Date of the last update: 12.07.2023
There are numerous health benefits to being within nature, both mental and physical. Connecting with the natural environment has been shown to improve overall mental well-being. Taking time out of your day to go outside and engage with nature can help you get into a more relaxed state of mind. Being surrounded by nature has been scientifically proven to reduce heart rates, reduce blood pressure, reduce stress, reduce anger, reduce fear, and improve muscle tension, as well as the production of stress hormones. The psychological benefits to being within nature forms the basis of ecotherapy, otherwise known as nature therapy or green therapy. It is based on the belief that there is a substantial connection between human beings and the natural world. Ecotherapists believe that an absence from nature can negatively impact your mental health and well being. Spending more time in nature, engaging in outdoor activities, and creating a deep relationship with the natural environment is used as a therapeutic tool to improve physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Fostering a relationship with the natural environment can include hiking through forests, relaxing in a park, gardening, growing food, or any other kind of activity involving green spaces.
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The benefits of immersing oneself in nature and using ecotherapy can assist with the practice of mindfulness, meditation, or radical acceptance. Natural environments can be used in these practices to enhance their effectiveness.
The practice of mindfulness, where you focus on the present moment, can be practised in many ways that harness local green spaces. One way to incorporate nature into mindfulness practices is through nature observation: this is where you find a green space and simply allow yourself to be present within it, observing the natural environment mindfully. Find a peaceful green space outdoors and try to start consciously being attentive to the complex variety of nature around you. Isolate all your sensory experiences of sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. Fully immerse yourself in these sensory experiences and heighten your awareness of the nature surrounding you. Look at the colours and shapes of the plants around you. Smell them to see if they have a scent. Pay attention to how the plants or animals around you move, perhaps the plants are swaying in the wind or an animal is spooked by your presence. Listen out for birdsongs around you. Notice how the grass feels on your feet. When you are sure it is safe to, perhaps even taste some wild berries. By isolating your sensory experiences in nature and paying close attention to them, you anchor yourself in the present moment. This can be an extremely helpful way to effectively and easily practise mindfulness. Increasing your personal bond with nature can also make it easier to focus on it, rather than being distracted by other stimuli like your phone buzzing. Try to create nature based mindfulness rituals to increase this connection. For example, you could journal your experiences in nature and create a gratitude practice where you note down an experience that you are thankful for having. You can also create a personal bond with nature by establishing a mindful routine of tending to a garden where you have to care for plants. This forces you to be actively present with the nature around you in the current moment because you have to interact with the plants to be able to take care of them. This also makes you develop a deeper connection with nature because the plants you cultivate are dependent on your care. You can also engage in other nature based activities like hiking, forest bathing, nature photography, or sketching natural landscapes. These are all activities that make you analyse the natural sensations around you and anchor you to the present moment.
Nature can also be incorporated into mediation. Green spaces can be used as the location for mediation sessions and the natural environment can be used as the anchor to hold your focus. When you meditate, find a quiet and peaceful green space that you feel safe in to have your session. This will allow you to practise mindfulness with the added benefits of immersing yourself in nature. Find a local park, garden, forest, or any other green space and engage in mindfulness meditation. Get yourself into the position you feel most comfortable in, whether that be sitting or lying down, and close your eyes. Focus your attention on your breath, specifically how the rise and fall of your chest feels as you breathe. Immerse yourself in the sensations you feel from the natural environment around you; draw your focus towards the sounds, scents, and textures of the natural world. Allow yourself to fully experience and appreciate the present moment. When your mind begins to wander to thoughts and feelings beyond what is going on around you, refocus your mind by anchoring yourself to your breath. Then, allow yourself to continue experiencing the nature surrounding you in the present moment. You can also try walking meditation. This is where you find a green space, go for a walk within it, and make an effort to be attentive to the natural environment around you. While you are walking, slow down your pace and bring your attention to the feel of each step you make. Notice the feeling of contact between your feet and the earth. Pay attention to the sensations in your body as you walk and make yourself aware of the nature around you. Be actively mindful of the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes of nature as you keep moving through it. Use the natural environment around you as the anchor to focus your attention and keep drawing your focus towards it until your walk is over.
Nature is highly useful in practising Radical Acceptance too (this being the practice of fully acknowledging and accepting the reality of situations in your life as they are and without judgement or resistance). Spending time in nature allows us to embrace the impermanence of reality around us. There are some aspects of our reality that we cannot change, we have no control over, and that we must learn to move on from without resistance to keep a more balanced mental state. This is especially prominent in nature as it is ever changing. Observing natural cycles creates an opportunity for us to witness how the seasons change, how the changing seasons impact the natural environment, how flowers bloom then wither, and the natural lifespan of our environment. By paying close attention to the natural world embracing its impermanence, we can learn to better accept and embrace the impermanence of our own life experiences.