Health Take-Away: Healing power of nature can change your life

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Imagine a medicine that has no negative side effects, is readily available, and can dramatically improve your mental and physical health at zero cost. That medicine is right outside your door. It's nature itself, and learning to harness its power for deep healing and a greater sense of connection to yourself and the world around you can be life-changing.

We live in a society where people, especially children, spend more and more time indoors and online. As a result, we've grown more insulated, less sociable, more irritable, narcissistic and distracted. And it's affecting our health and resilience.

Multiple recent studies have affirmed that nature helps our brains and bodies stay healthy. It affects how we think and feel, and that has a direct impact on our immunity and healing powers. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. We evolved from nature. It's where we feel most comfortable. It's no real wonder why nature has such a profound impact on our brains and our behavior, helping us reduce anxiety, brooding, and stress, and increase our attention capacity, creativity, and our ability to connect with other people. It also helps us physically, especially when combined with exercise, decreasing our heart rate and blood pressure and boosting our immune system.

Nature not only makes us healthier and happier, it even makes us kinder and more generous. Green environments boost self-esteem and help us be more giving and trusting. The awe of nature — the sense of being part of something bigger than oneself — can lead to positive social behaviors.

As scientific evidence of nature's healing powers grows, more and more doctors are actually prescribing or suggesting nature-based therapies for their patients. But you don't have to wait for your doctor to tell you. Get out in nature. It doesn't have to be a major backpacking trip. A half-day hike on a forest trail or a kayak run on a nearby river or lake can do wonders. Even a few hours of gardening or a picnic in the park will do. Find a quiet spot to read a book. Bring your dog on a stroll around a reservoir.

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To get the most out of your experience in nature, you might enjoy trying an easy, one-hour forest meditation hike. Walk slowly for the first 10 minutes, then spend the next 10 focusing on one of your senses — sight, sound, smell, taste or touch. Continuing your walk in 10-minute phases, focusing on a different sense for each. Here are a few meditations to try:

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Smell: Take deep breaths to soak in the scents of the forest.

Sound: Listen to the sounds of the forest. Count how many different sounds you can hear. Can you hear the stillness that holds all the sounds?

Touch: Sit on a rock with your feet firmly on the ground. Hold a piece of the forest in your palms — a pebble. leaf or a blade of grass. Close your eyes and pay attention to the touch. Connect with the forest. Connect with the earth.

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Taste: Carry a fruit or some tea with you. Eat the fruit as slowly as you can. Imagine the sunlight that feeds the plant that becomes the fruit that becomes a part of you.

Sight: See as far as you can. Observe things as if you are seeing them for the first time. Observe things as if you are seeing them for the last time.

Creating a connection with nature — the plants, animals, trees and forests around us — is a simple way to feel better, ease our loneliness, learn about ourselves and appreciate the people and moments we love.

Lisa Laramy, R.N., is a Wellness at Work program manager with Berkshire Health Systems


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