Alice Lyn talks to Mary Ann Thomas about safe, outdoor recreation during pandemic

Jul 13, 2020

Alice Lyn, host of WGVU’s Color Out Here, a TV show that reframes outdoor narratives for people of color. On this podcast she talks to outdoor experts of color about enjoying the outdoors safely.

Credit Shaping Narratives

You're listening to shaping narratives a collection of voices from West Michigan's communities of color brought  to you by WGVU NPR and PBS in West Michigan in the partnership with the wk Kellogg Foundation The voice of today's episode is Alice Lyn host of WGVU’s color out here to show reshaping outdoor narratives for people of color.

Raised in Brooklyn, New York and educated in Michigan's upper peninsula. Alice talks to national experts about how people of color can safely and creatively enjoy the outdoors in response to the COVID-19 pandemics, Michigan, along with the majority of the United States have and sheltering in place for the past several weeks to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

So many. Stay home and social distancing has put significant limitations on the activities. People might otherwise engage in to manage their physical and, mental health studies show that spending about two hours per week. Outdoors can have a number of positive impacts on a person's health and wellbeing.

Mary Thomas, otherwise known as Mat. As a Brown queer daughter of Indian immigrants a nurse writer and outdoor enthusiast. Matt has bicycled over 10,000 miles across the U S Canada and India. And currently he works as a health care provider in Anchorage, Alaska. They're joining us today to talk about how getting outside can be a Remedy for alleviating more than just boredom. Matt, can you talk about. How spending time outdoors can be beneficial, not just for your physical health, but also for your mental health, especially now. 

Yeah. Our mental health is affected by our connection to other living beings, how we feel loved and how capable we feel the outdoors can provide A conduit for healing. All of these things by giving us ways to feel loved by both other living beings. Like when we, uh, receive food from the land, when we, um, feel sun and warms on our faces, when we swim in a Lake, um, or when we. You know, pet a dog, all of these things are ways that we experienced from nature.

Um, and the more we can nourish that relationship, the more we can kind of, if heal the bond that we are seeking to fulfill that is often lacking when we're struggling with mental health, the outdoors also allows us to, if you're capable and Go through struggles, put ourselves through struggle. That can be kind of hard, do things we never thought we would, you could do before.

Like, um, um, I, you know, when I bicycled across the U S and Canada in 2014, I was alone for most of that trip and I had no idea, uh, whetherI could bike across the Rockies until I did it. And by giving ourselves something to work through, we can allow ourselves to accomplish things we never thought possible.

And through that grow, gain skills and a lot of that skill building and feeling capable, a lot of that stuff is an antidote to the kind of collective trauma that we are experiencing right now.

What about physical health? How can spending time outdoors help somebody stay in shape or just, yeah, just get some exercise.

Yeah, for physical health, uh, spending time outside can, you know, breathing hard can increase our, our ability to breathe, you know, so it increases the capacity of our lungs to take in air every time that we, you know, even just walking upstairs, um, is. You know, or walking up a Hill, those things allow us to breathe deeper, uh, and, and give our bodies more resilience.

Um. By increasing our heart rate, we give we're practicing these skills too, in our bodies. Um, so our physical health, when we're, when we go outside, our bodies learn to adapt to even like micro movements. So walking on a trail, um, gives our, our ankles different kinds of strength and different kinds of muscles by practicing.

We don't have to do anything super hard in order to get these benefits. You know, we just going for a walk. If walking is accessible to you, going for a walk half an hour a day. Um, has immense benefits just moving, you know, the other end of this is I work in the intensive care unit and when we have patients or our patients who are bedbound for sometimes days, sometimes weeks, sometimes, months, um, they say that they lose 7% of their muscle mass per day.

And. When there's such so many people who are spending all their time inside right now, and maybe aren't getting that kind of, um, physical mobility. So even just moving as much as you can inside so that your body is not forgetting how to move, um, is really important. 

Thank you. And you talked a little bit about just kind of accessible ways to enjoy the outdoors.I think oftentimes people hear outdoor recreation and might know that they'll think about backpacking or kayaking or rock climbing, which are all awesome, but they're not really accessible to a lot of us right now. I particularly, for those who live in a more densely populated areas like cities, can you talk a little bit about, you know, are there still health benefits to getting outside, even if you're not able to. Recreate in more extreme ways. 

Yeah. Um, I think the, the way that I would frame more accessible ways to get outside is really through play. Um, engaging our brains in the act of play is so good for us. Uh, and that can start with walking, right? Like if you can think about walking or biking or looking at the the earth and the plants around you with like the wonder of a child, um, allow so many of us have so much less stimulation than our lives, right now outside of like TV and technology. And so to put ourselves outside and remember what it is to feel like even grass, even if it's grass to feel the earth, um, Can remind us that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, and that we are connected in ways that are not only because of a virus.

Like we are also connected because we are connected through the earth. Um, and it doesn't have to be, you know, extreme. Mountain biking or backpacking or rock climbing. You don't need gear to go outside and take a breath of fresh air. Um, and those things are so simple, but really flood our bodies. Um, really like retrain our bodies and flood our bodies with. Goodness.

So Mat as a nurse, do you know better than anyone? How important social distancing is to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy right now, do you have any tips on how to practice social distancing while enjoying the outdoors?

Yeah. Um, well, like first of all, and as I'm sure everyone has heard a million times, you know, wearing a mask, I went, uh, on a hike with a friend yesterday. I live in Anchorage, Alaska, and. The outdoors is still fairly accessible for us. Um, and, uh, we, we both wear masks during the duration of our hike and, um, we stayed more than six feet apart. Most of the time we stayed well more over six feet apart for like parts of the hike, just because of what we were doing.

Um, But, uh, that I would say is the primary thing that, um, you know, wearing a mask going alone, if folks are living in places where hiking alone is, is safe, you know, I live in Anchorage, like I said. And so hiking alone is not something that feels super safe to me because of wildlife. Um, but if folks are able to hike alone, this is a way that you can, you know, work.

None of us have lived through a pandemic before. Um, and so this is a way that we can all start practicing skills that we have never done before. So it doesn't have to be a long hike. It can be. A quarter mile, right? Like if you've never hiked alone and that’s scary, like go for a walk from the trail head until you feel too scared to continue, you don't have to push yourself hard.

You know? Um, there's a lot of healing that can happen in these short bursts where we, we do something we've never done before, and then we try it again and we see how it feels and we sometimes turn around and then we can, you know, go further the next day. Um, So it doesn't have to be super extensive. Um, for those who maybe don't have access to hikes or to, um, like longer amounts of time to spend outside.

One thing that I have been doing, um, is putting my hands in the dirt. Like touching trees. Um, I live near a Lake and so I do have, like I said, I do have a lot of access to the out doors, but that's something a lot of people can do. Even if you live in Brooklyn, there are trees that you can touch, um, photographing even like, just so that you can pay attention to leaves as they're emerging this spring, uh, or brightening through the summer.

You know, paying attention to what the earth is offering us, I think is, um, a way that we can yet take our, take our attention away from the technology that we are really surviving off of right now, uh, and offer our attention to the earth that can also heal us. Oh, the other thing I was gonna say, um, is just like asking yourself when there are times that are better to go outside, you know, some minimum in order to minimize risk, you can also go outside in the early morning or the later later times, um, or figuring out what, you know, what days of the week fewer people are around. Those are ways that you can try to minimize, um, exposure when you are, you know, taking your walk or putting your hands in the dirt.

Um, and the other thing that I have done. Which is not necessarily going outside, but I think is also pretty, has been pretty beneficial to my mental health is growing things. I know a lot of people are growing things these days, and I have felt like I'm growing things in containers and my apartment has been a huge boost to my mental health. Um, just being able to have presence of like earth and life. When I wake up in the morning to smell soil has been really powerful. 

Awesome. Thank you. And last, uh, how can you share a little bit about how spending time outdoors have been beneficial for you personally?

Yeah. Um, personally, I enjoy outdoors through biking in particular has given me access to feeling pleasure in my body is no way in a way that like very little else has. And that was true at a young age, like since high school, um, riding my bike was, was really a means of freedom. Um, in order to be able to leave a home that was fairly unsafe for me. Um, whenever I wanted and to be able to like, get to a friend's house. Um, and it was also as I got older, a way that I could travel. So biking across the U S and Canada was so immensely rewarding because I, I became my most animal self I reverted to simply like eating, biking, sleeping, hydrating, you know?

Um, and I think that's such an important thing for us to remember is that the end of the day, when it comes down to it, we have very few needs. And those needs can be achieved through really simple things. Um, um, you know, we have the capability to just sit with ourselves when you spend time outside, uh, um, do things like I've done.It's like I have the ability to sit with myself in stillness in a way that I think has been really hard for people right now. Um, and I think that when I think about. Why this period has been, um, like what has prepared me for this period of time? A big part of what I think about is my work as an ICU nurse. And another thing I think about is like biking across India, where, you know, every day was completely uncertain. I got really used to uncertainty and to not, not knowing where I'd end my day. Um, but knowing that. Every minute, I had the capability to feel so good in my body to bike and to sweat and to eat ice cream and to, you know, taste delicious new foods. Um, yeah, so that was super powerful that like, regardless of how much overall uncertainty there might be, I still can be a human and a body and feel good. 

Thanks so much for joining me and joining us, Matt, and really appreciate all your, all your live words and just your ear pointers on it, how we can and how and why you should spend some time outside.

Yeah.

And thanks for those of you in our audience. If you want to learn more about, more about Matt or check out their work, you can check them out at postcards from Mat on Instagram, or on their website.

Shaping Narratives is a collection of voices from West Michigan's communities of color is brought to you in partnership with the wk Kellogg Foundation, a partner with communities where children come first. Want to hear more Shaping Narratives episodes download and subscribe at WGVU dot org or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe if you get a chance, it helps us to know you're listening. Shaping Narratives is produced by WGVU PBS and NPR in West Michigan through the facilities of the Meijer public broadcast center in the service of Grand Valley State University. Matt Gruppen processed all the audio, Joe Bielecki edits each episode, Vance Orr designed our graphics and manages our Web presence, Phil Lanes is our director of content. The views and opinions expressed in this program are those of the hosts and their guests and do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU or Grand Valley State University.