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The Healing Power of Nature

How reconnecting with flowers, trees and the soil beneath your feet can boost your mood and soothe your soul
Written by 
Canyon Ranch Staff
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
November 8, 2013

People have long been interested in the healing power of nature. Perhaps most famously, Henry David Thoreau spent two years secluded in the woods of Massachusetts while writing Walden, his classic meditation on life and nature. Even in 1845, Thoreau sensed that the forest, or any other outdoor setting, can quiet the mind and improve your health. More than a century and a half later, there is plenty of science on the healing power of nature to back him up. Ecopsychology—which explores the relationship between human beings and the natural world—is a growing field, and studies show that spending time in nature can reduce stress, improve overall feelings of wellbeing and happiness, raise your energy level and even increase your capacity for caring.

Nature’s Health Benefits

It Boosts Your Mood
Stepping outdoors into the warmth of a sunny day is a great way to bring a smile to your face, and there’s a reason for that. Sunlight provides you with nourishing, energizing vitamin D, which has been shown to boost mood, calm the nervous system and improve issues such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Beyond this, vitamin D also promotes calcium absorption in the body, and getting the proper amount of it can minimize the risk of hypertension, cancer and certain autoimmune diseases.
 
It Keeps You in the Present
Unplugging from daily life and getting outdoors allows you to focus on the now. At its essence, connecting with nature encourages you to be in the present moment, to quiet your mind and take in the sights, sounds and smells that surround you, and that you may not have noticed in a while. A basic form of meditation, bringing your attention to the present (rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future) can minimize stress and anxiety.
 
It Energizes You
While you may think a double espresso is the key to getting over an afternoon slump, research suggests that a walk in the woods is a better bet. A series of studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology revealed that people who were exposed to nature for as little as 20 minutes a day experienced elevated energy levels and better overall mood than those who were not.
 
It Makes You Kinder
A study by the University of Rochester found that when exposed to nature, people tend to feel more generous, more connected to their community and more socially conscious. Even simply looking at photos of nature reinforced feelings of connection with other living things, which in turn reminded people of basic values like generosity and caring.
 
It Strengthens Your Spirituality
There can be a deeply spiritual side to connecting with nature, helping provide us with a stronger sense of self. We may be part of a universe larger than we can imagine, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find comfort in the vast environment around us. Reconnect by doing something as simple as walking barefoot over a mossy forest floor or dipping your toes in the ocean.
 

How to Get Your Daily Dose of Nature

Making the conscious decision to introduce more nature into your life is the first step in reaping its healing powers.

Spend time planting in your garden, or simply relaxing in your backyard. Try leaving your phone, tablet or book inside and really focus on the smells, sounds, sights and textures surrounding you instead—the fragrance of your rose garden, the feel of the wind on your face, the chirping of the birds. When it’s time to get back to business as usual, remember that even life management can often be done outside; pay some bills from your patio, for example.

Try, too, to get outdoors when you exercise—do your morning yoga routine in a park, or walk the nature trail instead of hitting the treadmill. Nourish your body and your soul by dining outside during your office lunch hour or family dinner time.

When you can’t spend as much time outdoors as you’d like, bring a touch of the outdoors inside. Add indoor plants to your home or office space, or even a desktop water fountain. Hearing the sound of running water can have a calming effect, and studies have shown that having indoor plants can reduce headaches and fatigue.

Reference(s) 
HortScience, Volume 44, Number 2, 2009
Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 30, Issue 2, 2010