Discover the joys of Nature Cure.
One of the benefits gleaned from the Great Quarantine of 2020 was the opportunity to spend more time outdoors enjoying nature. In Connecticut, our stay at home period started in unison with the beginning of spring. My son and I watched the world bloom around us and what a beautiful spring it was! I also saw many people taking walks outside and we discussed how nice it was to have this new daily outdoor hobby.
This reconnection with nature was not only pleasurable for our eyes and all our senses, but it was also a boost to our immune system, reduced our stress, and improved our sleep. Nature Cure, also known as nature therapy, is an enjoyable, inexpensive and effective treatment for many afflictions both acute and chronic. My doctorate thesis was “Nature Cure Protocols: A Physician’s Toolbox” and developing and using Nature Cure treatment protocols is a passion of mine. I look forward to sharing research and treatments with you on this topic. This month we look at Nature Cure to reduce stress.
If you are working a job (or two), caring for other people or pets, taking care of your own health, trying to live a balanced life, driving, exercising, watching the news, using Wifi - basically if you are living - your body and mind are under stress. Now stress is not completely negative. Our nervous system is built to positively react to stress and to use it to fuel us into action. You’ve heard the phrase ‘fight or flight’. This refers to our sympathetic nervous system preparing us to run away from or deal with that saber tooth tiger we had to contend with many generations ago.
The difference between the past stress of fighting off a saber tooth tiger and modern day stress is that in the past our elevated stress levels lasted minutes, whereas today we experience stress that is semi-constant. Modern day stress is low-grade and persistent. We are in a constant state of alertness, primed and ready to go at any minute. This constant stress keeps our nervous system in sympathetic mode, in ‘fight or flight’, which means our nervous system is not experiencing the parasympathetic mode of ‘rest and digest’. A multitude of problems can result including indigestion, insomnia, panic attacks, anxiety, low immune function, weight gain, and insulin resistance.
Research shows that just 30 minutes in nature reduces cortisol levels, the steroid hormone released in response to stress, activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and improves mood. The trick is these 30 minutes in nature are spent doing nothing except being in nature and observing it. No exercising, no catching up on emails or talking on the phone, no multi-tasking. Here is an easy 30-minute routine to incorporate into your weekly schedule to reduce your stress levels. Aim for 3 times a week!
We are in a constant state of alertness, primed and ready to go at any minute. A multitude of problems can result including indigestion, insomnia, panic attacks, anxiety, low immune function, weight gain, insulin resistance etc.
Your Nature Therapy: 30-Minute Routine to Lower Stress
Is there a field, tree, path, garden, rock wall, body of water that you regularly drive past that has caught your interest? Stop and check it out. Or maybe there is a very convenient park bench, picnic table or rock wall near your work or home. It can be as simple as a bench next to a tree or as remote as the middle of a forest.
Find a comfortable place to sit. Set your phone timer for 30 minutes. Then put your phone away.
For the next 30 minutes you will observe with all your senses.
Start with your eyes: what do you see? Look. As Yogi Berra said, “You can see a lot just by looking!” You do not need to explain what you see or to identify it. Just see. One fun exercise is to find a patch of dirt to stand on. Bend down and with your finger make a 12” x 12” box around your feet. Then sit next to the box and just observe it for 3-5 minutes. You will be amazed what reveals itself to you over those few minutes that you did not see when you first started looking. This is called ‘the slow reveal’.
Nose: what do you smell? If a new smell arises, follow it with your nose. How long does the smell last? Does it change?
Ears: what do you hear? Is it close? is it far? Follow a sound and listen to where it travels to. How long does it linger?
Touch: what do you feel? Start with your fingers to feel the textures around you. Then move to your skin. What does the air feel like on your skin? Your hair? A fun activity is to stand up, close your eyes and vvvvvvveeeeeerrrryyyyyy vvvvveeeerrrrryyyyy slooooowwwwwwwlyyyy (very very slowly) make one complete rotation. As you very very slowly take tiny steps to turn one rotation, at each step, stop and note if the air feels different on your skin at that angle. Is it cooler? Warmer? Does it smell different? After you have made a complete rotation (remember your eyes are still closed!) retrace your rotation back to the spot that you liked the best. Open your eyes.
Movement: If you feel called to get up and look at something or to move around, do so. Make your walking slow and purposeful. Feel free to stretch or do some yoga poses if you feel called to do so, but remember, this is not your time to exercise.
When your timer goes off, say a little prayer of thanks to that spot of nature for revealing itself to you. How do you feel? Take note of your mood, breathing, and overall state of mind.
If you visit the same spot frequently, you will be able to watch it change over the course of a season. You will feel a sense of connection to the natural world and to that spot of earth, which can help reduce depression. But that is a topic for another post.
Download this Protocol to print and bring it with you:
Any questions? Please write me with any comments or questions you may have. I would also love to hear about your experience and the positive impacts it has on your life and health.
This is one Nature Cure routine, but there are many other approaches and ways of incorporating nature therapy into your weekly routine. If you are concerned about your stress levels, make an appointment to see how we can reduce your stress.
Li Q. Forest Bathing. New York: Viking; 2018
Tranguch, T., n.d. Nature Cure Protocols: A Physician's Toolbox. Naturopath Doctorate. University of Bridgeport School of Naturopathic Medicine.
“Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers” MaryCarol R. Hunter, Brenda W. Gillespie and Sophie Yu-Pu Chen Frontiers in Psychology (2019) doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722/full