Guest blogger: Kristina Meek, Education Intern
It seems that nearly every day another study informs us of the benefits of mindfulness–for children as well as adults. Educators use mindfulness techniques in classrooms. A wide range of authors, from the scientific to the self-help ends of the spectrum, have published books on how to be more mindful.
Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your thoughts. Mindfulness techniques can be as immediate as a deep breath or as long-term as a commitment to daily meditation. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to lower stress, ease pain, increase empathy, and improve concentration.
What does that have to do with visiting the Zoo? Animals are excellent tutors of mindfulness. They don’t constantly check their cell phones, worry about what others think of them, regret the past or fear the future. They live in the now. The Zoo offers myriad ways to practice mindfulness. Here are five:
- Watch the red pandas play. Or the river otters. Or the apes. Choose your favorite, but take several uninterrupted minutes to fully observe animals at play. They don’t worry about whether they look silly or how many calories they’re burning. They play with abandon. Science doesn’t understand completely why animals play, but it clearly benefits them. Whether you’re an adult or a child, you can learn about living in the moment from the animals.
- Engage your senses. A visit to the Zoo naturally coaxes you to use sight, smell, touch, hearing…and even taste, if you stop for a bite. Invite your children to describe what they see, hear, and smell. Encourage them to pet pygmy goats in the Spaulding Children’s Zoo. Sometimes it’s enough just to remember what the world looks like in three dimensions, rather than on a screen!
- Watch the manatees swim. Manatee Springs provides a comfy place to sit, close to the glass, with a view straight into the manatee tank. If you visit on a chilly day, mid-week, you’ll have the best chance at smaller crowds and a more relaxing experience. These hulking marine mammals twist and tumble gracefully through the water, inviting you to exhale and admire.
- Try not photographing everything. Of course, you’ll want a few photos to remember your visit. But, if you’re a member and stop by regularly, designate a “no photography” trip. Or limit yourself to taking photos of only certain activities. You’ll be more focused on what’s happening instead of capturing it for later. Plus, if your camera is your phone, leaving it holstered will minimize the temptation to check Facebook, e-mail, or other incoming distractions. Whether you’re with your kids, other family, or good friends, you’ll enjoy more quality time together.
- Visit the Garden of Peace. Sit a moment and relax in this lesser-trafficked corner of the Zoo, just off the path near Jungle Trails. Take in the multi-cultural messages of peace and bask, for a moment, in gratitude–one of the key elements of mindfulness.
So, wherever you are right now… take a deep breath, and start planning your next visit to the Zoo. And, when life gets too hectic to make the trip, we’re always a click away with photos and videos that offer you a mini break from everyday stress.