Daily Dose of Nature
I don’t think there is much dispute that spending time in nature is inherently good for us, but I would personally take that notion a few steps further and say that spending time regularly in nature is life-changing! In this non-stop world we live in, taking the time for a daily pause is perhaps more essential to our well-being than ever. Almost everyone I speak to, when I ask them how they are doing, give me some version of “Things are great but there’s just so much going on!” (Self included!) Good or bad, stress levels are high and there never seems to be enough time in the day to get things done. Technology makes it hard to turn off work and the outer world in general. I actually read somewhere that the average person now experiences more external stimulation in one day than the average person 100 years ago experienced in their entire lifetime.
In comes nature… a tranquil retreat from the daily happenings of life. Yes, please!
There have been multiple studies on the positive benefits nature has on our nervous systems; now, medical doctors are even prescribing nature as medicine to patients in other countries. Strange as that sounds, I think it’s great. Studies and prescriptions aside, I simply know that nature is amazing for health because I feel its effects in my bones and always come away feeling calmer. Being in nature helps me turn my attention inward and in turn greet life with more patience and wonder. Therapy at its best.
Nature has become a huge part of my life and a refuge for me on many levels. Looking back on my childhood and having been blessed to grow up with a huge park at the end of our street, it’s safe to say I have always had an appreciation for nature. As a child, I headed to the park when things felt overwhelming, though I’m not sure the connection was made at that time. It’s just what I did. And several years ago, I made a conscious choice to fight back against Seasonal Affective Disorder and began taking regular winter walks and snapping pictures of beauty along the way—embracing the cold North Eastern winters instead of complaining about them. Along my journeys, I found that the expansiveness of a body of water or open field made me feel free, connected, and empowered. And now, no matter the time of year, I cannot live without my daily morning walk. It is rare that I let anything stand in the way of it, and I absolutely notice a difference in my mood and energy if I miss it.
It’s easier to integrate a daily nature practice than you might think, it just takes creativity at times. In general, I believe positive daily practices are the foundation for happiness. We can think about what we want for the future or what we wish had been different in the past, but what we do and how we spend our time everyday is what matters. I love the idea of creating a nature practice because it is not about losing weight, or toning our abs, it’s about lowering stress and taking time to pause and enjoy the moment. And I find it’s easier to incorporate a good habit than take away a toxic one, and that eventually the healing habits do take over.
I’d like to share seven practical ways to integrate a daily nature practice into your life for a deeper sense of mindfulness, gratitude, and connection.
- Presence: Cherish spending time in a beautiful place by setting your phone to airplane mode, and if you will be listening to music I suggest keeping it peaceful and at a very low volume. (A couple of peaceful Spotify stations I love are Deuter and/or Tycho.) Some may call it forest bathing, but the trick is to truly let the magnificence of the surrounding nature anchor you into the present moment. Tune in fully by starting with some deep breaths, begin to wander while listening to the wind through the trees, chirping of the birds and rustling of creatures. Feel the rush of any water that may be around you and remind yourself—this is a time of being, not doing. Continue simply breathing and noticing, and when your mind begins to wander to what you want to make for dinner or an important conversation you want to have with your best friend, don’t judge the thought, simply recognize it and bring your awareness back to the present.
- Gratitude: Whether I walk out to a snow-filled trail or a neighborhood with tons of beautiful flowers in every yard, the gratitude is almost instantaneous. I simply cannot look up at a sky that’s on fire at sunset without watching with wonder and appreciation for the magic right before my eyes. And nature is always there when I need it. I also have special “gratitude stops” on some of my regular paths where I can take a break, breathe deeply, and connect with what I am grateful for in that moment. Usually it starts by giving gratitude for the beauty that surrounds me, the beauty within my heart, and the beautiful people in my life. I love this idea because it seems my subconscious remembers… and these places become triggers for inner work, just as setting up a sanctuary within your home would do.
- Balance: Embracing nature doesn’t mean you must head straight into the woods, in fact, walking around your neighborhood or devoting time to just be in your backyard are also powerful practices. The key I have found is to change things up, as new scenery will evoke wonder and a renewed sense of energy. Sometimes I simply walk on some lovely creekside trail or even amongst a nearby neighborhood other than my own that I find inspiring. Other times, I may head out to the lake or a larger nearby park with lots of scenic trails. And every now and then, I will drive an hour away to somewhere impressive and spend a morning or afternoon entirely unplugged from my phone. Also, bringing nature inside can have big benefits as well. House plants literally liven up our space and our mood—I don’t think you can have too many! I love that they also serve as some of the best air filters on the planet, filtering out all kinds of pollutants. It’s great if you do a little research before you go buy them, as certain plants are better at filtering out different substances depending on what your goal is. This is a great resource to learn more on that! And I think the woman that helped me out in the plants department recently said it best: “Plants just make you happy!”
- Be Intentional Sometimes, before I head out on my walk, I set an intention about how I want to feel during and after. This could be anything under the sun but I often find myself setting an intention of clarity. Or I often choose to just be. And If there is something really heavy weighing on my mind, I use my walk as a way to problem solve, by thinking only of this one particular issue that’s weighing on me and working through it fully before I go home. In any case, when other thoughts come up (and they will!) simply notice them and divert your attention back to your intention. Let your surroundings put you at ease and turn your attention inward.
- Yoga: I don’t know of many wellness modalities that top practicing yoga in the woods or by the lake or ocean or stream etc… Pausing your walk and flowing into a forward fold or leaning into a lunge is an awesome way to get a deep stretch and some deep breaths mid-walk. Sure, once in a while you may get a strange look from a passerby, but trust me, deep down they are secretly wishing they could be in tree pose as well. Depending on where you are you could do some full on sun salutations! Feeling the warmth of the sun and a fresh breeze during outdoor yoga in general is amazing. If you can do it in your backyard, that’s great too! The combination of these practices and the outdoors works wonders for mind, body, and spirit. If possible, to take this practice further take off your shoes and engage in a grounding, or “earthing,” practice.There are all sorts of benefits you can read more about here.
- Reconnect: I think we are inherently connected with nature even beyond our understanding. Our energy levels, and lives in general, are profoundly influenced by the seasons, sun and moon phases, sunsets and sunrises. And to me, wandering around nature truly in a state of presence and gratitude allows me to connect to both my true self and something bigger than myself. I must say this is my favorite part of nature, this deep connection that brings us back to reality. And it’s kind of funny, we often hear people say “Ugh, now it’s time to get back to reality,” after they’ve just enjoyed an amazing weekend escape or time in nature. I believe that being in nature helps us get back to reality, not the other way around.
- Self-Love: As with all self-care modalities, sometimes we can feel selfish about taking time just for ourselves. But in reality, taking this time in nature is a beautiful gesture of self-love that lifts us up. In turn, we have the energy to lift others up. Remember, you will be a better friend, parent, neighbor, and overall human when you take time for yourself—positive energy is contagious! You will come back recharged on a deep level and will have much more to offer the world. And don’t forget creativity. Nature can stimulate creativity, helping you blissfully contribute your unique gifts to the world.
I hope these insights inspire you to embrace nature as an essential part of your wellness routine. Even just a few minutes everyday can work wonders for your mind and body, so find a way to enjoy the outdoors that works best for you and you’ll quickly notice the many benefits nature has to offer.