We know we feel good when we are outside with the fresh air and sunshine on our face… but why?
Let’s look at how nature benefits our mental health. Research shows that spending time in nature improves our wellbeing and eases anxiety and depression. There are many reasons why this is the case, for example:
- Plants and trees emit soothing compounds called phytoncides
- Being in nature presents an opportunity to step away from our home or work environment
- When spending time outdoors, our senses are heightened due to new sounds, smells and sights
Walking in nature is even a prescribed therapy in Japan. Known as ‘shinrin-yoku’, forest bathing provides a calm oasis, an opportunity for presence away from technology.
The benefits of nature and specifically forest bathing are backed by scientific studies which show it reduces pain and diminishes stress. Being outside can make us feel better inside.
There are other ways we can use nature to improve our wellbeing, aside from what you’d normally think of, which I’ll share in this blog.
You can use a basic meditation practice outside in a way that really uses that connection to nature. It deepens a connection to nature which is good for our mental health as well as our immune system. This meditation practice or tool is one that’s technically called Pratyahara.
Pratyahara is the process of becoming deeply present by paying attention to our senses one at a time. You go into a strong, deep connection with each of your senses in turn, and then having dwelt there for some time, let go and go right beyond the senses. And that’s the point at which the meditation magic really happens. So how can we do this in nature?
My recommendation is the next time you take a walk, give yourself five minutes where you can just sit down and then pick one sense that you’re going to focus on. Maybe pick a sound and listen to the rustling of the leaves or the tweeting of the birds, and just start with those sounds that are closest to you and then expand out the sounds farthest away. All you’re doing is listening. There’s no need to identify what the sounds are.
Simply allow them to be a part of your energy field. Do that for five minutes and then notice how you feel afterwards.
The importance of beauty
Those who know me well know that beauty is actually one of my highest held values in life. I honestly believe that beauty is a human requirement, a basic human need to be surrounded by things that uplift our soul, because that’s what beauty does for us.
Beauty reminds us of who we really are and the part that we play in the wider universe. We have our nose to the grindstone and we’re obsessing about all the details of our lives and the lives of our children, our parents, our friends, our clients, our partners. And when beauty happens upon us or happens to us, we burst out of that little bubble. It happened to me just this week.
I went to a gallery at the weekend, and we were just walking in a little town that was new to us and saw a gallery. I liked some of the sculptures in the window, so we went in and it was a really good collection. And I forgot myself in that moment, just finding joy in these playful little statues and these beautiful, depthful paintings. I was remade in that moment in a way that beauty seems so uniquely able to do for us.
The next time beauty happens to you, take the time to take it on board and bank that experience in your emotional bank account, your resilience bank account, which is something I’ve talked about before. When we’re having to expand our resilience, we have to be putting deposits in too, and beauty is uniquely able to help us top back up.
When you’re out in the natural world regularly, you can’t help but notice the way in which things move from being born to growing to flourishing to fruiting to beginning to decay, to dying away, to making space for something new. That’s the life cycle of a plant. That’s the life cycle of other beings too. And it’s our life cycle.
It’s the life cycle of our ideas, our jobs, even of us as human beings and our loved ones. And so when you feel something is dying away, it can help to remember that that’s how it works in nature. That one year of growth dies away and makes room, and something beautiful arises the following year. So while we might mourn the loss of whatever is dying away, we can simultaneously hold the space of hope, the curiosity to see what will get born in its place.
It’s hard sometimes when something that we’ve loved comes to an end. Of course it is. So we give ourselves the space to feel the hard bits. Looking to nature reminds us that it is actually a cycle, a natural cycle for things to be born, to grow, to flourish, to create their legacy perhaps. And then to die away.
And we are part of nature, and hope is always born again.
I hope this blog has helped to explain how nature benefits your mental health, and I encourage you to give one or all of these three methods a try and see what resonates with you.
This is your invitation to feel better, in the way that feels just right for you – whether that’s through Reiki Healing, Life Coaching, Bach Flower Essences, Retreats, Meditation or Yoga. Learn to love the life you have and build the life you want. Book a free call to discover what would best suit you.