The Ways Nature Helps Us Thrive

Author’s own photograph of Rocky Mountain National Park, taken from Fall River Pass

During any time of the year, there are many reasons we might be running around like crazy.

Over the holidays, it’s the myriad of get togethers, preparing to host, give gifts and wrap up the year. In the spring, it’s spring cleaning, dusting off the cobwebs of winter, 5Ks and coming back out from the hibernation of the cold months. In the summer, it’s travel, kids out of school, juggling many schedules and squeezing all the juice out of the nice weather. In the autumn, it’s back to school, getting back in a groove after all the summer holidays, leaning back into work and getting as much done as possible before the craziness of the holidays sets in.

Around and around we go.

Available to us all year round, as close to us as opening up a door and stepping outside, is nature. No matter what is going on, nature is available to us, to help us thrive.

If you live in an urban environment, no worries. This still applies to you. Find a local park. Show up in the morning or before dusk if you want to limit traffic noise, breathe and take in what is around you.

There are countless studies about how nature helps us stay out of negative thought loops and reduces depression, how being in contact with soil increases serotonin and how your brain is able to recharge. Studies aside, there are endless ways that nature helps us thrive. Here are six ways that stepping outside will help you to thrive, today and all days.

Ground yourself and release stress

A perfect location for barefoot enjoyment. South Mesa Trailhead, Boulder, CO.

I’m a barefoot kind of human. How about you? If at all possible, even when it’s cold, I’ll sit at a park, take my shoes off and allow my bare-feet to rest on the earth. If I do have access to a forest, I may hike barefoot the entire time.

By doing this, I experience a sense of calm, relaxation and feel my stress melt away. What’s fun is there is research that shows being barefoot causes a measurable improvement in health. The Journal of Environmental and Public Health published a study called “Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons" where they found the following:

“… scientific research has revealed a surprisingly positive and overlooked environmental factor on health: direct physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the Earth… Reconnection with the Earth’s electrons has been found to promote intriguing physiological changes and subjective reports of well-being…
Emerging evidence shows that contact with the Earth — whether being outside barefoot or indoors connected to grounded conductive systems — may be a simple, natural, and yet profoundly effective environmental strategy against chronic stress… inflammation, pain, poor sleep… and many common health disorders, including cardiovascular disease.”

Feeling stressed, overworked, or your monkey mind is running circles around you? Get outside and take your shoes off. Doing this practice regularly will help bring a lasting feeling of calm into your body and mind.

Even ten minutes of this practice is rejuvenating and enlivening, so if you don’t have time for a longer walk, simply being outside and touching your bare-feet to the ground will produce a positive shift for your body.

Come to a state of present awareness

Nature is beautiful in the way it can lead us into the present moment. Any time spent outside is an opportunity to allow your senses to feast on the natural world. When you become aware of your surroundings and tune into the environment around you, you are in the present moment.

Here is a simple practice that you can do anytime that you’re outside, even if you only have a few minutes.

First, focus on your breath for a short time, feel your chest rising and falling. After you’ve taken a few breaths, tune into each sense.

Sight: What do you see right now? What colors are present? What shapes? Notice everything around you.

Sound: What do you hear? Sometimes it helps to close your eyes, you will hear more. Are there birds chirping? Can you hear the wind moving through trees? What else?

Smell: What does the air smell like? Are there smells that appear and disappear?

Taste: Does the air have a taste? What does the moment taste like?

Touch: Are there plants around that you can touch? Is the wind moving over your skin? Is the sun warming your body?

Welcome to the present moment. You are here now. This is a way you can quickly and effortlessly bring yourself to the present time and time again.

Reflection of abundance

Author’s own photo of milkweed pod gone to seed at High Ledges Audubon Sanctuary, Shelburne, Massachusetts

One thing that nature is always good at is showcasing what true abundance looks like. If you’re looking for a reflection of abundance, look to nature. Humans are particularly good at thinking and believing in scarcity, which can feel tight and restricting if we allow this belief to rule our lives.

Remind yourself of the true nature of abundance.

Go outside, what do you see in abundance? Trees? Leaves? Blades of grass? Flowers?

In the spring, look for the millions of buds — leaf buds and flower buds. Look for the color green. Look for branches. Look for migrating birds.

In the summer, look for color. You’ll see flowers, strawberries, and the beautiful vegetables and fruits show up as they come into season.

In the autumn, look for leaves. Millions of leaves. Migrating birds. Pumpkins. Have you ever been apple picking early in the season? Have you ever tried to count the number of apples on one tree? It’s astounding!

In the winter, look for branches. Snowflakes. Pine needles. Holly berries.

(My list is colored from my experience growing up in New England, you may have other thoughts that pop up when you imagine your own seasons.)

Maybe you look at the endless blue sky, at the clouds that come and come, day after day. Maybe you see ants, or bees, or birds. Whatever it is that draws your attention, nature has it in abundance.

Modeling Balance and Flow

Think about how the tides rise and fall. How the seasons change, one into the next. Think about how a tree falls, decays as it gives life back to the earth. There’s a flow to things, an order that we see, even if we cannot always explain what is happening.

There’s a great video that talks about how the reintroduced presence of wolves to Yellowstone National Park changed the course of the rivers. It’s a 5-minute video that showcases how wolves give life to the land through reinvigorated vegetation. Trees quintupled their height in six years, beavers, song birds, migratory birds, rabbits, hawks, raven and bald eagles — even bears — all showed up and increased in numbers.

It’s a great example of how changing one element can put an ecosystem back into balance. Is there an example like this that you can see in your life?

Maybe it’s going to the gym, getting outside to walk everyday, having time for yourself every morning — what’s the one thing that turns on your good habits and your ability to show up for your life in a positive way?

When you look at nature, you can see there are ways for the new to come to life, for the dying and decay to be absorbed back into the earth, for there to be the potential of full cycles for any living thing that you see — and each of those things plays a role in the greater life of the environment around it. This happens on a micro and macro scale all around us, within us and in each of our individual lives as well.

Rejuvenation

Author’s own photograph of Crater Lake, Oregon

Nature helps us rejuvenate. When we get outside, we breathe fresh air, get Vitamin D from the sun, and we move our muscles and our bodies. If we’ve left our phone at home or in the office, we get the chance to disconnect from technology, we give our brains a break.

Even short walks help us rejuvenate and improve cognitive functioning. How do you feel after a walk? More alive? Greater sense of ease and energy? What might happen if you go for a walk every day?

If you allow yourself more time unplugged through a multi-day camping trip or several days of hiking in the woods, you may feel like you just took the best vacation ever.

Helps us connect to nature — our own nature

Who are you when you’re in the middle of a forest, with no one around except you? What comes forth in that moment?

Nature helps me to connect because it has no pretense. There’s no expectations, I don’t have to be anyone except myself. I need no particular skills to enjoy nature. Nature shows up for me the same way, whether I’m having a great day or feel grief to the core of my being.

How do you connect when you’re outdoors? Do you use all of your senses? Do you touch the foliage or gaze upon the thousands of colors that are a feast for your eyes?

I use the word nature to speak about what is outdoors from an indoor lifestyle, but nature is not really separate from us. We are nature. We come from it. We’ve lived our lives through it. The history of humanity is woven through the outdoors more than indoors, so it doesn’t take much to understand why we have such a natural affinity to being outside and exploring our environment.

Nature is there for us, always. We don’t have to go far to experience it. It feeds us, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

If you’re feeling disconnected, stressed, or simply out of sorts, try one of the six approaches I shared, or come up with your own. Allow nature to help you thrive.

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