Cross Country Zen

Cross Country Zen

“We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.” ― Bill Watterson

El Nino or global warming? Both in all likelihood. In either case we’ve had a strange winter in Ottawa. It came late but all at once with our first heavy snowfall coming after Christmas.  Over the holidays I encountered people running in short-shorts, some even running topless, a bizarre sight for this part of the world in December.

However, winter arrived and this year I’ve promised myself to get out of the house more often, and not just into my car to drive to another building, but out for a healthy dose of cold, fresh air for a leisurely afternoon session of cross country skiing. Thankfully, the national capital region is home to many great trails and winter recreational activities are crucial in maintaining proper mental health for us Canadians. Our prowess and love for winter sports stems from our collective battle against cabin fever.  To add to this, research has shown that a 50 minute walk in the park has great positive effects not only on mental health, positive thinking, but also in improved memory.

I’ve been a casual cross country skier since my teen years, but snowboarding was always the first priority.  Yet, recently cross country skiing has become increasingly appealing to me and quickly becoming my preferred method of fighting off the winter blues. Combining my passion for winter sport with what I’ve recently learnt about the concept of grounding techniques (mental exercises that help to reorient yourself fully to the moment) is what’s going to keep me balanced throughout this winter. 

My first ski of the season seemed like a good time to practice a sensory awareness grounding exercise called “54321.” It’s been used for treating people with anxiety, panic attacks, and on the extreme end of the spectrum to treat those suffering post traumatic stress disorder.

The idea behind it is to momentarily let go of your worries for the future and your regrets of the past. The future is uncertain, the past remains broken; all you have is right now.  It’s a way of lending yourself fully to the moment in everyday life.  Here is how I went about an attempt at mindfulness, since out in the woods the mind is free to wander:

5 things you see

I take in the surrounding trees, and looking up I see their upper branches swaying in the wind.

Chunky snow flakes fall diagonally throughout the woods.

I look down at my feet sliding through the snow. Next to the human tracks, I find animal tracks by side. Rabbit prints running parallel to mine, and I imagine them hopping along.

Other than the ski tracks winding through the forest and the occasional set of animal tracks, there are wide areas of untouched fresh snow.

I notice the the other occasional skier who pass me and we greet each other, some smile and say hello while others simply nod, and most of them have a twinkle in their eyes because they’ve found a moment of peace out here.

4 things you feel

I feel warm and cold at the same time, sharp winds against my cheek while my core is firing up through self-locomotion.

I feel my heart’s accelerated drum beat, the original rhythm that early humans probably never noticed, as well as the original inspiration for music.

I feel the rhythm of my stride once I find my groove. 

The cold air hits the very bottom of my lungs, and I feel like reclaiming my lungs from big tobacco.

3  things you hear

The city noises fade away behind me, the cars are barely audible.

I hear tree trunks gently creeping in the wind, and the gliding of my skis.

It’s so peaceful once I’ve made my way into the woods because nature silences the distortion of urban living.

2 things you smell

I can’t smell much out here come to think of it, but when I concentrate, there’s a certain smell to the wind when it snows. 

It combines with the smell of the forest, the pines – fresh air!

1 thing you like about yourself

I still have a pulse, and will carry on for some time.

Adrian Gregorich

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