We often turn to nature to invoke a sense of calm. Indeed, spending time in the great outdoors has proven stress-relieving and mood-boosting qualities. Researchers who’ve studied the benefits of doing various activities in nature—like hiking, camping, and swimming—have found that they support not only our mental health, but also our sense of creativity and our ability to take a step back, broaden our perspective, and experience awe1. And as it turns out, those benefits don’t stop at nightfall. Practice some star bathing, or mindful stargazing, and the night sky becomes another realm of nature with immense power to bring about feelings of calm and connection. Star bathing harnesses the wonder and serenity of the night sky as a method of meditation. This low-cost and low-effort meditation practice is accessible to anyone—it requires nothing more than just looking up at the stars above and tapping into the awe and wonder they inspire. You don’t need any special equipment or even a particularly dark sky. Looking at the sky without expectation helps you appreciate your connection to all other living things, both here and in the galaxies beyond ours, according to Mark Westmoquette, PhD, a meditation and yoga teacher, astrophysicist, and author of Mindful Thoughts for Stargazers. The quiet and dark of the night elicit calm, and looking at something so vast evokes our sense of awe, which reduces stress. Related Stories “As soon as we see a star, that immediately connects us to the fact that outside of our city, our planet, and the solar system, there’s a star that’s shining, its light is beaming down, and I’m receiving that light that’s traveled millions of lightyears across space in this very moment, and that’s amazing,” Dr. Westmoquette says. Stars are between one to 15 billion years old, and knowing that we are among them and looking at something people many years ago could also see contributes to this feeling of awe. “You don’t need to know even what a star is to realize that what you’re seeing is the same as every human has ever seen, and that’s amazing,” Dr. Westmoquette adds. Indeed, the wonders of the night sky have made dark sky tourism a booming business and have contributed to stargazing locales becoming tourism hotspots. “You don’t need to know even what a star is to realize that what you’re seeing is the same as every human has ever seen, and that’s amazing.”—Mark Westmoquette, PhD, meditation expert and astrophysicist Basic knowledge about the solar system or constellations isn’t a prereq for reaping the benefits of star gazing, either. In fact, Dr. Westmoquette recommends leaving the guidebook at home to just focus on what’s before you—all that’s required is to look up and enjoy. “We can just enjoy being in the dark around the stars and what it looks like and how it feels,” he says. If you live in or near an urban area, chances are you won’t have a perfectly dark sky to search for stars in because much of the world is impacted by nighttime light pollution, or stray light from buildings, which makes fainter stars harder to spot. Dark sky stargazing is certainly worthwhile, but don’t let less-than-perfect conditions deter you from star bathing because Dr. Westmoquette says you can nearly always see at least a couple of stars, even without total darkness. Noticing and acknowledging any feelings of frustration at a lack of clear skies and then letting it go can even be part of this ritual, too. As for how long to star bathe? Even 10 seconds is better than nothing, but you can do this for as long or as little as you’d like. While there’s no time of year when the stars shine brighter, autumn is a great time to stargaze, says Dr. Westmoquette, because it’s the sweet spot where nights are longer but it’s not quite as cold as in the winter. For similar reasons, spring is also a great time to star bathe.
How to star bathe
Pick a clear night
In general, stargazing is easiest when the sky is clear because the stars will be more visible. If you can, try to get somewhere there isn’t much light pollution, but don’t be deterred if you can’t find a totally dark place. Dr. Westmoquette advises going to a higher elevation if possible, like getting on a roof or the top of a hill “to get away from the city lights a bit.” If that’s not entirely possible, focus on the highest area in your vision line. At minimum, avoid a streetlight directly in your view. However, don’t let less-than-ideal forecasts deter you. “We’re not concerned with having the perfect conditions,” Dr. Westmoquette says. “We can just notice the feelings and be present with the world as it is.”
Settle in and get comfy
If you’re not able to get outside, just go to the window. It’ll take about 10 or 15 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the darkness, so plan accordingly. To make it even more comfortable—and to live up to the name, star bathing—you could even set up a deck chair, a cushion, or lie down and stare at the sky.
Banish any thoughts that arise
Try your best to focus on the night sky above you. If you find your mind wandering to what you have to do after your stargazing session, or something else that pulls you off track, take a moment to visualize the sky again, breathe, and just think about how being out there under the canopy of stars feels. “We can just remind ourselves of the purpose of this and that this is not about the doing, but the experiencing,” says Dr. Westmoquette.
Immerse yourself in the moment and look up
First, you can clear your mind a bit by closing your eyes and breathing in. Open your eyes, calming any questions about which planets and constellations are in front of you, and observe the tapestry of stars overhead instead. If you don’t see any stars, keep looking as some may be faint—and remember that the reward is the experience, not necessarily how many stars you see. To focus, you can try to fix your gaze on one point in the sky but try to remain aware of everything in your immediate view. Even if you can’t see much right away, be patient and keep breathing. If you need help grounding yourself, Dr. Westmoquette says, “You can just let your mind go and appreciate this enormous planet that’s underneath us.” The sky’s the limit.
Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
- Joye, Yannick, and Jan Willem Bolderdijk. “An exploratory study into the effects of extraordinary nature on emotions, mood, and prosociality.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 5 1577. 28 Jan. 2015, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01577
- Monroy, María et al. “The influences of daily experiences of awe on stress, somatic health, and well-being: a longitudinal study during COVID-19.” Scientific reports vol. 13,1 9336. 8 Jun. 2023, doi:10.1038/s41598-023-35200-w
Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.