The cold hard truth is that we’ve become big, clumsy animals.
We eat too much, carry way too much weight on our torsos. We sit in unnatural positions all day, which makes our steps awkward. But worst of all, we’ve isolated ourselves from nature and now our mental and emotional wellbeing is taking the hit; despite the fact that there’s overwhelming scientific evidence that the more in harmony with nature we are, the better we feel.
One recent study found that walking among trees improved participants’ short-term memory better than walks in urban settings. Another showed that soaking up natural beauty can cure brain fatigue and improve mental health. Elsewhere, researchers found that spending time in forests lowered participants cortisol levels (a hormone used to mark stress), reduced inflammation, boosted immunity, and even reduced the risk of early death.
In other words, the benefits of connecting with nature are undeniable.
There are lots of little ways to re-integrate nature into your daily routine—even if you live in a city. As someone who has traveled the world, studied as a monk, lived the life of a fast-paced entrepreneur, and then settled into a healthy work-life balance, here are a few techniques I’ve found work best:
1. Get out in the Wild and Test Yourself
Can you build a fire? Probably not. But you’re in good company.
Most of us have forgotten how to do really basic things to help us survive in nature. We’re not out there living off the land, and we’ve turned our backs on nature at every turn. It’s also why so many of us feel unmoored in modern society. What kind of animal forgets how to survive in the very environment it evolved in?
That said, it’s not too late to learn new (old) things. Wilderness training is not only useful, but it’s also fun. The core lessons you need to learn are fire, water, food, shelter. Once you have those four, you’re alive.
And an immense sense of comfort comes when we learn how to survive on our own in the wild.
Once a quarter, I like to hike into the wilderness with my backpack and a couple days’ worth of food, sans phone or email. Unplugging increases my concentration and presence of mind, and helps me more fully invest in the experience. Just a quick reset can go a long way when you are immersed in nature.
It helps us calibrate back to our essential selves.
2. Root Down
One of the most powerful ways to tap into the earth’s energy is to practice qigong, the Chinese exercise system that translates to “energy work.”
My personal favorite is the Tree exercise, which increases leg strength, concentration, deep breathing, and energy flow. It’s designed to connect our energy field up with the earth under our feet and to keep us drawing from this abundant source at all times, just like an actual tree.
A plus is that you can do it anywhere, anytime.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
- Gently breathe through your nose, pointed toward your navel.
- On the exhale, visualize tree roots that extend into the earth.
- On the inhale, visualize white light coming from the roots and through your body, all the way to the top of your head.
- Repeat for several breaths, with the roots going deeper each time until you imagine them reaching the planet’s core.
The more often you do this, the better your connection will be and the more rooted you’ll feel in your daily life.
3. Take a Silent Walk Through the Woods
In my practice with a Taoist monk, I’ve learned a powerful silent-walking exercise that yields serious physical and emotional benefits.
Here’s how it works:
Go outside and begin walking very slowly and methodically. Inhale as you raise one knee up, then slowly exhale as your foot rolls from heel to toe on the ground. Now repeat on the other side.
The goal is to slow your gait and develop balance in your step. In fact, you shouldn’t be able to hear your footsteps at all.
At first, you’ll feel shaky and awkward—that’s just your office chair talking. But once your hips start to fire up again, you’ll gain core strength, which will improve your breath. As you get better, you can try it in different areas and on different surfaces.
And when you can walk on dry foliage and not hear anything, you’ll know you’ve arrived.
Once you’ve honed the skill, apply the same dilation to observing the patterns of nature around you. Slowing down helps us all feel better and learn from the greatest teacher of all—Mother Nature.
4. Listen to What the Plants Have to Say
Plants are a renewable source of positive energy and wisdom, and they have a lot to teach us.
It may sound strange at first, but you can communicate with them and learn a great deal—as long you approach the practice with grace and intention.
Sit in a natural place with no distractions, other than a book or an app to help you identify the plants’ medicinal qualities. Pick a plant you have an affinity toward and sit or stand across from it. Start breathing into your belly few breaths and keep your gaze soft and unfocused on the plant, and reach out to connect with it.
You’ll quickly find that each plant has a distinct personality, so introduce yourself softly and respectfully. State your intentions and ask if you can learn from it. Most plants are very helpful and kind.
It may take a while to get the hang of it, but once you realize there is a symphony of life and wisdom surrounding you at all times, you’ll never be alone again.
5. Spend Some Time at Your Local Park
The primo nature experience is actually being out in the wild.
But sometimes it’s tough to get away from our daily demands, especially if you live in a city. We’ve all got jobs and other obligations and can’t just spend all our time in the woods. Everyone knows how hard it is to leave the city on Fridays after work—traffic can be hellish.
Odds are, though, that you can get to a park relatively easily. So do it.
I walk my dogs at the local park every day. It’s not Yosemite, but it’s just enough to anchor the qi and connect with some trees and grass. And it sure beats walking them on the concrete sidewalk.
Find a place to tap into the energy of nature, wherever you are, and make it a habit to go there often. Maybe bring a blanket and a book. Bring friends, your kids, or your pets.
It’s free, it’s healthy, and it’s where you come from.
6. If Nothing Else, Bring the Outdoors In
Even when you can’t manage to get outside at all, you can enjoy the peace that comes from the natural world by bringing it into your home.
Aside from being visually calming, house plants are also great for your health. They release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, cleaning the air you breathe. In fact, NASA research showed that houseplants can remove up to 87% of air toxins in just 24 hours. Beyond that, studies have shown that indoor plants can improve concentration and productivity by up to 15% — making them perfect for your home and office alike. Certain plants, like snake plants and orchids, emit oxygen at night, making them perfect for sleep.
The Bottom Line
Surrounding ourselves with nature and purity invigorates us.
Instead of isolating ourselves from nature, we can honor her and bring her with us everywhere. From cultivating household plants to vegetable gardens to taking strolls in the park to backpacking in Yellowstone, there are numerous ways to reconnect with the earth.
When you achieve that sense of harmony and balance, it will be well worth it.
More Resources to Enhance Mental Health
- Meditation Can Change Your Life: The Power of Mindfulness
- 6 Things You Should Do When You’re Mentally Drained (Instead Of Resting On The Couch)
- How Mental Fatigue Eats You Slowly (And Ways to Regain Mental Energy)
- How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful
Featured photo credit: Max van den Oetelaar via unsplash.com
|Business Insider: 11 scientific reasons you should be spending more time outside
|NASA Research: Plants Clean Air and Water for Indoor Environments
|NBC News: Why Indoor Plants Make You Feel Better