Human beings have become an indoor species. Starting with the domestication of fire, moving to the Industrial Revolution, and to modern day, we increasingly spend the majority of our lives indoors. According to a study, the average American spends 93 percent of the time in enclosed buildings and vehicles. This leaves only seven percent of time spent outside!
This is a huge departure from the lifestyle of our not-so-distant ancestors who lived in the wilderness, walked barefoot upon the earth, and slept under the stars each night. In this technologically-driven world, we eat, sleep, work, and play in many ways cut off from the natural world right outside our windows. This separation often goes unnoticed, however.
Spending excessive time indoors and not taking regular excursions outside and into nature can have a negative effect on your health, well-being, and states of awareness. Your ancestral roots are in nature. It’s where the human species grew and evolved into its current state; divorcing yourself from your deeper, nature-bound essence can come at great risk.
Fortunately, you can make a conscious decision to spend more time in nature and embrace a host of benefits for your body, mind, and spirit. In this way, nature can play a profound role in helping you heal your mind and body while uniting you with your true identity as a spiritual being. Also known as ecotherapy or green therapy, spending time in nature cultivates a state of holistic balance and growth through a nourishing interaction with the earth.
Consider some of the following benefits of spending time in nature.
Being in Nature Reduces Stress
Spending time in nature has been shown to lower the levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone. The sights, sounds, and experiences associated with being in nature can have a soothing effect on your nervous system, slowing heart rate and normalizing respiration, blood pressure, and several other key stress markers associated with the fight-or-flight response. In addition, natural settings are rich in primordial sounds, or the most basic and fundamental sounds of nature. These sounds are intrinsically calming and nurturing, helping your mind and body slip into a more healthy and balanced state.
Nature Provides a Prana Boost
The natural environment is rich in prana or the primordial life force that sustains all life. You absorb prana most directly through breathing; fresh, natural, clean air provides the most abundant supply. Deep breathing in nature helps to purify and energize your system, but you also draw in prana through vegetation, trees, mountains, lakes, and a star-filled sky at night. Spending time outdoors puts you right into the swirling currents and eddies of prana as it cycles and flows through all of nature.
The Natural World Cultivates a Sense of Wonder and Connection
When you’re immersed in nature, it’s impossible not to be awestruck by the size, magnificence, power, and beauty of the natural world. This experience often causes your perspective to shift powerfully as you realize how small your individual life can seem in light of millions of years of evolution, countless numbers of species, and the infinite variety of landscapes, contours, oceans, and continents.
You simultaneously feel humbled by so much vitality and intelligence, yet empowered knowing that you are an outcropping of this field of nature. The breath of the trees fills your lungs, the waters of the oceans course through your veins, and the electricity of a lightning storm flashes through your brain with each thought. Understanding this relationship is the essence of yoga; the unity of body, mind, spirit, and environment.
Nature Puts You Back in Touch with the Ground
Grounding or earthing is an emerging field of study that explores the beneficial effects on your system of connecting to the earth. When you make direct physical contact with the earth through your bare feet or by lying in the grass, you reconnect electrically to the battery of the planet. This contact helps to balance the flow of energy in your physiology and has been shown to reduce inflammation, reduce stress and anxiety as well as improve circulatory function, sleeping rhythms, and mood. These benefits appear to be clear indicators that the human body is designed to be in direct contact with the earth.
Plugs Into the Field of Pure Potentiality or Spirit
When you spend time in communion with nature you realign with the field of awareness that embodies all creation. The connection to sprit is much more direct in nature than in urban environments or enclosed spaces. This is due to the qualities of pure awareness that are embodied in the natural world. In nature you make direct contact with:
- Pure creativity: The natural world is incredibly creative, innovative, and resourceful in its expression. It spontaneously flows into new and novel ways of being.
- Stillness, serenity, and peace: Nature can be astoundingly tranquil. Although it contains unimaginable power and destructive energy, the essence of the natural world is calm, centered, and still.
- No boundaries: There are no limits to what the natural world is capable of. Its possibilities are beyond your wildest imaginings.
- Evolution and adaptation: Nature is always growing and expanding in its complexity. It flows and changes course as is required by the ever-changing environment.
- Bliss: The settled, unperturbed state of the natural world is one of bliss and abundant happiness. In other words, it just feels good.
When you are in communion with the natural world, these qualities of pure spirit become a part of you, and you embody them at the deepest level of your being.
Now that you’ve seen some of the benefits of spending time in nature, try the following strategies to practice ecotherapy on a regular basis.
Make a Conscious Commitment to Get Outside Every Day
To make the most of being out of doors and in nature, you need to make it a conscious, intentional act. More than simply walking from place to place, really take the time to be present in the natural world. Notice nature in all its amazing forms. Take in all of the sensory input from the world around you. Be awake and aware to all subtle nuances of the natural world that so often go by unnoticed. Take time to appreciate the interaction between your body, the planet, and the cosmos.
Embody the Archetypes of Nature
Look for opportunities to call forth the qualities of the natural world into your consciousness. For example, you can visualize the five elements of Ayurveda and summon to you those qualities as they express themselves in nature:
- For space, embody the vastness of the entire cosmos and imagine your mind, body, and consciousness filling up the entire universe.
- For air, personify the winds and planetary currents that power the earth’s weather. Imagine your essence swirling and twirling through forests, valleys, and mountain ranges.
- For fire, call forth the heat and energy of a volcano or lava field as it roils and churns its powerful energy. Imagine possessing this unbridled force for creation and destruction.
- For water, become a flowing river or crashing waves upon the shore. Wind your way effortlessly with power and grace across the surface of the earth.
- For earth, embody the structure and stability of a mountain or an ancient redwood tree, powerfully rooted deep into the earth. Visualize the strength and stability fortifying you with strength.
Walk Barefoot; Sit or Lie on the Earth
Make time to regularly ground your body in the electromagnetic field of the planet. Allowing your bare skin to touch the earth for approximately 30 minutes each day is an ideal amount of time to begin to experience the benefits of grounding and restore your connection with the earth.
Sit or Meditate in Big Nature
Big nature is just what it sounds like—being outside in big, wide-open spaces. While being outside in any natural environment (such as a park or a wooded trail) can be healing, try to make time to regularly experience the grandeur of the biggest places you’re able to visit. National or state parks, nature reserves, the ocean, a forest, or mountain range all make for a deep immersion into the healing power of the natural world.
Reflect Upon the Writings of John Muir
Scottish-American naturalist, author, and environmental philosopher John Muir was an influential activist for the preservation of wilderness and advocate for humanity’s connection to the earth. His writings serve as a powerful reminder of the value and importance the natural world plays in sustaining life on earth. His words contain a sutra-like quality capable of shifting your consciousness when you read them:
- One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.
- I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.
- This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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