Most of us feel revitalized when we connect to nature in some way. Summer is around the corner and this means we will have more opportunities to get outside. A walk in the park, watching and listening to birds, or catching a beautiful sunset or rainbow can lift our spirits.
According to Dr. Frank Lipman (physician, author and founder of Eleven-Eleven Wellness Center in NYC), our “hermetically-sealed lifestyle” is making indoor zombies out of us. A step outdoors can actually improve our health status by waking up our dulled senses, boosting our immune systems, lifting our spirits, or helping to reduce our risks for illness and disease.
If you live in the city, here are a few easy steps to connect with nature and feel its healing power:
One of the substances that the body produces is called phytoncides, which are associated with lowering blood pressure and increasing the number of specific types of white blood cells, which lower the risk of certain cancers. Phytoncides are also emitted by certain plants and can trigger healthy biological changes in our bodies; this is the rationale behind the therapeutic use of aromatherapy. Many illnesses and diseases are associated with hidden inflammation, and researcher Paul Piff at the University of California has discovered in his research that lower levels of inflammatory compounds occur when people spend time in the woods, parks, or in the countryside. They call it the “awe experience.”
If you are unable to get to a park in the city or travel to the countryside, alternatives to nature might help. You can add plants to your home environment or workplace. Positive effects can occur with being able to look out a window at a tree or plants. Certainly listening to the sounds of nature (music) is known for helping with stress reduction. Even smell is a powerful sense that we don’t always pay attention to. Aromatherapy, which is the use of natural oils with pleasant smells, is very therapeutic. Add a massage to those essential oils and it is even better!
Sometimes research just seems to prove what we already know intuitively. For most of us, connecting with nature in some form makes us feel better. In order to have a positive effect, the interaction must be customized; not all of us would choose extreme outdoor sports like rock climbing or strenuous hiking, but a stroll in the woods or a park, gardening, bird-watching, or looking out the window at a tree-lined street might be very appealing. The scientists at Stanford University, who have studied this connection with nature, call it “biophilia.” This is described as "the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life” (https://bewell.stanford.edu). Most of us have experienced the restorative powers of nature in one form or another, so be sure to incorporate it into your everyday life. Reap the benefits!
This column is dedicated to the many family members and friends who enjoy nature with me, and the many therapists who utilize it to help with healing.
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