Many people spend most of their time inside buildings and cars, on the phone or on the computer, experiencing a version of the world that is contained, highly edited, and somewhat disconnected from nature. Spending time in nature, and connecting with the living earth, puts us back in touch with the full spectrum of our sensory awareness and experience through our vision, our sense of touch, our senses of smell and taste, our hearing, and the many body senses, such as proprioception, or the awareness of our body as we move. Experiencing and connecting with the living earth with all our senses helps us slow down and be present, while practices of gratitude, mindfulness, and meditation can bring perspective and calm. Bringing more movement, stretching, and sensory awareness into our daily habits helps to reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, and take us out of the “fight or flight” nervous system response. Studies from Stanford, the University of Chicago, and other institutions are beginning to document the healing and restorative power of immersion in nature that we have intuitively known for centuries.
Yoshufumi Miyazaki, one of the world’s experts on forest bathing, (the Japanese term for nature immersion), found the following health benefits in his research comparing groups taking a 45-minute walk in nature with control groups taking a 45-minute walk in an indoor setting: decreases in the stress hormone cortisol, decreases in blood pressure, and decreases in heart rate. Other studies have shown additional benefits of nature immersion, such as improved sleep, increased energy, and reduced depressive symptoms and hostility.