Just how valuable is time in nature not just for our health but for our productivity? So good that Amazon, one of the tech companies more known for financial discipline, splurged on 40,000 plants and a working waterfall for its expanded Seattle headquarters. Jeff Bezos wasn’t looking to win design awards. His team had seen the research that exposure to nature reduces stress, boosts creativity, and improves performance.
And that’s not even mentioning the boatload of studies showing how good even small doses of nature are for our mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Humans evolved for millions of years in nature. No wonder our bodies respond so well to being surrounded by the living world once again.
All of which makes for an open-and-shut case to spend more time in nature (if you want to read more about this research, I’ve written about it tons of times before). But the problem for many people isn’t being convinced of the benefits of contact with nature, it’s fitting it into their busy urban or suburban lives.
For many folks, a week camping in a national park sounds amazing, but logistically just isn’t doable. What are the alternatives until you can schedule your next outdoor adventure? Self magazine rounded up 19 suggestions for small, doable doses of nature recently. Many of them are less than earth shattering (taking a walk in the park has probably already occurred to you) but a few are ingenious.
1. Try an awe walk.
Self suggests you “seek out an experience of awe” but I’ve written about basically the same idea previously, borrowing the term “awe walk” from positive psychologists. Science has shown that awe, or the feeling of being a small, insignificant part of a much wider order that people experience when they do things like look up at the night sky, is a powerful wellness booster.
You don’t have to run hundreds of miles from city lights to experience it. When researchers instructed volunteers to take a 15-minute walk while paying careful attention to small moments of beauty, such as the play of light on a drop of dew or the subtle gradations of color in fall foliage, the volunteers experienced much of the same benefits. Awe is available basically anywhere if you take just the time to seek it out.
“It’s incredibly restorative,” Dora Kamau, a meditation teacher at Headspace and registered psychiatric nurse, tells Self.
2. Do a “sensory scavenger hunt.”
The quantity of your time in nature matters less than its quality. Actually taking in what’s around you (and shutting out your day-to-day worries) is what matters. Which is why Stacy Beller Stryer, associate medical director of Park Rx America, suggests you might want to consider a “sensory scavenger hunt” to focus your senses on what’s around you.
“Go one sense at a time. How many colors do you see? How many shades of green? Can you describe them? What’s moving? What do you hear? How many layers are there to the soundscape?” she explains to Self.
3. Learn more about your local environment.
I grew up in a cool, forested part of North America and now live in a dry, prickly Mediterranean landscape. I found my lack of familiarity with the plants and animals around me left me feeling disconnected from the natural world. That was until I downloaded nature observation app iNaturalist and started learning more about the ecosystem around me. Now I can name all the wildflowers in my local park, but I also feel like the local flora and fauna belongs a little more to me and I belong a little more to it.
There are tons of different apps and resources that can help you identify and learn more about your natural environment — even if it’s the pretty weed coming up through the sidewalk crack outside your stoop — Self suggests you check them out.
Micah Mortali, an outdoor guide and author of Rewilding: Meditations, Practices and Skills for Awakening in Nature, “recommends learning about the people indigenous to the land you’re on, as well as the ecosystem: the wildlife populations, the watershed, the type of soil, the geological features” in the article.
4. Go barefoot.
There is seriously no easier way to connect with nature than literally feeling the earth beneath your feet (though choose your location wisely, of course). “At least one small study has found that grounding (also called earthing) is associated with improved mood, and while the science is nascent, some research suggests it may also have positive physiological effects (on inflammation, for instance),” notes Self.
5. Find a sit spot.
If you travel far, you’ll probably observe new things in nature. But you’ll also probably observe something new if you simply sit in the same place again and again over time. Mortali suggests you find a comfortable and pleasant spot not far from home and commit to returning to it to simply sit and observe as the seasons change.
“You just basically sit. The idea is to be still and keep your eyes open, and just allow yourself to observe what’s moving and what’s happening on the land for 15 to 30 minutes on a regular basis,” he explains. “It’s a very restorative practice to help us recover from attention fatigue from overfocusing.”
Intrigued? The complete Self article has plenty more suggestions.
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