Look at a tree, a flower, a plant. Let your awareness rest upon it. How still they are, how deeply rooted in Being. Allow nature to teach you stillness. ~ Eckhart Tolle
I recently attended a summit at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens hosted by the Atlanta Regional Commission. I felt so fortunate to hear experts speak on the topic of health and the environment and the healing value of nature. It took me back to my days of studying environmental psychology, environmental health and most recently integrative health when we talked extensively about this topic. Ecotherapy, anyone?
With so much great information that the speakers shared, this is one piece of data stood out to me:
The majority of people spend more than 90% of their time indoors.
While I love being a city dweller, one major reason is due to the ability to walk to so many great restaurants, cafes and the like. I rarely drive these days. There are also walking paths for urban exploring. At the same time, making an effort to be immersed in nature can make a world of difference.
(Psst...That's me in the pic. :))
So here’s what’s awesome: Nature can have such an IMMEDIATE impact on our mental well-being.
We know that we feel good when we get fresh air and see beautiful scenery. We know how we feel when we are someplace that is breathtaking. How often do we make a conscious effort to do this? (Kudos if you do this often!)
Not only do we know getting outside helps us feel great, research clearly shows that experiencing the natural environment and green spaces reduces stress, improves cognitive function and promotes a more centered and calm outlook.
I once watched a documentary called, “The Science of Healing,” which features the story of a physician named Dr. Esther Sternberg and her recovery from illness. She traveled to Greece where she experienced a more relaxed lifestyle. Her healing was contributed in part due to the fact that she was regularly seeing incredibly beautiful, pleasant scenery. She took daily walks to fully immerse herself and to soak this in. This is simply one account of the powerful, healing abilities of nature.
This also relates to flow as psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi believes that we can also use our vision to fully engage in enjoyable experiences. In our daily lives, we can choose to look for something new on our daily commute -- such as seeing the details of scenery differently -- rather than living on autopilot and blocking everything out as mundane.
On a related note, studies also suggest (such as one from 1984 by Dr. Roger Ulrich), that individuals who have a stay in the hospital have shorter recovery times, less need for high dosages of pain pills, reduced fear and less stressful thoughts when they have a window view, and particularly a view of vegetation and water. (Wow!)
Of course in nature, ALL senses can be fully utilized to bring about a greater sense of calm.
Being in nature is very grounding. Being fully present and even doing a walking meditation can do wonders. Being on your cell phone the whole time on your walk or in nature is not quite the same! ;-) Give yourself permission to unplug.
I’m a big fan of taking breaks and getting outside during your workday. It is not health promoting to stay indoors (sometimes nowhere near a window), staring at a computer all day under florescent lights, and eating lunch at your desk.
How can this apply to your life right now? Consider making the time to spend in nature, taking outdoor breaks or experiencing beautiful scenery. It’s always available to us and of course experiencing nature is a free way to enhance our well-being!
What are your next steps? Feel free to share your insights and nature self-care plan below!