Have you ever wondered why meditation tracks and ambient noise machines often use the rhythmic sounds of ocean waves, babbling brooks, rain storms, or singing birds to help you relax, meditate, and fall asleep?
Given our technology and complex networks, we may see ourselves as separate from the natural world, but we are not, having evolved over millennia to be in connection with our environment, its cycles, and processes.
Spending time outdoors boasts numerous benefits for our mental and physical health. Research indicates that exposure to nature reduces stress, improves healing, and supports general wellness. In fact, a whole branch of psychology, called ecopsychology, has arisen, merging the study of ecology and psychology, with a focus on the emotional connection between human beings and the environment.
We now know that if we spend a minimum of 2 hours per week in natural environments (not less) we will experience greater overall wellbeing and cognitive function. This means we will not only feel better, but we will think better too!
Why is this? Being in natural environments (that feel safe*) has been linked to measurable decreases in blood pressure and stress hormone levels. This allows the nervous system to calm and reset, bolstering immune function. When we feel better, and not in fight or flight stress response, mood improves and we are less likely to react to the world around us in an inflammatory way. In addition, it helps us to feel connected to something bigger than ourselves, reducing feelings of isolation and a cascade of resulting emotions.
How will you incorporate more of the outdoors into your life? On the following pages you will find ideas to get started. If you would like help brainstorming more ways to incorporate outdoor time into your summer routine and daily rhythm, visit rebeccaboswell.com/connect to schedule a Meet & Greet with Rebecca.
This does not apply if being circled by sharks or chased by a tiger!
1) Find a Forest Are you able to get out of town and find a forest? In the 1980s, “forest bathing,” a concept known through time and across cultures, experienced a heightened renaissance in Japan as, shinrin-yoku (“taking in the forest atmosphere”). Also known as, “forest therapy,” it basically involves taking a mindful walk in the woods. It offers a way to counteract human exposure to technology and reawaken human connection with nature. You can wander through a forest with the explicit intention to commune with all that is around you, or find excursions to guide you in your exploration. A side benefit is that it promotes ecotourism and helps you recognize the value of a sustainable lifestyle that doesn’t negatively impact the natural ecosystem.
2) Hit the Trails If you cannot get out of town, where can you find natural outlets to engage in nature where you live? Where can you enjoy green space? Where are your nearby parks, trails, or tree-lined walkways? Here in Austin, enjoy the steps up Mount Bonnell, walk downtown along Lady Bird Lake, or walk up the trail to enjoy the view of the PennyBacker Bridge. Wear comfortable shoes and give yourself time to sit, relax, and enjoy. Better yet, bring a friend or two, intentionally notice the natural elements around you, and share your experience in a journal or with your companions.
3) Do it Al Fresco Can’t get away? Play with ways to do everyday things outside. Do you have a backyard, balcony, or window? When you are ready to eat your meal, take it outside, or at least find a way to eat by an open window to get fresh air and natural light (even if it is moonlight). The smallest bit of grass can be a fun place to pitch a picnic. When the sun goes down, another option is to go outside and stargaze. Take a moment to acknowledge yourself as part of a greater experience.
4) Get Wet Naturally flowing water is another part of the environment that can soothe and relax you. We are made up of 55%-60% water, so exposure to naturally flowing water is therapeutic. Explore watering holes, streams, rivers, lakes and beaches. Going for a swim, heading out on a kayak, floating downstream, or walking the beach can be a great way to take it all in, decompress, and rejuvenate. In a pinch, you can run a bath with epsom salts. This isn’t outside, but it still offers an opportunity to connect with natural elements.