Let’s assume most peoples’ mornings look the same: stumbling out of the house, already stressed about the day ahead, worrying about traffic and wondering if you remembered your computer. But are there some days, in the midst of this chaos surrounding you, where you notice the colors of the sunrise, the chorus of birds? Even on rainy or winter days, does the way the wind hits your face momentarily ease your racing mind?
The outdoors can be used to reconnect us to our inner calm in so many ways. Some people use the natural world for meditation, to work out, as a meeting place for social events, or for other hobbies.
Studies have shown that just 30 minutes of being outside can decrease blood pressure, lighten moods and raise levels of vitamin D – something Western New Yorkers are often lacking, especially in the winter. Even in the simplest of ways, nature can recalibrate our mind and body and provide benefits that have been studied for centuries.
In the book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, author Dr. Qing Li, Chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, breaks down the various ways the great outdoors acts as a vessel for healing.
When I first heard the word “forest bathing,” I imagined laying down in the middle of the forest and letting the grass consume me – especially on those “Is this week over yet?” days, it feels like the only way nature can act as a way to calm your mind is to run into the woods and never come back. However, Dr. Li describes his daily act of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, as a simple 15-minute walk outside with his students.
This easy yet effective method reminded me of all the times I also participated in forest bathing without even realizing. The moments that stuck out the most were when I lived in New York City – all the times I took the longer way home to walk through a park, or ran along the river and stopped at a pier to watch the sunset. I was continually searching for moments of calm in the midst of the chaos, and found those moments in small glimpses of nature, whether it was an actual park or a tiny patch of grass around a tree.
As Dr. Li describes it, this pull comes from a “cellular desire to be outdoors” and connect with nature. Knowing this, the act of connecting with nature through “forest bathing” makes this act of therapy more accessible – not everyone is a “nature person” but still crave the serenity that can be gained from being in it.
Here are some various ways you can reconnect with nature that can benefit both your mental and physical health.
- Eat a meal outside.
- Take a moment out of your workday to stand in the sun and breathe.
- Read a book outside.
- Decorate your living space or office with plants
- Meditate, stretch, work out.
- Take a dog for a walk – your dog, your friend’s dog, your neighbor’s dog!
- Take photos or videos while you’re outside – in moments of stress when you can’t step away, you can turn to these videos.
- Go for a hike – there are so many hiking trails in our area that accommodate all skill levels. There are also WNY Hiking Facebook groups you can join if you’re looking for more personalized recommendations!
There is no wrong way to reconnect with nature. Any activity you find to benefit your mental and physical health can only have positive effects on your overall well-being.