What do you think about when you hear the word nature? The roaring of the ocean as it rushes at full speed into a rocky escarpment? The frenetic buzz of activity and unrelenting humidity of an untouched rainforest? That first sip of fresh air as you look out to a snowy mountainscape?
I bet it takes you a really long time to think of yourself.
Did you think of yourself at all?
Let’s zoom all the way back to the wondrous creation moment of our great Earth, to the cataclysmic explosion resulting in stardust whizzing through space and clumping together to form our big beautiful planet. It was in this exact moment that the potential for everything on Earth was formed. All of the plants, the animals, the minerals. All of it was formed from the same merging together of gas and exploded stars, manifesting in unique ways into the earliest ancestors of what we now call “nature”. But you see, we are part of that same story. We are also nature.
Could this be why people experience a sense of calm and awe when immersed in or witnessing nature more than in any other setting? Because we feel at home. Over the last 5-10 years the term Shinrin-yoku, also referred to as Forest Bathing or the practice of spending time in the forest, has become a popular phenomenon within the health community. And for good reason. Research has shown us that spending a day in the forest can improve mental wellbeing, camping for two nights rather than taking an urban holiday dramatically improves our immune system strength, and going for a walk in nature can result in a reduction in cortisol levels and adverse cardiovascular markers.
All in all, very positive and remarkable health benefits from simply going to the forest. But what about the risks? Snake bites, getting lost, not knowing how to swim. Or is getting out in nature difficult for you? Are there no accessible trails close by or do you work really long hours? Well I may have a solution for you. Researcher Stella Chan from Project Soothe at the University of Edinburgh has found that viewing just 25 images of nature can significantly soothe mental distress. Meaning if you keep an album on your phone or computer full of your favourite nature photos - beaches, flowers, puppies - and flick through them when you’re feeling stressed, you’re likely to experience positive mood changes.
What this means is that we don’t have to leave our jobs and move to a cabin in the woods to experience healing from nature. Small and simple steps interwoven with your modern life can provide you with daily anchors of healing until you have the opportunity for that camping trip to the bush or weekend by the ocean. In my book Women & Nature, I highlight the stories of 25 women from around the world who have found inspiration, creativity and healing through nature. I’ve also written additional activities as examples for how you too can re-connect with nature, your true essence, yourself. Some of those include grounding your bare feet into the earth, visiting your local farmer’s market, drawing what you see outside, making a broth from vegetable scraps and my personal favourite, plant meditation.
If you would like to try plant meditation I suggest recording yourself or a loved one with a soothing voice reading the below steps so you can avoid screens. Find a place where you can sit for your meditation with minimal disturbances - doing it outside can really enhance your experience.
Close down your eyes if you feel safe to do so, otherwise with lids half closed gaze softly downwards and focus on one still spot on the ground
Spend a few moments thinking about your favourite plant. If you don’t have a favourite, what is a plant that you see regularly?
What does it feel like? What does it smell like? What textures is it made up of?
Now take five deep belly breaths in and out of your nose
Start imagining yourself as that plant, expanding upwards towards the sky but also diving down into the layers of the Earth
Picture yourself growing roots, plunging deep into the soil giving you stability and strength
Imagine your limbs are the branches or leaves absorbing sunlight and helping you grow
With every in breath you are connecting with the core of this plant
With every out breath you are connecting with its beauty and radiance
Continue in this state of grounded and expressed energy for as long as you like
How did that feel? Did you find it hard to connect to the essence of a plant? Did it feel too foreign to what it feels like to be you, a human? Don’t fret, this is all part of the journey of re-connecting to what it means to be part of nature. By simply contemplating your place is this beautiful web of life and acknowledging that you are made from the same stardust as a rose, as a river, as butterfly, you are inviting healing into your life.