, and to listen to birds chirping soothes my soul.
This kind of nature walking has changed me. I notice my heart rate slow down. I notice ease in my breathing and my worries slipping away. What is more important in that moment than noticing the changing color of the trees, or the gentle trickle of the water over the rocks in a stream? My concerns just melt away.
Out here, the biggest message for me so far has been for me to slow down and take nature breaks. There is no need for a frenetic pace to prove I am important or to feel productive. I am satisfied with less in my life. Less stress. Less panic. Less noise.
To live a simple life is not only about having fewer things or commitments. A minimalist lifestyle means a slower pace, being satisfied with less. Nature is the perfect playground for that simplicity. Taking breaks and breathing fresh air is key.
Nature is having me enjoy the delicious pauses in the silence. As I breathe in and breathe out, I find clarity of purpose and what’s important becomes very simple to me. Fresh air can do a world of wonders and can provide the kind of reset that’s needed for your most productive, creative, and fulfilled life.
Bridget Baker is a branding consultant, website designer, minimalist, digital nomad, and adventurer. For 10 years, she’s supported small business owners in branding, designing, writing, simplifying, and integrating their websites so that they can do what they love and have more fun in the process. She also lives full-time in a travel trailer with her husband and little dog, writing and speaking about minimalism, decluttering, and living simply.
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