Nature as healer

Nature itself is the best physician. Hippocrates

The healing effects of spending time in nature can be hard to put into words. An innate draw to wild spaces and green places when we need to rest. The ocean calling to rejuvenate the soul and lift the spirits. Sitting under the forest canopy as it slows a busy mind and brings us to the present. The simple urge to put on our shoes, step outside and deeply inhale as we connect to all that lives and breathes around us. The psychologist, Erich Fromm, first spoke of biophilia in 1964, describing it as “the passionate love of life and all that is alive”. The term became better known in 1984 following the book ‘Biophilia’ written by American biologist, Edward O Wilson, with the definition as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. The word itself originates from the Greek meaning a love of life or living things.  It is the tendency or inner urge of humans to connect with the natural world. In more recent times it has become widely understood that our connection to nature directly benefits our physical and psychological wellbeing. Indeed, during the recent Global Pandemic many have acknowledged an increased connection with nature in improving their wellbeing.

There is a plethora of data that tells us exactly how connection with nature heals such as lowering blood pressure, supporting immunity and improving mood. Nature connection reduces anger and anxiety whilst increasing pleasant feelings. These proven benefits are both emotional and physical, reducing heart rate, muscle tension and production of stress hormones. According to public health researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell exposure to nature may even reduce mortality. Research in public spaces such as schools and hospitals have  reported benefits when a simple plant is introduced into the setting, having a significant positive impact on stress.

One of the most well-known studies is Ulrich’s hospital window experiment. Gallbladder patients post-surgery were separated into two groups. The first group had views of trees, whilst the second group could only see a wall. Robert Ulrich, the physician conducting the study reported that the patients benefitting from the natural view suffered fewer negative effects of surgery, experienced less pain and spent less time in hospital. Similar positive results have been reported in many studies since Ulrich conducted his research.   

Sitting in nature and taking in your surroundings in great detail is deeply relaxing. Ecopsychology is a growing body of research that points to immersion in nature as beneficial to health in reducing stress and promoting healing.

There is also a prescribed amount of nature healing as published in a Study of a 120,000 people team led by Mathew white at the European centre for environment and human health at University of Exeter. Participants who spent 2 hours a week in green spaces, local parks and natural environments are more likely to report good health  and psychological wellbeing. This ‘time slot’ was important as less than 2 hours didn’t have the same positive effect.   

Exercise:

Find a quiet natural spot to sit.

Close your eyes and take three deep breathes.

Nature acts as your point of focus and grounding throughout this exercise.

With eyes closed tune into the sounds around you. What can you hear? Bird song? Rustling of leaves in the trees? The sound of your inhale and exhale?

What can you smell? Freshly cut grass, flowers, the warm earth or waterway nearby?

Gradually open your eyes and begin to see the natural world about you. See the detail of tree, leaves, light and shade.

Bring yourself to the cohesive whole of landscape. Uniting the senses in sitting within this natural space for as long as you feel rested and restored.    

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