“Allow nature’s peace to flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” – John Muir
Nature is accessible for everyone, whether it’s a deep immersion with days wandering and wild camping in isolated places, to simply having a walk on your own, with a friend or your dog, to sitting quietly in your garden or a park, watching and listening, to simply opening your window to hear the birdsong.
Nature is present all around us all the time. Even if you live in a city you can still look up and see the sky, notice an ant on the pavement, see the tenacious plant growing from the crack in a wall. It’s never far away and when we spend time in nature something positive happens to our body, mind and heart.
Nature for mental health
It’s been proven by scientific research that being in nature reduces stress levels and enhances our feeling of wellbeing. Most of us can think of a time when we’ve felt some stress, discomfort or unsettled feelings, then gone for a walk or sat in a natural place and notice something happening. Something magic happens by simply being in nature.
Mental health problems are a growing public health concern. They can start at a really early age with problems like anxiety, be prevalent throughout all the age groups and include older people too.
Being in nature has a wonderful way of bringing ourselves into a place of balance and inner calm. When we feel stressed, anxious and overwhelmed with life, the sympathetic nervous system activates our ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response which increases cortisol and inflammation in the body and also creates unsettled and often delusional thoughts. When we’re feeling calm, present and relaxed, our parasympathetic nervous system is activated which releases our ‘happy hormones’ like serotonin.
The healing qualities of nature
Being in nature, opening your senses, listening to the birds and the bubbling stream, being quiet, attentive, watching how a squirrel moves, noticing the sunlight twinkle through the leaves, feeling your feet on the earth or quietly breathing in a quiet place all have an incredibly calming effect on the body, mind and soul.
Nature really has powerful healing qualities. Simply being in nature can help with healing the body and calming the mind, leading to a happier, more positive state of being.
Exercise to spring clean your senses
- Find a quiet place to sit, lie or stand, ideally in nature. If you’re not able to get out, just open the window.
- Feel and notice the places where your body makes contact with the surface underneath you. Take a moment to breathe a little more deeply and slowly for a few breaths.
- Then, open up your hearing to become aware of the sounds you can hear around you. Send your hearing awareness all around you like a huge bubble, noticing the loudest sound and then the quietest sound. Notice the bird sounds. Are there similar ones, like the birds calling to each other in response? Are there different ones?
- See if you can just stay and hold this lightly in your awareness for at least 10 minutes, ideally 20, just gently acknowledging wheat you hear without needing to label anything. Just simply listening, hearing, appreciating and being.
A nature poem
Enjoy this excerpt from A Timbered Choir by Wendell Berry:
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet around me
like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places where I left them
asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings and I hear its song.