The Healing Benefits of Nature
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” JOHN BURROUGHS
When was the last time that you took a walk in the woods? Can you remember breathing in that crisp earthy smell in the air? The ethereal glow of sunlight in the trees and the sound of fluttering leaves in a soft, whispering wind? How peaceful was it to wander among the melodious echo of serenading birds? Or the tranquil babble of a distant brook? I bet that even as you recall the memory now you might breathe a little deeper as you feel a trace of that gentle calm washing over you.
I have always been drawn to nature, and craved the soil and the sea and the stars like the air that I breathe.
When I was a little girl my parents fought a lot, and the woods surrounding our little cottage was my secret sanctuary. I can still remember stealing away for hours, standing barefoot in the brook that wove between the sheltering spruce trees, my eyes closed, my toes sinking into the cool mud as the rushing water rippled around my legs, or laying in the velvety green grass and watching the clouds swirl across the sky. Even as a child I had an instinctive awareness of nature’s ability to soothe and heal.
And I can remember before the internet, before TV had more channels than we could count, before we became so attached to our cell phones and consumed with Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and YouTube — when we used to play outside as kids — when we climbed trees and swam in rivers and chased after fireflies in the summer, and in the raw serenity of nature how we seemed to feel more energized, more connected and more alive.
The Adverse Effects of Not Enough Nature
It’s amazing to me the rate at which anxiety and mood disorders, depression, ADHD and other mental “dis-ease” has skyrocketed — that so many of us need to be medicated now just to get through the day or get a good night’s sleep — and how it all seems to coincide with the fact that we are spending more and more time indoors and immersed in WiFi signals than with the earth and in the sunshine. That we are watching our screens instead of the stars, growing “followers” instead of flowers, relentlessly bombarded with an endless thread of information overload, chained to our desks and working longer and longer hours under florescent lights in windowless cubicles, despite how many studies caution us with warnings of how detrimental it all is to our health.
Especially for those of us who live in a city and have to contend with the stress of traffic, the light pollution, the air pollution, the noise pollution — it is no wonder so many of us feel so overwhelmed and burned out. And no secret that our indoor digital lifestyle is taking a tremendous toll.
Nature is the purest and most fundamental expression of harmony.
It is no surprise then, that being in nature would restore harmony within us where there is dissonance — grounding and centering the mind and spirit, balancing turbulent emotions, and bringing our bodies back to their natural equilibrium.
People around the world have recognized the earth as natural medicine for ages, and intuitively turned to nature for healing. Over the last few decades, there has actually been a growing form of nature therapy in Japan called Shinrin-Yoku, or “forest bathing,” that promotes visiting natural areas to take in the atmosphere as part of a preventative healthcare and wellness routine.
And now western science is finally starting to catch up with more and more studies finding evidence that nature really does have a powerful restorative effect on both the mind and body — from reducing stress and improving mood, to strengthening memory and sharpening focus, to boosting immune function, and much more.
The Benefits of Spending Time in Nature
Simply being in the sun (when protected with proper sunscreen to block UV rays, of course) has many benefits beyond a healthy tan. Commonly referred to as the “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D is naturally produced in our bodies when we are exposed to sunlight, and plays a vital role in facilitating proper immune system function, thereby improving our ability to resist certain illnesses and disease. Vitamin D also helps to lower blood pressure and cortisol levels as well as regulate serotonin levels, which can aid in stabilizing mood, easing anxiety and quelling depression. Some studies have even suggested that Vitamin D may even reduce the risk of Alzheimers and cardiovascular disease.
Another significant benefit of being in nature is exposure to negative ions, which are found in high concentrations near the ocean, in the mountains, and in the woods. Ions are essentially particles in the air which have been either positively or negatively charged by losing or gaining electrons. Negative ions in particular are oxygen atoms with extra negatively charged electrons, but have extremely positive effects on the body: They have been shown to neutralize harmful free radicals, enhance immune function and revitalize cell metabolism, improve sleep and digestion, and protect against airborne allergens.
Phytoncides are organic compounds produced by plants to protect against harmful germs, insects and disease. These antimicrobial compounds emitted by plants and trees give off that pleasantly invigorating forest scent that not only relieves stress and tension, but have also been shown to improve memory and concentration, stimulate the central nervous system, strengthen immune system function and may even increase cancer fighting NK cells in the body.
Color is light energy at varying vibrations, and each color frequency resonates with a chakra center in the body. Being in the woods in particular where there is an abundance of green can even help to heal and restore imbalanced or blocked heart chakra energy, creating harmony in the heart space so that we can give and receive love more openly and deeply, including love and compassion for ourselves.