Reconnecting to the Healing Power of Nature
by Cindy Geyer, MD
Medical Director Canyon Ranch Lenox
My love of the outdoors goes back to childhood. I grew up in a small town outside Florence, SC, where summer days were spent building forts in the woods; observing the toads, snakes and other woodland creatures; and picking wild blackberries to be baked into a pie or cobbler by my mom. After high school I spent a year in northern Sweden as an exchange student, a country where “allemansrätt,” or everyman’s right, is protected by their constitution. This is known as the freedom to roam, ensuring everyone access to public lands, to hike, ski, pick berries and mushrooms, swim and fish. Living 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the notion of being outdoors whenever the sun was shining was deeply instilled by my host family. It’s amazing how much one appreciates the sun after those long dark northern winter nights!
After completing medical residency, I moved to the Berkshires in Massachusetts. My children were born and raised here, and over the years my walks and hikes have become an integral part of my life. Beyond exercise, my walks have provided a way to manage stress, process emotions, think creatively and relish the wonder and beauty of nature.
Since the start of physical distancing, I have become more acutely aware of the power of nature to create moments of respite and hope. Fewer time pressures have allowed me to slow down and pay more attention to things I may have missed when my focus was on getting my heart rate up. Whether you live in a rural area such as the Berkshires or an urban environment, here are some ideas for you to tap into your own connection to the natural world.
Take advantage of having more time – slow down and engage your senses:
If you can go outside, notice the pleasant earthy scent as snows melt and the rains of spring soak the ground – reminding us of renewal. If indoors, crush dried herbs and spices with the flat end of a knife, releasing their aromatic oils, and inhale deeply.
Outside or through your window, observe the play of sunlight on the ground, buildings and plants. Notice the slowly changing color of the leaves as they deepen from their pale yellow-green at their first unfurling to the emerald green of summer.
Birds are everywhere. See if you can identify different bird songs. A bird feeder can attract birds to your window and provide a visual and auditory treat.
Stories to Inspire
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery. The true story of a grandmother in her 60’s who told her children she was going for a walk and became the first woman to hike the Appalachian trail in the 1950’s. Surviving domestic violence, hiking with her arthritic knees in her Keds and carrying her hand sewn duffel bag, and relying on the grace and generosity of people she encountered along the way – her journey is one of determination, resilience and connection.
The Overstory by Richard Powers, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. This weaves together the stories of people whose lives are impacted by various experiences involving trees.
These are challenging times for all of us. My hope is that you can find small unhurried opportunities to reconnect or discover anew the wonders of the natural world that translate into moments of beauty, awe and hope.