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True confession: I have not been spending much time outside this summer. When the weekend rolls around, I have been spending time on the couch or in bed catching up with sleep or binge-watching a French detective series from the 1990s, Maigret. I realized last week…or maybe it was the week before…my sense of time has been distorted since March….that it’s been a long time since I sat outside in the back yard on the deck or walked on the lawn to reconnect with nature. I’m ashamed to admit that I can’t even remember the last sunrise or sunset I’ve watched.
So, on a particularly stressful day ‘at’ work (our office has been telecommuting since March), I went outside to re-explore the back yard. I took off my shoes and walked on the small patch of moss where no grass grows and took several deep breaths. This took me back to my childhood where we had a vacant, wooded lot behind our house. I loved taking walks in the woods and discovering nature. We had lots of sassafras trees and honeysuckle bushes. I used to pick sassafras leaves and inhale their unique scent. I used to also pick honeysuckle flowers and sometimes would sip on the nectar if the bees hadn’t beaten me to it.
Other cultures place a higher value on reconnecting with nature. In Japan, the practice of shinrin yoku (forest bathing) is popular. A physiological and psychological study of working-age people in Japan found that forest bathing for just 2 hours on a weekend outing resulted in significant positive effects on mental health (Furuyashiki, Tabuchi, et al., 2019).
Québécoise author Isabelle Larouche has spent a lot of time with First Nations communities where connecting with nature daily is a given. I had the pleasure of talking with Isabelle this week for our podcast and learned how she finds relaxation and rejuvenation through nature.
Spoiler alert: A born storyteller, she draws from her observations of plants, insects, and animals when describing human nature. You won’t want to miss this episode!
So, back to finding inspiration in nature. Here are a few ideas, some do not even require going outside of the comfort of your home! (Of course, it is preferable to get outside, but this is not always possible or advisable.)
5 Ways to Reconnect with Nature
- Explore your back yard (if you have one) or visit a local park. Enjoy the plants – pay attention to how the foliage changes through the seasons. Observe the animals (if any) or the insects. In my back yard, we have a little rabbit that often chews on the grass. I love exploring to see what flowers are in bloom, especially since I haven’t lived in this house too long, so I always find surprises that previous owners planted.
- Visit the beach, preferably offseason when it isn’t crowded. As an introvert, I have always preferred going to the beach when the crowds were gone. Walking barefoot on the sand does wonders for your feet and for your soul.I have to admit that as a young parent in Japan, I resisted when my son’s pre-k insisted on giving him time to play outside barefoot in the sandbox.
We are so conditioned as parents in the US to fear that our children are going to step on a rusty nail (or even worse, the international pediatrician warned that they could pick up worms by walking barefoot). Fast forward several years…I now have a greater appreciation for my sons’ teachers’ insistence on barefoot time.
Functional medicine practitioners recognize the health benefits of walking barefoot in nature. Dr. Eliaz cites the many benefits that earthing, or walking on natural surfaces such as grass, soil, or sand, can have.
The positive effects of earthing, which grounds the body have been shown to “moderate heart rate variability, improved glucose regulation, reduced stress and supported immune function.” Eliaz cites another study that found that earthing may help by regulating both the endocrine and nervous systems. (Eliaz, Kick Off Your Shoes: The Surprising MD-Approved Benefits Of Walking Barefoot, Mind Body Green, accessed Aug. 23, 2020.
- Take a hike. You don’t need fancy gear, but it is a good idea to have comfortable footwear with a good grip so you don’t slip. Be sure to check for ticks if you go hiking in the woods so that you don’t end up with Lyme’s disease! My favorite store for comfortable hiking boots is REI. If you’ve never been hiking, I recommend reading this article from ‘The Hiking Guy’ so that you are well-prepared.
- Adopt a plant. If you can’t go outside, bring the outside indoors. I have a thriving aloe plant that a coworker gave to me before covid-19 went viral (no pun intended). It lived in my office, but I suspected we wouldn’t be coming back to work for a while, so I brought it home.I love watching it grow and also gave it a companion by planting a lemon seed in the same container. Both coexist and add greenery to my house. Plants happen to be a great way to detox the air in your home. Now, just to be clear, I don’t spend time talking to the plants, ha! Not that there’s anything wrong with that though.
- Diffuse earthy or floral essential oils. My favorite way to wind down in the evening is to diffuse Northern Lights Black Spruce, mixed with Orange, and Cedarwood essential oils. Smells like a forest–I love it! For a more floral vibe, you can diffuse jasmin or ylang ylang. This smells like a tropical paradise.
If you’re still procrastinating on the couch, feel free to hop over to Instagram and tag us (@allthingsrelax) in your photo of you enjoying nature and hashtag it #AllThingsRelaxNature. I would love to see how you are reconnecting with nature!
Citation: Furuyashiki A, Tabuchi K, Norikoshi K, Kobayashi T, Oriyama S., A comparative study of the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku) on working age people with and without depressive tendencies. Environ Health Prev Med. 2019;24(1):46. Published 2019 Jun 22. doi:10.1186/s12199-019-0800-1, accessed Aug 23, 2020.