You may be reading this as you gaze longingly at a tree outside your window. We live in a culture that doesn't go outside enough. Did you know that Americans spend a whopping 87% of their time indoors and 6% of their time in vehicles? Many of us have jobs that involve staying inside for significant lengths of time, and when we go home, many of our recreational activities are of the sedentary indoor variety.
You might be frustrated by this reality, and there's compelling evidence why it needs to change. Indoor air is 2 to 5 times more polluted than the air outside. When we're cooped up, we don't get the chance to move as much as we should. We don't reap the benefits of taking in a healthy amount of sunlight for a boost of Vitamin D. We fall out of touch with the natural rhythms of the day, which can impact our sleep.
Forest-bathing is making its way to a wooded area near you
On the other hand, going into nature can have a positive impact on your mind and body. People have always sensed that connecting with nature is a good thing, but it's now becoming an important facet of some alternative approaches to health. The Japanese have been practicing Shinrin-yoku, or “taking in the forest atmosphere,” since the 1980s. In the US, we call this practice “forest-bathing,” and a growing number of people are becoming certified forest therapists.
Although this practice is a long way from being widely accepted by the mainstream (and paid for by insurance), the positive benefits of taking a walk in the woods are backed by science. You may not be forest-bathing with a guide anytime soon, but you can still enjoy everything that the great outdoors has to offer.
Health Benefits of connecting with nature
Of all the health problems people are facing today, stress is among the worst. It has a toxic effect on every system in your body. It’s tied to everything from poor sleep and digestive upsets to obesity, mental health issues, and cardiovascular disease.
Spending time away from the noise and distraction of modern life is a great way to reduce stress levels. Make connecting with nature a fixture throughout your week, and you’ll always have a few moments of peace to look forward to.
Recognize your connection to everything
When you’re rushing from one thing to the another, it's hard to prioritize. Pausing to connect with nature is a chance to recognize that you are part of something bigger than your office or all the errands you have to run. Sitting on a bench on a wooded trail or relaxing on the beach can help you to put everything into perspective.
Connecting with nature paves the way for mindfulness. You're more likely to reflect on what you're putting into the world when you take a moment to truly see the world.
Boost your immune system
Poor indoor air quality and stress make you susceptible to illness. Taking some time in a green space disengages your sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. Fight or flight mode naturally suppresses your immune system. At the same time, connecting with nature activates your parasympathetic nervous system, the part of your central nervous system associated with rest and relaxation.
As your immune system works more effectively, you'll experience less inflammation. Removing inflammation will make you feel better in the short-term and can prevent serious illnesses in the long-term.
Improve your focus
Spending time in green spaces has a positive effect on your ability to concentrate. One study compared two groups' performance on a proofreading task. One group strolled through the city, while the other ambulated through an arboretum. The group who walked through the arboretum demonstrated better attention to detail than their urban counterparts.
Spending just 20 minutes walking in nature has also been proven to minimize symptoms of ADHD.
Put yourself in a better mood
A lack of green space can take a toll on your mental health. When we spend too long in the concrete jungle, we tend to brood. The negative internal dialogue that starts playing on a loop when we do this can have serious repercussions for our mental and emotional well-being. When we're in nature, we're less broody and more in tune with our present.
Taking a time-out in nature will leave you feeling happier and more fulfilled. It's also been proven to minimize symptoms of depression and anxiety.
6 ways to connect with nature
1. Go to the beach
If you’re lucky enough to live close to the water, give yourself permission to go to the beach. Listen to the sounds of the water lapping against the shore. Walk barefoot through the sand. Feast your eyes on the abundant wildlife on the coast. It’s for your health, after all.
2. Surround yourself with plants
Many of us would love to spend the bulk of our days outside, but that isn’t always possible. Bring some of the outdoors inside. Houseplants improve indoor air quality, and our brains can reap some of the positive benefits of being surrounded by plant life – even when we’re stuck in a cubicle all day.
3. Get your hands dirty
Gardening is an excellent way to experience the therapeutic benefits of connecting with nature. Whether you’re growing food to nourish yourself or planting flowers to beautify your surroundings, there’s something incredible about getting your hands dirty.
City dwellers, don’t fear. You can create a fantastic container garden if you don’t have a yard.
4. Visit a park
Nothing beats a stroll through the woods, but some of us aren't able to go into the wilderness every day. Head to the nearest park, botanical garden, or arboretum to reap some of the benefits of being outside. Take advantage of these mini-oases whenever you can.
5. Make time for a walking meditation
Whether you’re deep in the heart of the forest, or you’ve escaped to the park during your lunch break, you already have everything you need to practice walking meditation. Nature makes the perfect backdrop for engaging in mindfulness practices.
6. Go on a retreat
Of course, one of the best ways to connect with nature is to go on a retreat. Retreats offer you the chance to immerse yourself fully in nature. Many of the scheduled activities take place outside in beautiful and relaxing settings.
You can experience many different types of natural environments on a retreat, which makes them the perfect place to reconnect with nature. You might spend your mornings hiking through the rainforest and your afternoons with your toes in the sand.
You're invited to get some fresh air
Life can be busy, and it can saddle us with responsibilities that keep us from getting outdoors. Now's the time to add "connect with nature" to your schedule. Block out a few minutes each day, or take a fabulous trip. There's a bright and beautiful world just waiting to be discovered.
Want to go outside with us? Join us on our upcoming retreat to Panama, you've got plenty of time to plan, this amazing adventure is led by 2 powerful instructors February 2019, you can receive a $200 discount by signing up before May 31, 2018 using the code blogpanama at check-out!