Whenever I feel overworked, stressed, nervous or my mind is overtly restless, I go for a walk in the park. I find a tree to sit by, breathing deeply, feeling the ground supporting my body and sensing the air on my skin.
I might sit for 10, 20 or maybe even 30 minutes. I let my eyes and mind wander, not really trying to control anything. I’m intentionally connecting as much as possible to my sensory experience, noticing what I’m seeing, hearing, smelling and touching.
Most times I’m more or less transformed after that. I feel clearer and more peaceful.
Nature is a powerful force. It has a natural capacity to calm us down. I guess we have always known this intuitively, but modern life has distanced us from nature.
In Japan, there’s a practice called Shirin-Yoku meaning “forest bathing.” It basically consists of immersing yourself into nature with all the senses.
Science is catching up with these practices and there are now several studies showing the healing effects of being in nature. The book “Your Brain on Nature” by Eva M. Selhub and Alan C. Logan examines the effects that exposure to nature has on the brain. The benefits are many: lowering of stress hormones, balancing of mood, impacting our cognition and our immunity.
What I found most interesting was the fact that the smells have a huge influence on us:
“Trees and plants secrete aromatic chemicals that impact our cognition, mental state, and even our immunity in ways we are only just beginning to understand.”
“Some of the individual components stimulate, while other sedate, so engaging in a forest bath (shirin-yoku) exposes you to the entire constellation of aromatic chemicals, which can uplift and relax the brain.”
Here are three practices in nature that can help you relax and re-balance:
- Take a sensory walk
Going for a walk is great medicine for a stressed-out mind.
Go to a forest or a park.
You might want to start by walking at a fast pace for a bit, just to allow movement to help the mind settle down.
Then change the pace and walk slowly. Breathe and open all your senses.
Be like a child who just explores what they sees and senses without any goal or aim in mind.
Explore the smells, the sights, the sounds and the sensations.
Smell the flowers and touch the trees.
Let it be easeful. We’re conditioned to over-think and have goals in mind with much of what we do. This is a practice in just being.
The benefits come to you without effort.
- Sit in nature
I like to sit against a tree, but you can pick anywhere in nature that feels good to you.
Open your senses. Feel the ground that you’re sitting on, notice the surface. Pay attention to what you see, sense, smell and hear.
The longer you sit the more you’ll notice. Details that are small will reveal themselves to you.
Let your mind wander as it naturally does.
Allow yourself to relax and to be.
Stay longer than you think is necessary. When we’re operating at a high pace, it will feel difficult at first to slow down and just sit. You might experience your thoughts racing and a bunch of to-dos or worries coming up. No worries, it’s normal. Stay. Take a deep breath. Feel the ground. Open your senses.
- Hug a tree
Hugging a tree has a very soothing effect. Yes, you might feel silly at first. That’s OK – go with it. Pick a tree that looks inviting, wrap your arms around it, rest your cheek against the trunk and close your eyes. Notice how it feels to be supported by this strong stable natural being.
Stay as long as you need.
Let nature soothe and restore you. Make it a habit to regularly spend time in nature and see how it impacts your life.