04 Jul Journey into Nature July
One of the principles of naturopathic medicine is to use the healing power of nature to heal the body. The roots of naturopathic medicine began with the ‘Nature Cure’, which was a system of treating diseases using water, air, diet, earth and sunshine. Naturopathic medicine has developed over time to fit into the context of modern medicine with a strong focus on evidence-based treatment, but the roots of the ‘Nature Cure’ are still very present throughout the profession. Every cell in the body has an innate power to heal itself and whether we are discussing diet, lifestyle habits, nutritional supplements, or herbal treatments, my focus is always on assisting your body to return to a condition that allows this innate healing power to flourish. Connecting with nature is one of the many ways to achieve this goal and it will be the topic of this month’s blog post!
As humans, every part of our being is innately connected to nature. We have lived off the land for thousands of years and it is only in recent decades that we have started to lose this immediate connection. For those of us living in cities, we are surrounded my concrete and man-made structures instead of trees and water, we purchase our food from grocery stores instead of growing it ourselves, and we live under artificial light instead of the natural light of the sun. This can make it very challenging to find ways to journey into nature and receive the many healing benefits of this connection! However, it can be done and would be a wonderful addition to your daily routine!
What are the benefits of connecting with nature?
- Nature decreases cortisol, which is our stress hormone. Cortisol is an important hormone for regulating many of our normal bodily processes. However, when we go through long periods of high stress and cortisol is produced in excess, it can cause negative health reactions. Spending time in nature can lower cortisol and decrease our body’s negative physical reactions to high levels of stress. High stress is a commonly related to a variety of ailments, including irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches, decreased immune function, high blood pressure, irritability and other mood changes, and many others.
- Nature improves cognitive function and mental health. After a day of work, school, or other mentally challenging activities, we start to experience a decrease in concentration and attention. Natural environments appear to restore our attention, as opposed to urban environments, which can drain them further. Spending time in nature is like resetting your brain and allows it to function more optimally. Increased time in nature also promotes mental well-being by decreasing depression, anxiety, anger, and impulsivity.
How to Reconnect with Nature
This starts with figuring out how you define nature. You can define nature however it makes sense to you! You might think of it as a forest, a lake or an ocean, a mountain range, or a tropical jungle. However, it can also be the tree in your front yard, a park in the middle of downtown Toronto, the sun shining on your face, or many of the other options I discuss in this post. If you don’t live near a forest/lake/mountain/jungle, it helps to broaden your definition of nature so that you can learn more ways of reconnecting with nature on a regular basis, AKA boosting your vitamin G!
The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries coined the term Shinrin-yoku, which means forest bathing or taking in the forest atmosphere. You can experience this by walking through a forest or even just sitting in a forest and taking in the sights, smells, and sounds. Many of the health benefits listed above have been discovered from doing studies on Shinrin-yoku and seeing that is leads to physiological decreases in cortisol, blood pressure, heart rate, and decreased sympathetic nerve activity compared to spending time in city environments.
Being in nature doesn’t have to mean being in a forest. The sun and the natural air are also important aspects of the benefits of nature. No matter where you live, getting outside for 10 minutes a day and going for a walk or sitting at a nearby park will give you many of the benefits listed above. Breathe deeply and let the sun shine on your skin. Whether your preferred exercise is walking, running, biking, yoga, or strength training, at least part of your workout can be done outside. The benefits of exercise are numerous, including decreasing stress, improving cognition, balancing mood, and improving overall long-term health, and these benefits can be increased by doing exercise outdoors as opposed to indoors.
Create a nature-filled oasis in your own back yard! Whether you have serious gardening talent or you’re a beginner, you can benefit from getting outside and building your own garden. Gardening allows you to get outside, breathe fresh air, exercise, and can also be used as a time to practice mindfulness. Plus, you’re benefitting your body’s microbiome by interacting with the microbes present in soil!!
July Goal: Choose at least one of these options to add to your daily life and make a personal goal that works with your lifestyle. At the very least, get outside for at least 10 minutes daily and get rid of your vitamin G (green) deficiency!
No space for a garden outside? Live in an apartment? Or just need more green in your life? Consider decorating your home with plants that can thrive indoors! Check out this list for some plants that are beautiful, will make you feel more connected to nature, and will also help purify the air in your home.
Use Herbal Supplements
Humans aren’t the only living species that have innate healing powers! There are a multitude of herbal treatments that can have incredible benefits for improving your health. It’s interesting how often the plants you are naturally drawn to when you see them in nature (or the ones you choose to plant in your garden) are ones that your body needs for healing! Herbal teas are a perfect way to add the healing power of herbs into your daily life. Try peppermint tea to calm your bloating, lavender to calm your nerves, chamomile to help you sleep, echinacea to fight off your cold, and talk to your naturopathic doctor to get recommendations for herbal treatments tailored to your specific needs.
Eat Your Vegetables
This is the most common suggestion I make in my practice and one small change you can make to your diet that will lead to an immense improvement in your overall health. Plus this is a great way to connect with the healing benefits of nature! Choose local vegetables and eat a variety of colours so that you’re getting the full spectrum of available nutrients.
Does looking at these options help you feel more able to achieve a goal of daily nature time? There are lots of other possibilities to help you reconnect with our amazing planet so be creative and find ones that work into your daily life! Instead of getting stuck in the cycle of waking up and going from your house to your car to your office and then back to your car and into your house with no outdoor time, try planing nature breaks into your day. You can also make it fun for your whole family to get outside together and enjoy the beautiful scenery that our country has to offer!
The inspiration for this blog post came to me after reading Your Brain On Nature by Alan C. Logan and Eva M. Selhub. If this topic interests you, I highly recommend adding this book to your list of summer reads!