Life is challenging isn’t’ it?! We’ve all heard the saying “change is the only constant in life” and it’s true. No one escapes life’s curve balls and sometimes even the day-to-day ups and downs wear on us.
Personally, one of my biggest challenges is parenting. What challenges you? Parenting stretches me to my limits like nothing else and when I am triggered, or feeling low or fatalistic, it’s important that I get out of my head and gain some perspective. But attempting to suddenly sit and meditate is a nearly impossible feat because my mind and body are in a fight-or-flight response state.
What I need in order to let it go is to move and breathe! There’s one practice that never fails me: Spending time in nature, and in particular, taking a walk. It’s a bit like magic. I can storm out of my front door (lucky me, I live across the street from a trailhead) and within minutes of being amidst the trees and breathing in the fresh air, my mind and body have shifted dramatically. The combination of natural surroundings (trees, water, birds, etc.), fresh air, and physical movement are an instant remedy.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, the benefits of spending time in nature are now consistently studied and proven scientifically. Here are a few interesting facts about the benefits of nature:
- Time in nature reduces stress. One study tested cortisol levels of people who had spent time in the forest and they had lower levels of those who had not. Cortisol is the stress hormone and it’s higher in city dwellers. Go figure.
- Brain function improves after time in nature. Brain fog and mental fatigue decrease and short-term memory increases after a walk in nature. This is why taking a break from work and getting outside even for a short period increases productivity and mental clarity.
- Time in nature boosts immunity and may help reduce cancer rates. It’s not clear what the direct link is here, but we all want better immunity to ward off colds and the flu. This may be a result of the reduction in stress levels from time spent in nature. Stress lowers immunity and that’s been well documented scientifically.
- Moving your body and taking in the fresh air increases your energy, can shift your mood (works for me like a charm), gets your heart pumping and can help you sleep better. Plus, it’s just good fitness to move your body regularly. Walking outside gives you all the benefits of nature time and of exercise. According to Ayurveda, time in nature is one way that we boost ojas. Ojas is our baseline vitality, immunity and strength. If we are weak, depleted, frequently getting sick, our ojas is likely diminished. A good diet full of fresh food and optimal digestion begins the process of building our ojas. When we spend time in nature, we take in all the beautiful, healing, supportive qualities surrounding us (the energy of the natural world) and it helps of build this vital essence called ojas.
- Nature is grounding. Modern life generally has us over-scheduled and a little too frantic on a regular basis. Getting our feet on the ground and away from screens, distractions and other activities, slows us down and grounds our energy. It helps us connect to the earth element which in yoga science relates to the root chakra, located at the base of the spine. This chakra when balanced is about healthy survival, a lack of fear and being nourished from the inside out.
So the next time you feel overwhelmed, upset, or down or are struggling with anything mentally or emotionally, try getting yourself outside. Take a 15-minute walk and notice what happens. You will feel better, possibly have a new perspective on what you were struggling with, and likely be able to respond to the situation and life more skillfully.