Wildness Scale: 2/5

Tucked away within the concrete sprawl of exurban Henrico is a little green gem of a place called Cheswick Park, the county’s oldest park. You might live or work around here (thank you essential workers at Henrico Doctor’s Hospital and beyond!) or have an appointment nearby. Get some fresh air, and a little walk and break from all the mask wearing indoors. 

Turn into the wood-lined parking lot of grass-through pavers—and the glittering four-story developments surrounding the park fade into the backdrop. They vanish altogether once you venture down the smooth asphalt paths into the lofty pine greenwood.

Miraculously secluded for a space shy of 30 acres, Cheswick Park is a perfect hideaway from the firestorm of life in 2020. A modest slice of nature—gentled with exercise structures, quaint idyllic wooden bridges, common trees labeled with carved signs, and sequestered pavilions for modest gatherings—the park offers just under a mile of looping paths.

This is where Nature & Movement Therapy was born—an escape from the old traditional psychotherapy office.

 

Health benefits of walking and talking

Walking with clients through Cheswick Park’s dappled shadows brought a whole new dimension to therapy sessions…and opened up avenues of conversation and mindfulness that might not come up in the furnished confines of four walls and a couch.

For one thing walking elevates your heart rate and fills the system with healthy endorphins. That gets the mind working; lets you shake out of the sclerotic thought patterns that give rise to anxiety. 

Mild exercise also helps stir creativity, which helps when it comes to reflection and self-discovery….bridging connections between memories and emotions that might not occur to you sitting in the same old corner of the same old therapist office in Richmond.

For another thing, Cheswick Park is often filled with the sound of children laughing…on the big new playground or along the gravel paths which are wide enough to maintain social distancing and level enough to accommodate the non sure-footed.

Even if you can’t join them, watching children play in a sandy creekbed is a perfect portal to your own childhood memories, which can be instrumental in figuring out how to resolve and free yourself from long-held troubles.

 

Mindfulness exercise: 8 moments in nature

Give yourself a block of time to stroll aimlessly through Cheswick Park. Take note of your surroundings and be present in each moment. Pay attention to your breath, to your surroundings, to your connection with nature.

 

As you walk, check off these 8 mindfulness moments and create your own:

  1. If you’re able, walk a balance beam and revel at your muscles’ tiny movements. 
  2. Sit on a log & listen for 10 breaths.
  3. Find some moss and enjoy the soft texture.
  4. Toss a stone in the creek.
  5. Sit by the creek & watch the water swirl.
  6. Locate a bird from its song.
  7. Identify a plant or simply enjoy the patterns on some leaves for a few moments.
  8. Lean up against a tree & take in the scenery above, around, and below you. 

And always remember: every moment of mindfulness is a tiny victory. It’s not how good you are at it; it’s the continual practice of bringing yourself back lovingly to the moment. Mindfulness is a cumulative practice that builds its own momentum and gravity. The best time to start is always Right Now.

Where have you experienced mindfulness moments in Richmond’s parks? Tell us below!

Wordwork by Quillpower