The Aviemore area has produced more Olympians per head of population than any other part of the UK. Lesley McKenna, who competed in three Winter Olympics in snowboarding heats, is one of them. Based in Aviemore, the beloved place she grew up, she’s now programme manager for the GB Park and Pipe team and works with coaches to support them in cultivating an optimal mindset in athletes.
“Nature can help us through difficult times”Lesley McKenna, Olympian
A passionate believer in the power of nature to help us through difficult times, she has found her connection to nature – through her daily walks and bike rides in the Cairngorms National Park – has been a great source of strength dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
For this blog, she talked to VisitCairngorms about how nature can help us build our resilience as we all face an uncertain future.
Here are her top tips to use nature to build your resilience:
The simple act of being in nature is good for our bodies
We can feel them relax. Slow down, breathe and savour. Wander the woods on foot, or get on your bike, or even just breathe the air outside your front door. This new perspective will help move your mindset on and breathing air from outside is the simplest way to really feel that your body is also part of the outside natural world.
Watch the ‘mini cycles’ of weather and be comforted by them
Like a storm, they always pass, just as this Coronavirus crisis will pass, and both bring a chance to reflect and take stock of what is important in your life and what you might want, or need, to renew.
You can’t just ‘think’ your way out of difficult emotions
You have to let your body process and feel them. As an athlete, I see my body as a tool that is processing information all the time. I use nature in a very practical way to process anxiety, thoughts and emotions.Photo credit: Euan Baxter – ‘Lesley looking out at a misty Loch Morlich’
You can help your body to process information by doing things like touching bark or grass, or using your other senses like smell, taste, hearing and sight
All these senses help our bodies process emotion so we can make sense of it and move on. Even if you have limited mobility, you can smell the rain or touch the grass or feel breaking waves on your feet or really listen to the sounds coming from nature.
Nature can help you learn about and understand yourself better
When you’re in nature, watch your reactions to the shifting weather patterns, to the rain on your face, to the wind whipping in your ear, to the feel of grass beneath your feet. Try as much as you can to feel your connection to the nature; you are a part of your environment and your environment is part of you and that is a thought, when out in the Cairngorms, which always gives me great comfort and makes me feel very alive.
Look at nature closely and you will soon see examples of resilience all around you
I love looking at the amazing pine trees here. There’s one, near the Lily Loch in Rothiemurchus, that I’ve noticed a lot in lockdown. It’s a tree which was obviously hit by lightning when it was younger and so it’s split off into two parts, one which died and one which keeps living. This trauma has made it so unique and striking and I always think about how despite being struck (or perhaps because of it?) it has flourished and become so strong; a different version of itself than it would have otherwise been.
“When you see these examples of resilience in nature, you realise that nature takes change in its stride and that we can be inspired to do the same…”
Nature is constantly shedding things that it needs to let go off, but this can be hard for us humans
We can look to nature to see how it does this, an obvious phenomenon is Autumn, for instance, when the leaves fall off the trees. Nature doesn’t fight this letting go, it is an accepted part of the life process. As an athlete, I often got injured so had to learn how to let things go and discover my new normal and the ‘new me’ within this; that is a practice which is serving me well now.
You can tap into the power of nature wherever you are
Although obviously I am extremely lucky to be in the Cairngorms and have such unique, awe-inspiring nature on my doorstep. However, in a city, for example, observe the dandelions pushing up between the paving stones, showing that nature always finds a way through obstacles. We humans are nature, too, and we too can find a way through, too.
To me, connection to myself and to nature are one and the same thing
If I don’t have that vital connection to myself, which I can get through nature, I start to feel an unsettling sense of disconnect, lingering sadness, even – so I prioritise it.
As well as using nature to connect better to myself, I also use it to connect better to others
Nature naturally brings with it a feeling of connection to fellow humans, and a deep empathy for the human condition. Focusing on this feeling is so important to me at the moment since we really are, all around the globe, in this together.