By Benji Fargason, communications coordinator
Environmental wellness – adding “awe” to your next walk, jog, or bike ride
Going for an outdoor jog or a bike ride each morning before work has become a part of my weekday routine. I will admit, it can be challenging for me to wake up at 5:30 a.m. and be running or biking up and down hills by 5:50 a.m.—especially now that the early morning light is gone, and the temperatures are chilly. For the most part, this morning routine is meant for one main purpose, to stay physically fit; however, I was recently motivated to try something different one Saturday morning.
I noticed that my morning ride schedule had me leaving and returning to my house before the sunrise happened. Feeling determined to experience the view of the morning sun rising over the mountains, I decided to do something that would deprive me of my most coveted Saturday tradition—sleeping in. As I went to bed Friday night, I set my alarm for the usual weekday time: 5:30 a.m. Or, what I like to call “oh, dark, thirty.”
As I got on my bike and started my Saturday morning ride in the dark, something was clearly different this time. I had no timeline, and no inner impulse to rush, other than to get to a great viewpoint in order to see the sun rise. As I peddled, I found myself extremely aware of my senses. I noticed the stars in the sky, the quiet all around me, and the crisp cool air on my face. As I got closer and closer to my sunrise viewpoint, I realized how much of the surrounding environment I had taken for granted on my typical weekday rides.
When I arrived at the viewpoint, I got off my bike, gently lowered it to the ground, and laid myself down on the rocky soil setting my gaze to the sky above. It was stunning and it was silent. I starred at the stars in amazement and wonder of how bright they were, despite being so far away. I looked at the constellations as though I were viewing them through the eyes of those who named them. The “big dipper” was no longer a giant cooking pot in the sky, it was now part of the constellation Ursa Major, a powerful bear, roaming the wilderness of space.
As I laid there, the dark, starry sky transitioned from black to shades of purple then blue. I closed my eyes and soon heard the delicate, fluttering sounds of bird wings as they flew by just overhead. It was a sound I had heard before, but never among this much silence. This time, it was only sound I heard. It was soft and soothing to my soul. I listened as a bird swooshed by and landed on a nearby tree to begin its morning song. I opened my eyes to see what type of bird the unique sounds were coming from. Its body was mostly gray, and its head displayed colors of blue with a spiky ridge of feathers flowing front to back across its head.
By now, the sun was preparing to show itself over the distant mountains and I noticed an increasing chill come over me. A breeze began to blow as if the night was being whisked away by the coming day. I changed from a lying position to being seated with my knees close to my chest and my arms wrapped around my legs to provide added warmth. I looked out across the vista in front of me and took in the silhouettes of the trees as the sky behind them began to brighten. And then, it happened. The sun gracefully rose above the mountaintops and put forth a brilliant display of light that reached over the surrounding landscape as though it was softly touching the earth to let it know that it was time to wake up.
I slowly stood up and stretched my arms to the sky, then looked in the direction of the sun and said a quiet thank you. As I got back on my bike and began to ride towards home, I found myself smiling at the beauty of nature all around me. I had a new appreciation for the trees, the wildlife, the clean air. I felt invigorated. I felt in “awe.”
It turns out that adding some “awe” to your outdoor activities has some added health benefits. In a New York Times article entitled: “An ‘Awe Walk’ Might Do Wonders for Your Well-Being,” the author describes a study with two groups of volunteers. One group was asked to go for a walk and pay attention to the details around them. The other group was simply told to go for a walk. “Overall, the awe walkers felt happier, less upset and more socially connected than the men and women in the control group,” noted the scientists.
So, the next time you go for that walk, jog, or bike ride, consider slowing down and paying attention to the details all around you, and enjoy the health benefits of adding some “awe.”
Tip: If you bring your smart phone with you on your “awe” walk, jog, or bike ride, put it on silent. Only use your phone as a camera to take a photo of something that captured your interest. Having photos to look at later can take you back to that enjoyable experience.