We live in increasingly crowded and urbanized environments. Can an appreciation of nature and time spent outdoors promote a healthy mood and inspire us to live our best lives?
Nature expresses harmony, balance, beauty, and that opens up the possibility of inspiring and helping us reach our potential. For example, the University of Mary Washington’s Wellness Resource Center considers the healing power of nature and its importance in aiding people to express optimum health and vitality. They consider the ability to “preserve the beauty and balance of nature” as vital to promoting personal relationships, for the health and well-being of the individual, and imperative for forming a community.
In our fast-paced, hectic and sometimes out-of-balance lives, spending quiet reflection while walking out of doors for 90 minutes heals in a way that 90 minutes of urban ambulating just can’t match.
Researchers found that it wasn’t necessarily only changes in our physiological state that make being in nature healing, but that marked changes in the brain affect how the brain functions. “Neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex,” that part of the brain that lights up when we engage in rumination – which is a thought that gets stuck on the negative, like obsessions and worry – decreased among those people who strolled in nature, versus those who took their stroll in an urban environment. Spending time in nature certainly helps with anxiety and depression.
Nature Inspires by Modeling Flow, Focus, and Quiet Patterns that Are Logical and Elegant
When things in our lives, which can include our mood, minds, bodies, or interpersonal relationships, don’t go our way, we often respond by throwing more effort, energy, and money at the problem. Harder, deeper, and faster works with some things, but the healing power of nature comes from seeing the effortless perfection of a flowing stream, the geometric pattern of a leaf, or an animal crafting a den.
In the book 7 Steps to Healing Anything, by author Misa Hopkins, Hopkins writes “Mother Earth, by her very nature, through her rhythms, teaches you how to live in more harmonious ways.”
Nature Fills Us and Fulfills Us with Beauty and Peace and Perspective
Combine awareness of your environment and the mindful attention of your five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and scent) to your focus and appreciation of the natural environment. When you find yourself outdoors, taking in your surroundings, try breathing deeply, which in and of itself is relaxing. Since our mind-body system is a unified part of nature, giving our attention and appreciation to this experience of being in nature allows balance and healing to emerge.
Breathe Deeply and Realize Your Own Peace
Studies show that negative ions create biochemical reactions that boost levels of the mood chemical serotonin, helping to ease depression and anxiety, soothe stress, and give a lift to calm energy.
Is all air equal? Good question; No, it is not. The air that you breathe on the beach, by a waterfall, a flowing river, or up in the mountains has many times more negative ions than you'll find in a typical office building, suburban house, shopping center or apartment building and – counter-intuitively, it's negative ions that make you feel much more positive.
You know from personal experience that you get a lift from spending time in nature. This is known as Wilderness Therapy. It can be attributed to being in beautiful, inspiring surroundings. It’s also the opportunity to pause and reflect, to be immersed in the harmony and peace of the great outdoors; the time and space to get in touch with your physical and emotional self.
Being outdoors in a natural setting, either alone, or in the company of trusted others, lets you find, refocus, and listen to resources for wisdom and discovery.