Nature is inspiring to me all year long, but especially during refreshing Spring days like the ones I've been enjoying at home this week! Before I had known that Nature had an impact on our well-being scientifically, I could feel its power deeply in my life. That's why I was thrilled recently to be able to contribute a chapter to the Energy Healing Magazine 's Issue on The Healing Power of Nature. My chapter text is shared below for my blog and I would love to hear what you think of it after you read it.
“Look deep into nature, and you will understand everything better.” —Albert Einstein
Nature gives us an opportunity to access and delve into parts of our beings that we are not aware of and could not retrieve or experience otherwise. Nature offers an exquisite feeling of oneness filled with joy, connection, beauty, solidity, and aliveness. The senses are often heightened all at once and vibrations are on the rise. It is in nature that we learn to mindfully experience our connection to Earth and can become more present and connected to our hearts.
It’s no wonder that we as humans have an innate drive to connect to nature where we tend to feel more invigorated, alive, and aligned. This drive is supported by the biophilia hypothesis (BET), which suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. I personally feel more present, creative, balanced, and in resonance with my own being when I am in nature. I am more connected to myself and others and am happier around trees, mountains, green grass, and just about any body of water, especially the ocean. It is in nature and through nature that we can experience a greater feeling of intimacy. We can more easily let go of burdens, fears, and anxieties.
My Own Experience with the Power of Nature
It was during my very first practicum in my Clinical Psychology doctoral program that I experienced the miraculous way nature can affect our wellbeing. While working at a middle school under the supervision of a school psychologist, Bill, it became clear to me that nature would support me through the rest of my career and my life.
Bill had assigned to me a seventh grader named Sally. Sally had experienced trauma after trauma after trauma: her father was in prison, her mother was actively using drugs, her uncle was murdered, and her grandfather had died just weeks before we met. Sally lived with locks on all the doors in her home. To say that Sally’s sense of safety in this world had been rocked would be a grave understatement.
Each week — twice a week for six sessions — we sat across from each other, but Sally was not like the other students I had had in my office. Sally and I sat in silence. She hardly spoke a word. In fact, she was just about mute. I had always prided myself on being able to connect with almost anyone but no matter what I asked or said, Sally remained the same.
It was at that point that Bill suggested we wrap things up so I could move on to working with another student the following week. But my gut told me that I could not just abandon Sally. Instead, I begged Bill to give me another shot — that I would simply have to get more creative. I am extraordinarily grateful that he reluctantly agreed.
The next session, I tried to “reach” Sally, but again, nothing.
During the following session, which I knew could very well be our last, I started to look around the room at the four walls. It hit me like a lightbulb. “Sally, how would you like to go outside today for our session?” I asked. Her eyes lit up and my heart felt a strong feeling of hope. I knew that having a session outside was unconventional, but I also knew that the conventional way was not going to do it for Sally. We walked toward a beautiful tree and sat down.
Without anything different except our environment, Sally started talking and never stopped. Suffice it to say, Bill was extremely grateful for my determination and my flat out “refusal” to move onto the next person and allowed me to continue working with Sally until the year's end. Each week, instead of having our sessions indoors, Sally and I sat under our tree. She shared, she cried, and she began to let herself heal, and feel supported. I believe Sally unknowingly felt deeply held and connected to the Earth and this feeling of holding allowed her to begin to feel safe enough to bare her soul.
As a person who has always spent a great deal of time outside in nature because I love and feel the benefits so significantly, I am quite sure that my awareness about the positive impact of time outdoors allowed me to intuitively think of nature as a much-needed part of Sally's remedy.
The Benefits of Connecting with Nature
Nature can be our pharmacy, our friend, and our greatest connector. The benefits of connecting with nature are in fact well-supported by research. As a matter of fact, there is a relatively new field of Ecopsychology which recognizes the deep bond and connection between humans and nature. So, while we’re already aware of the connection between humans and nature, this emerging field will continue to expand our understanding.
Here, I’ll share some discoveries with you.
Gregory Bratman, PhD., an assistant professor at the University of Washington, along with his colleagues, found evidence that contact with nature is associated with increased happiness, positive social interactions, subjective well-being, decrease in distress and a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Alison Pritchard PhD, ABPP, and colleagues from The University of Derby in England, discovered that “connectedness to nature” positively influences mood and mental health. More specifically, as noted in Nurtured by Nature, an article published by Kirsten Weir, in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor, “people who feel more connected to nature have greater eudemonic well-being — a type of contentment that goes beyond just feeling good and includes having meaningful purpose in life.”
According to Grow Wild, (a non-profit organization), researchers, mainly in Japan and South Korea, have found that Forest bathing (spending time outside and around trees) creates “calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the nervous system, reducing the stress hormone cortisol and boosting the immune system.” Studies have also shown reductions in “stress, anger, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness.” Even after just 15 minutes of forest bathing “blood pressure drops, stress levels are reduced and concentration and mental clarity improve.”
Even without the incredible scientific context, it can be easy to see why nature makes us feel good.
Nature connects us to ourselves with a feeling of familiarity and home. In fact, it is often filled with memories, often favorable ones — laughing outside, running and playing on the beach, sharing picnics, swimming with friends, or time in the ocean or in the forest. There is often a warm and palpable “been there before” feeling of home.
Nature inspires and ignites a deep level of curiosity that is often blocked off in our modern world, especially with everyday electronics. Being outside in nature can help clear this radiation and stagnation, changing our hearts and brains, and, therefore, our moods and we feel more connected to ourselves, again.
Just as we often see a shadow in nature behind the trees or the branches’ shadow reflected on the ground, there is an opening that emerges where we can begin to feel more accepting of the shadow parts of ourselves. Just as seasons change, flowers change — so too do we change. We can trust that we can change simply by remembering what nature does and how she is constantly changing and evolving while remaining steady and reliable.
As you now understand, nature has the capacity to both heal and transform. Let’s dig further into how it all works.
How Nature Heals and Helps Us
Now that we know about the positive benefits we can receive from our connection to nature, I want to help you understand the specific ways in which nature is so powerfully transformative.
Soil: Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have discovered that a bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae, which is found in our soil, increases the release and metabolism of serotonin — a neurotransmitter secreted by the hypothalamus — in areas of the brain that control mood and cognitive function. This bacterium serves as an antidepressant while simultaneously decreasing inflammation in our immune systems. James L. Oschman, PhD, states that the “Primordial Material energy emanating from earth is the ultimate anti-inflammatory and ultimate anti-aging medicine.”
Sun: We also know that exposure to sunlight has also been found to increase both Vitamin D and levels of serotonin which in turn regulate our mood and sleep cycles. This serotonin release has been discovered via the retina. This means that daily exposure to sunlight for 10-15 minutes a day can help with depression, mood, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and more. But it’s not just the sun that aids us in feeling better. When we breathe in fresh air, our oxygen increases, and so do our serotonin levels.
Rhythm: The Earth’s natural rhythm also known as “Mother’ Earth’s natural heartbeat” has been measured to have a frequency of 7.83 Hz and is like the frequency found with meditation. This is known as the Schumann Resonance. This frequency matches the electromagnetic field surrounding the Earth which also matches the alpha-theta brainwave frequency associated with emotional connection, increased intuition, improved memory, creativity, and alertness, and a relaxed state (think parasympathetic nervous system).
Scent: According to Colleen Walsch, a writer for The Harvard Gazette, “smells are handled by the olfactory bulb, the structure in the front of the brain that sends information to the other areas of the body’s central command for further processing. Odors take a direct route to the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory. The olfactory signals very quickly get to the limbic system.”
When we are inhaling the scents of nature from the outdoors by way of flowers, trees, grass, ocean, etc. we do so through our olfactory system which is directly connected to our amygdala. The amygdala drives the fight or flight response in the body. What our emotions look like is dependent upon our amygdala’s response. When we spend time outdoors and breathe in the various scents of nature, all our senses as well as our nervous system, which directly impacts the amygdala, has an opportunity to reset. We can return to our natural rhythm which leaves us feeling much more balanced and clearer.
Sound: Nature offers sound healing simply by sitting or walking in nature with an orchestra type concerto that unknowingly clears your chakras. If we were to close our eyes, listen, and absorb the various sounds from a river flowing, to waves crashing, to birds chirping, to animals howling, we would feel the healing impulses in both our brains and in our bodies. In fact, researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) found that simply playing natural sounds impacts the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Our mood and well-being are directly improved with the benefits of sound healing — especially in nature. The sound of waves has even been found to alter our brain patterns. Sound healing has been around for ages and has been used by Indigenous societies to help break through blockages and treat physical and mental symptoms with the benefits ranging from decreasing anxiety, stress, high blood pressure, depression, sleep disorders, and pain. With all the incredible ways we can improve our lives with nature, it might surprise and delight you to learn how simple it is to gain the benefits.
Practices: Simple Ways to Connect with Nature
Nature-based practices and rituals can lift your mood and support your well-being. It is through Mother Earth that we can begin to breathe into ourselves more deeply, more gracefully, and more gratefully. Nature helps to clear lower vibrational energies such as stuck emotions out of our mind, body, and spirit and into the earth - literally. Mother Earth is truly designed to hold it all in her womb. Our pain gets transformed into light. Nature offers us a foundation of safety, grounding, and holding. The more time you spend in nature, the better (two or more hours a week is ideal). However, if you only have a few minutes a day, please don’t be afraid to start small.
Here are a few of my favorite and most effective ways to connect with nature.
Earth + Sky Connection Exercise
As I lay flat on the grass and look up at the blue sky, I see infinite possibilities which is what inspired me to create the following exercise. This will help you surrender into the known and the unknown simultaneously. You’ll say a prayer as if to the sky but knowing that beyond the blue is a vast universe where your prayers are being heard. Allow yourself to trust this because when we are in nature we can trust more.
Roll out your yoga mat, blanket, or towel, and lay it on the Earth. Lie on your back facing the sky. If you are feeling that you want to just let your body rest on the bare earth, go ahead and do that. Connect inwards by placing one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. Take a deep breath in imaging a heart and the energy of love coming into you, your body, and all the cells in your being. Soak up this feeling of love coming in from the heavens above into your body, supporting your aura and overall field.
Next, exhale as you picture the infinity sign in your mind's eye (the infinity sign is a Figure 8 sideways). Imagine that the infinity sign is growing bigger and bigger in front of you as you imagine endless and infinite possibilities.
You’ll now take another breath in with the image of the heart and the energy of love coming back into your entire body. Exhale, again, as you imagine infinite possibilities.
Maintain this practice of slowly inhaling and then exhaling with your eyes closed. Keep your breath slow, steady, and repetitive for seven minutes. Repeat as needed. Feel the flow of this in your body and let this center you and fill you up as you connect to the Earth with all its sounds and beauty all around you.
Grounding, also called earthing, is a therapeutic technique which connects you directly to the Earth and helps you to realign your electrical energy system in your body with the frequency of the Earth (7.83 Hz). The benefits of earthing are quite extensive—from reduced stress, increased energy, improved sleep, rapid reduction of inflammation, rapid reduction or elimination of chronic pain, accelerated healing from surgeries or injuries—to increased dynamic blood flow improvement to better supplying the cells and tissues with vital oxygen and nutrition.
By making physical contact with the earth, sand, grass, and more, our bodies can experience electrical charges from the earth that have positive effects on our body.
Place your bare feet on the Earth and close your eyes. Tilt your head back with your arms and palms wide open facing the sky as you take a slow deep breath and make a connection above to the Divine. The Divine is also known as our higher selves and that part of our being that that exists at a higher level than our souls. Some think of the Divine as being like God. In a way of prayer, ask the Divine —your higher self—to direct you and show you the way. You can be as specific or as vague as you feel called here. For example, “Dear Divine, please show me the way.” Again, as you sit in stillness you will feel yourself being powered up! Allow this feeling to fill your being with all its magic.
Pull this energy into your body by laying one hand on your belly (solar plexus area) and one hand on your heart (your emotional heart). Inhale and then release. Imagine any energy that no longer serves you, leaving your body. Repeat seven times. Placing your hands in prayer position, nod or bow in gratitude acknowledging the Divine, the vastness of the universe, and the power it and we co-create and hold.
Next, imagine that there are roots coming out of the soles of your feet into the ground connecting you into the earth. Allow yourself to feel this connection and feel the flow of energies rising from the Earth into your body. Release and let go of any negative energy not serving you as you exhale. Set the intention that it leaves with your breath.
With your feet in the earth, repeat two rounds of tapping on the following points on your body starting with the middle of the very top of your head (crown chakra), between your eyes on your forehead (third eye), in the center of your throat area (throat chakra), thymus area (middle of the chest), under ribs above belly button (solar plexus), below belly button (sacral chakra), and lap area/top of thigh/base of spine (root chakra) as you stand on the earth. Finally, tap behind your head on the occipital area (opposite of where your nose would be on the back of your head) which is a wonderful way to reset the parasympathetic nervous system (that calms the fight, flight, or freeze dynamic). Create a sound with each tap, such as a simple hum. Using sound helps to synchronize brain waves which help to restore vibrational frequencies of the cells in our bodies. The adult body is 75% water and because water is such a great conductor for sound, when sound vibrations travel throughout the body there is greater circulation and energy flow.
Mindful Intention Re-Setting Exercise
This exercise will help to further awaken, align, and unearth your dreams, desires, and overall aspirations in this life. It will also help you be more mindful and present in each moment.
Set an intention: Find a quiet place outside in nature and sit on either a chair, blanket, or even a big rock. Grab a pen and paper and write down an intention for how you would like to feel after this exercise and onwards. Some examples are: “Feeling lighter and more present,” “feeling positively re-charged,” “having greater focus and clarity,” “feeling more connected to myself/partner/a specific other,” and so on.
Focus on your feelings: Using your senses, take note of any images that come to mind, as well as any sounds, smells, or sensations. Let them come to you naturally. It’s okay if they don’t make sense or aren’t what you expect.
Record your experience: Take some time to write about your intention for three to five minutes as if it has already happened. Picture yourself living your intention and notice how you are feeling inside now.
Bonus: Pairing this intention setting with the full moon can be extra powerful. I love to create moon water where my written intentions placed under any glass bottle of water are infused with the superpowers from the full moon. The moon water soaks up all of nature’s juices and we benefit significantly from nature’s “medicine.” The gifts that the universe brings forth with this co-created magic potion can be both beautiful and astounding!
Nature, like music, has an innate capacity to heal and transform. You now have a few powerful practices to help you utilize nature as your own healer. May you enjoy enhancing your connection to Mother Earth while simultaneously increasing your vibration, mood, and overall well-being.
References can be found in the full chapter here.