I want to talk a bit about the connection between the natural world and our physical and emotional health. The healing power of nature is something I have greatly benefited from and I feel compelled to share my experiences with others. It isn’t that I don’t think that many of us appreciate the natural world, I think most people would say that they enjoy spending time in the natural world, but I don’t think that nature is often discussed in medicinal terms, and I really think it should be.
I subscribe to the school of thought that anything can be our medicine. Food can be my medicine. Exercise can be my medicine. The people I choose to surround myself with can be my medicine. My thoughts can be my medicine. And, nature, absolutely, can be my medicine.
I previously wrote about the connection between nature and my spirit. My spirit loves being in nature and thrives in a natural environment. It’s where I feel the most alive and the most healthy. But, the benefits of spending time in nature do not need to be talked about in spiritual terms, which occasionally comes with the connotation that it is immeasurable and made up. The benefits that one can reap from spending time in nature are indeed measurable and scientific.
To highlight one study, The British Journal of Sports Medicine looked into this very topic in 2013. In their study, “The Urban Brain: Analysing Outdoor Physical Activity with Mobile EEG,” the researchers studied a group of individuals walking through 3 different controlled environments- an urban shopping street, a street in a busy commercial district, and a path through green space. They used a mobile electroencephalography (EEG) to measure and assess the cognitive states of the individuals during their respective walks. The results showed that the test subjects had lower levels of “frustration, engagement and arousal, and higher meditation when moving into the green space zone; and higher engagement when moving out of it.” The results of this study showed a statistically significant variance in the EEG recordings in the three environments, meaning it’s pretty hard to ignore these findings and dismiss them as sheer coincidence.
I, myself, have experienced almost exactly what this study discussed. And, it was coincidentally on a trip to the UK as well. I was in London for a work trip walking around the city with some colleagues. The streets were filled with people, cars, noise, shops and everything else you find in big cities. Now, at the time I was living in NYC so it wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to, but I was noticeably on edge and agitated. We ended up wandering off of the main road and stumbled upon a huge park. I am not exaggerating when I say that the first step I took into the park fundamentally shifted my physical and emotional states. It was such a strong shift that one of the women I was with who shares my passion for nature and wellness looked at me and said “I can’t explain how different I feel stepping off of the street and into this park.” It was like she had read my mind, and was clearly experiencing the same effects of our natural surroundings.
The photo above is from a recent trip I took to New Zealand, which was the most beautiful, natural place I think I have ever been. Every day there was filled with walking, biking, and hiking and spending as much time outdoors as possible. Normally, when I return from a holiday, no matter how relaxing it was I still feel the effects of fatigue and general malaise for a few days. This trip did the exact opposite. I came back feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, and I credit that largely to the time I spent in nature. Famed writer Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of nature and has his sense still.” This isn’t to say that someone who lives and spends a lot of time in nature is immune to all physical and emotional ailments. That would be, without a doubt, quite silly. But I do agree with Thoreau’s sentiment here- one of the best things you can do for yourself is to spend time in nature.
Imagine a day where you go visit a doctor and instead of prescribing you a pill, they prescribe you a 30-minute daily walk in the park. Wouldn’t that be nice?