Spending Time in Nature is Essential to Wellbeing

There is something magical about the land we were on last weekend. The babbling brooks, the rock lined trails, the sound of the wind through the trees. Birdsong, fire pits, drums, and dirt all found their way back into my heart and into the rhythm of our lives. I had almost forgotten how much it nurtures me to spend time in nature.

Sure, we were cold, wet and uncomfortable some of the time. There were times when my husband and I wished for our climate controlled home and we definitely missed our hot tub during the cold cold nights. But it felt good to lean on the trees for support or to sit on a rock to rest. It was nice to look up into the sky and remember that rain helps the plants to grow and that the sun is their food. And after a while I found myself bounding through the forest, enlivened and excited so much that I wanted to race from place to place through the forest.

At first my daughter wanted to hold my hand as she navigated the trails, but after a few days she too was ready to move along the trails all by herself and at her own pace. I loved watching her joy as she fell down and got back up over and over again. I had an indescribable feeling of happiness when she let go of my hand and walked over the stone bridge spanning the rushing stream all on her own.

In college I took an environmental psychology class and I learned so much about how nature affects the human body. Did you know that the simple act of watching a movie of nature scenes can actually lower your blood pressure?! The natural world brings a sense of calm and purpose to the human body that we just can’t get spending all of our time in high-rise skyscrapers, driving our cars on the freeway, or being plugged in to our many modern devices.

The sounds of wind and water are calming too. In fact, spending time in nature is a sensory experience that includes and involves all the senses. Heat, cold, dry, wet, rough, smooth, high pitched bird song, the sound of our feet walking on pine needles, the low hoot of an owl, the smell of the plant we just walked by, the taste of the dirt or the ashes from the fire or the edible plants and herbs that surround us. The warmth of the sun on your skin, the sight of a small rodent or an especially green patch of moss, these are the things that remind our nervous system we’re safe and it’s OK to relax and enjoy life.

Have you ever noticed that whenever anything is written about colors and their psychological effects it is purported that blue is a soothing and relaxing color. It occurred to me this weekend that some of the most soothing things in nature, water and sky are beautiful shades of blue. That makes me wonder, which came first, the soothing effects of the color blue, or the feeling of relaxation that comes over us when we see things that are “sky colored.” I’m guessing it’s the latter.

After that environmental psychology class I was inspired to bring nature inside and I began to create natural rock fountains and altars filled with shells, rocks, crystals, and woodcarvings to adorn my living space. And while I do think that having reminders of nature indoors is soothing, I’m pretty sure I had things backward. We need to spend more time in nature. We need to get dirty. We need to smell wood smoke and hear the sounds of rushing water. These things are as essential to our wellbeing as food and shelter. Sure we can live a completely indoor life, but what kind of a life would that really be? I think it would be missing an essential component of sensorial experience and it would definitely be missing the kind of joy and aliveness I felt this past weekend.

Maria Montessori said that the first five years of life were all about gaining facility with our senses and I must agree. Learning to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell with facility can impact us in large and small ways throughout our lives. So why not take advantage of our oldest and most complex teacher, nature?

Julia and I have been reading a portion of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Hiawatha” together and looking at the beautiful illustrations by Susan Jeffers. This book has captured my imagination since I was a child. I’ve always fanticized about living as the Native American’s did before the New World was discovered. I don’t want my daughter to learn bird species and wildflowers from a book. I’d like her to be like Hiawatha and experience these things firsthand, learning the smells, colors, and sounds that embellish their scientific names. Last weekend was a great start, but we need even more time in nature.

What are your plans this summer (or winter if you’re in the southern hemisphere) for getting out into nature? Do you think it’s a priority to experience nature first hand? Please share your story with us!

And have a wonderful week, Shelly

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  1. […] outside is good for us. In my environmental psychology class in college, we learned that simply listening to nature sounds or even watching a video of a natural scene decreased blood pressure significantly. So how much […]