Woman walking with backpack through woods.

Mastering Mindfulness with the Healing Sounds of Nature

By: Pamela Sapio

I'm always surprised by the people I see on the trail with earbuds in. Not that I don't love listening to tunes or diving into the latest episode of my favorite podcast, but one of the things I enjoy most about being outdoors is the sound of nature: the symphony of birdsong, the rustle of leaves in the trees, the soft trickle of a nearby stream. All of these sounds soothe and calm me, letting my brain know that it's okay to hit pause for a while and just relax—and it's not just me. 

Countless studies like this one have shown that listening to nature sounds (even recorded ones) has a positive effect on our autonomic nervous system, which regulates things like heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. In fact, when exposed to common outdoor sounds such as those often heard in a forest environment, people experience decreased stress levels and increased feelings of relaxation, and their overall mood is significantly improved. 

Three people walk near creek with backpacks.

Mastering mindfulness through nature

Mindfulness is a word we hear a lot these days, but what does it really mean to be mindful? The simplest way to describe mindfulness is being fully immersed in a moment and acutely aware of everything that you are feeling and sensing in that moment. Mindful eating, for example, involves slowing down and paying attention to the sight, smell, sound, taste, and texture of your food (yes, every bite) and contemplating its relationship to your body and overall your well-being. 

As you might have guessed already, mindfulness is easier said than done in our stimulus-saturated modern world. Like any type of meditation that requires you to clear your mind and hone your focus, entering a mindful state can be difficult when you are surrounded by everyday distractions—but just getting outdoors is a pretty good start. 

The deeper into nature you go, the fewer distractions there are. Urban sounds melt away, cell service is often less reliable, and the ability to really listen to your surroundings becomes a whole lot easier. 

Woman looking out at lake in the morning near tent.
Tips for listening to the natural world

Whether you are headed to the forest, the desert, the mountains, or the shoreline, each environment has its own natural melody. Here are some quick tips for tuning in to the harmony of the Great Outdoors. 

Connect with nature daily.

Even if you just visit a local park on your lunch break or spend 15 minutes working in the garden, the positive effects of immersing yourself in nature sounds are hard to ignore. When you make time to connect with nature on a daily basis, listening to its unique sounds will become easier. 

Keep your phone silenced.

And not just those annoying phone calls and text messages, but the music and podcasts, too. You don't have to do this every time you hit the trail, but try it a few times and see how it feels to really focus on what you hear. Did you know that birdsong is so effective at reducing anxiety, experts believe it could be a beneficial tool for treating mental health disorders? 

Stop moving. 

Our time outdoors is often more goal oriented than we think: Close that move ring, reach the summit before noon, make sure the dog goes to the bathroom on your morning walk. As often as you can, just stop. Find a rock or a log to sit on. Then close your eyes, slow your breathing, and focus on the sounds around you. Take at least five or 10 minutes to listen to the natural world and let it work its magic, and your body will thank you. 

Can't get outdoors? Try these apps.

Between work and family and juggling a zillion things on your to-do list, slipping away to get your daily nature fix can be extra challenging some days. The good news? There are a ton of free or inexpensive nature sounds apps that you can download immediately, including Rain Rain, Nature Soundscapes, Nature Melody, Bird Sounds, Listen & Relax, and Wildfulness. You can even browse Spotify for nature sounds playlists.