Figuring out ‘who I am’ isn’t accomplished only by sitting, thinking & meditating. I do that, but I also get outside to exercise (even while traveling). Being physical improves my health. And once I get into the “groove” of an activity, the focus leaves me invigorated. The focus, or flow experience (more on this later), of outdoor activities is a way to enhance self-discovery.
In this post I review 5 outdoor travel activities that help you discover yourself by delivering a flow experience. Each activity comes recommended by top bloggers active in their sport. The post has facts on the cognitive benefits of physical activity, and why everything is better outside. Get ready for the outdoor travel activities that add self-discovery to vacation.
What’s a Flow Experience?
“Flow” is term coined by PhD Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, which he describes in his (dry but enlightening) book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
“Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” ~ Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi
A flow experience is remarkable because it frees you from self-limitation & self-awareness. And afterwards the experience is instantly available to introspection.
Flow results in the sensation of experiencing a new or changed self, and (externally) in noticing life, including the mundane, as new and meaningful1.
The exceptional thing about the 5 outdoor travel activities listed below is their perfect learning curve. Beginner or pro, the activities are as challenging as you need them to be. Anyone can get flow from them.
Why Get Active Outside?
Studies have backed that deep down feeling we all have: nature is beneficial to our health. Visiting the big room with the blue roof (A.K.A. the outside) keeps us healthy many ways.
A natural environment excites our senses which is good for mental & physical health.
Studies have shown that nature sounds have a calming effect on humans, and that outdoor scents lower our blood pressure2. Getting outside increases vitality.
Outside is also a break from our connected lives. Fifty to a million years ago, our ancestors didn’t ogle a computer screen and call it ‘work’. They didn’t spend all day inside either (possibly because being inside is boring without a computer). Humans evolved to be outside doing physical work. Studies show that exercising in nature amplifies the benefits of physical activity.
Want to know more about the benefits of being in nature? See Vacation with Nature in Mind – Your Body will Thank You.
Physical Activity Benefits Your Brain
We know that physical activity is good for our physical bodies (at least I hope we all know that. If not it’s time for you to exit the computer and discover life). But did you know that exercise is healthy for your brain?
Long-running studies have shown that physically active people have greater cognitive abilities3. That is, they had better memory, reasoning, planning, executing, and problem-solving skills. Plus a faster association between thinking & doing.
“The cognitive benefits of exercising seem to last for a very long time.” ~ Viatcheslav Wlassoff, PhD
Outdoor Travel Activities to Help Discover Yourself
Trail Running – Recommended by Hungry Runner Girl
Trail runners cover twice as much ground as hikers. On a time-crunched vacation, this alone may be reason enough to give trail running a try.
Don’t mistake trail running for a glammed-up version of the morning jog. You don’t get to zone out. Trails have tripping hazards, and you’re going fast enough to eat proper shit if you lose awareness. Trail running involves picking an appropriate pace, and focusing.
There is no time to worry about what happens if you trip. The highlights (hazards) of the trail are subtle enough that you have to trust your body to react. Your job is to focus. You don’t zone out, but you do get to zone in.
One moment merges into the next and your ‘self’ takes control. There’s only a slight distinction between you and the environment, between the path and your response. Trail running produces a flow experience that makes it an inner journey.
Interested in trail running? Read 10 Reasons Why I Love Trail Running by Hungry Runner Girl.
Outdoor Yoga – Recommended by The Travel Yogi
I sometimes notice studios advertising events like ‘sunset beach yoga’ when I travel. Travelers should take these opportunities. Practicing yoga outside you get to immerse yourself in the scenery of the vacation. The stretching’s good physically. And the mental effort of focusing (while being outside) can upgrade your ability to quiet the mind.
It’s easy to get into ‘the zone’ when practicing in a studio. Time speeds by when you learn to focus on the breath. Practicing yoga outside is different.
Outside, the view is beautiful but distractions like uneven ground, wind, bugs, heat, & spectators challenge your ability to focus. The distractions (like the view) are also beautiful. They allow you to train the mind to quiet when things aren’t perfect. And that’s a skill you can use in real life.
Stoked to try outdoor yoga? See A Dozen Great Reasons to Take Your Yoga Practice Outdoors by The Travel Yogi.
Rock Climbing – Recommended by Transcend Your Limits
One solid fact about mountains is they don’t move. That’s why rock climbing is a popular outdoor travel activity. You need to go to them.
The art of climbing is as much mental as it is physical. Alone, you are responsible for your success (or failure). It’s an empowering sport. The internal requirements of climbing are a bit like this:
- Use your intellect to set a goal & to pick a path
- Be fully aware of your physical body and its limits
- Commit to your choices
- Have intense focus on the moment
- Accept the situation given to you
- Solve each immediate problem as it arises
- Persevere towards your goal
During a climb the intensity of focus can replace self-awareness. You don’t think about anything, you just are. This flow experience gives you a sense of unencumbered self.
Knowing your being (woah, that sounds deep) is available to any climber. I’m undoubtedly a novice climber, and completing a 20 meter climb (which seems like Everest to me) gives me a flow experience. Afterwards the world seems clearer. The process of climbing puts life’s other challenges into perspective.
Jazzed about rock climbing? See 11 Awesome Benefits Of Rock Climbing, And 1 Very Important One by Transcend Your Limits.
Kayaking – Recommended by The Carousel
If your tourist trail takes you to a waterbody, it’s certain there’s a shop that rents sports equipment. Before you pay for the boat ride that pulls you on a giant inflatable banana (embarrassing), consider how badass and beneficial kayaking is.
Kayaking is a full-body workout and as a (mostly) non-competitive, silent, activity, it’s a good way to clear your head. According to the book Blue Mind, being on the water meditates you.
“I wondered whether water is a mirror for our darker emotions as much as it is an engine for our happiness. Water quiets all the noise, all the distractions, and connects you to your own thoughts.” Wallace J. Nichols, PhD, Blue Mind
Intent on Kayaking? See Health Benefits of Kayaking: 4 Reasons to Grab a Paddle by The Carousel.
Snowshoeing – Recommended by The Travel Type on YouTube
The first time I tried snowshoeing was in Whitehorse. Located in Canada’s north, it was February and cold, cold, cold. Yet I fell in love with this activity, bought snowshoes, and have gone snowshoeing at home many times since. It’s simple, peaceful, and allows you to get personal with the winter landscape.
Snowshoeing is easy-to-do and demanding at the same time. The effort will have you breathing deep. Winter in the forest is crisp and the air is scented with pine. The snowfall gets trapped in the bows of the trees, and acts as soundproofing making the forest overwhelming silent. Without accord, your focus tends to follow your breath and the sound of your snowshoes.
The extreme calm allows you to become involved & focused. Like the previous outdoor travel activities, the flow experience creates an absence of self-consciousness that is replaced with awareness. Only after you stop snowshoeing do you realize how good it felt just ‘being’.
Want to see what it’s like to snowshoe? Watch this 1 minute video.
Plan to try a new sport on your next vacation. Make it 1 of the 5 outdoor travel activities listed above, or pick a different one. You’ll have an exciting experience, a travel memory, and (if you like the activity) it’s probably available at home.
Give the activity your all and see if you get some flow from it. With flow you can ‘lose yourself’ in the moment and boost your inward discovery.
Brain Blogger: Can Physical Exercise Improve Cognitive Abilities?^
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