Ipswich woman on how mindfulness changed her life

Going on a solo or small group walk this autumn can really help you unwind and find balance Picture:

Going on a solo or small group walk this autumn can really help you unwind and find balance Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Suffolk resident Caroline de Max has found great solace in nature walking - and wants to share its benefits with others.

Captain's Wood in Sudbourne is an ideal spot to recharge in today's hectic and stressful world Pictu

Captain's Wood in Sudbourne is an ideal spot to recharge in today's hectic and stressful world Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

While large group meditation sessions are unfortunately unable to take place now due to the latest social distancing restrictions, there’s still ample opportunity for you to get in touch with nature on a much smaller, more socially-distanced scale.

Ipswich resident Caroline de Max has been running guided nature walks for just over a year now – and wants to show how getting in touch with nature can be a huge help during this time of year.

Caroline’s journey into mindfulness first began when she started frequenting Ipswich Buddhist Centre in order to meditate and learn more about Buddhism.

“As my practice developed, I started going on retreats and then decided to try something a bit different, so I went on a trip to Northern Spain for a Walkinginspirit retreat. This is where I first encountered natural mindfulness walking - but with a difference,” she explained.

A rural woodland in Dunwich, one of the places Caroline likes to do her guided walks Picture: Getty

A rural woodland in Dunwich, one of the places Caroline likes to do her guided walks Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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“It’s more of a journey, as we tap into something quite special that walking in nature gives us – it’s a sense of connection that we are not apart from, and that we are in fact part of nature.”

Following her Spanish retreat, Caroline decided to delve deeper into the world of nature walking, and embarked upon a 21-day course with mindfulness expert Ian Banyard.

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“The course gave us exercises to do out in nature by video, and then got us to go out and try the exercises ourselves. When guiding, we like to call them ‘invitations’. They include staying in breath, mindful listening, walking mindfully, training your senses, relaxing and reflecting, and finding the aliveness inside.”

Following completion of her course, Caroline has since seen her anxiety gradually lessen over the years – and wants to spread awareness that something as simple as walking can help you tremendously in your day-to-day life.

“The reason I love walking in nature so much, and like to share it with others, is because of what it has given me. I have always been quite an anxious person and have often struggled with the ups and downs of life, often using alcohol to change the way I feel, but that just makes it worse.

“I gave up drinking 10 years ago and gradually I have found a way in which I can live in the moment, that allows me to be present. After my first retreat, I came home feeling a lot more free and less anxious - so that’s why I wanted to develop the practice more, as well as combine it with my Buddhist practice.”

Regular walking in nature has given Caroline such confidence that she decided to give up working in a salon and take her hairstyling business freelance – helping her find an even deeper sense of freedom, something she is especially thankful for during lockdown.

“I have been a hairstylist in Ipswich for 42 years, and the last few years I have found working in a salon quite restrictive. During lockdown, I went out for regular walks and discovered so many locations for when I could guide walks again.

“It was while I was walking I suddenly realised I didn’t have to go back to the salon anymore - I am in control my life, and I felt free enough to make choices to bring balance into my life.”

With a new-found sense of clarity, Caroline decided to turn her guided walks into a full-time venture, while continuing mobile hairdressing on the side.

“My guided walks have given me more freedom. I can get out and about, and as a lot of my clients live out in the countryside, I can connect with nature while doing my work. A lot of it is having that courage to go into the unknown.

“I knew I needed to make some changes in my life, and that’s why I am so passionate to share this way of connecting with nature with others - especially during these uncertain times. As we head into winter, I encourage people to come and try the experience of natural mindfulness and nature connection, in order to let go of your worries and anxieties, and discover your own true nature.”

Caroline’s walks – which take around two hours in total – are always done in silence and are suitable for walkers of all abilities. “They are usually around three to four miles long, and include going through woodland for forest bathing, also known as shinrin-yoku.”

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese exercise that was first developed in the 1980s, and simply involves taking a peaceful, leisurely stroll through a wooded area. Following a series of studies, it was found that just two hours of mindful exploration within nature could help reduce a person’s blood pressure and lower stress levels.

“Before doing guided walks, I walk the walk several times before taking a group out, so we can all just relax and enjoy the walk without worrying about anything. I am just there to guide and signpost you to connect and recharge from today’s hectic world. Some of my favourite places to take groups of walkers include Freston Wood, Witnesham, Newbourne, Captain’s Wood in Sudbourne, Dunwich and Bucklesham.

“We are living in rather uncertain times, and the practice of natural mindfulness is so important for our health and mental wellbeing. The healing power of nature is needed so much more than ever right now, so we can let go, be present and know that everything changes. Impermanence is very much seen in autumn.”

To find out more about Caroline and her guided walks, visit www.carolinedemax.wixsite.com/inspiredbynature

Have you been spending time in lockdown reconnecting with nature? Email danielle.lett@archant.co.uk to share your story

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