The Power of Nature Based Stress Reduction
“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, sea, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’”
— Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
We are blessed here on the South Shore to have so many options to enjoy the outdoors! The beauty of nature surrounds us. We are gifted by the changing seasons, the rich topography of lush green forests that hug the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean, and a variety of public venues that we can enjoy the beauty of it all! Within minutes we can escape into the wilderness, and take advantage of the beaches and trails.
Nature is a source of wonder and inspiration, and throughout history, people have long been interested in its healing power. Henry David Thoreau, who spent two years living in the wilderness at Walden Pond in Waltham, Massachusetts, sensed that any other outdoor setting, can quiet the mind and improve your mood.
What is so wonderful about nature is that it is a free resource, and you don’t need to go far to experience the bliss of a natural environment. Even a brief walk in the woods, drive by the ocean, or sitting quietly in your garden can do the trick!
Spending time in nature is one of the most effective ways to reduce everyday stress and mental fatigue. Gary Snyder, who has been described as the “poet laureate of Deep Ecology” states, “Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” Our bodies and minds remember our primal roots. We are wired to be outside, in spite of our modern lifestyles keeping us inside and distracted by among other things, technology.
In addition, by being outdoors, you are automatically exposed to the sun, and its invigorating, stimulating, life-giving power which is known to greatly improve our mood. It is also a natural source of vitamin D and a crucial protection against disease. The magic of the sun is best summed up by Wilma Rudoph, “When the Sun is shining, I can do anything; no mountain is too high, no trouble too difficult to overcome“. The sun, literally, boosts our energy levels and somehow, makes our problems seem less daunting.
Science is also demonstrating what we intuitively know: Nature makes us happy, and studies have shown that even our brain changes from getting outside! More specifically, the frontal lobe, the part of our brain that’s hyper-engaged in modern life, deactivates a little when one is outside. Alpha waves, which indicate a calm but alert state, grow stronger.
Scientists have also found overwhelming evidence that being in nature has a profound impact on our brains and our behavior. It helps us to reduce anxiety, brooding, and stress, and it increases our attention, capacity, creativity, and our ability to connect with other people.
Even the use of nature as a form of therapy, called Ecopsychology, has gained the interest of scientists, researchers and nature enthusiasts and it has grown in popularity. A recent study, published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, found that even spending as little as five minutes outdoors was linked to a significant mood boost. Even more noteworthy, a study published in Frontiers in Psychology revealed that just a twenty-minute nature experience was enough to significantly reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Get this, if one spent a little more time immersed in a nature experience, 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking, cortisol levels drop at their greatest rate.
With so many proven physical and emotional benefits associated with getting outside, this time of year is especially inviting as we approach the longest day of the year on the Summer Solstice! Enjoy these summer days of the sheer beauty of the wild, the peace and solitude, the sudden simplicity of life, fresh perspectives, and watch your stress disappear and your wellbeing improve! Whether it is hiking, biking, boating, swimming, yoga or something else, it is all yours for the taking! So get outside, take it all in, and get happy!
Join Trish and her fabulous instructors this summer at her all-levels outdoor yoga and meditation program, Cohasset Beach Yoga. The program is held at Sandy Beach in Cohasset, all non-residents are welcome, and temporary parking passes are distributed. Yoga classes are $15, and meditation classes are donation-only. A portion of all proceeds will be donated to the Sandy Beach Association, Cardinal Cushing School, and other South Shore causes. Please bring your mat, sunscreen and water and check our schedule two hours before your class if weather could be inclement. More details at can be found on www.trishhartyoga.com or on Facebook.