Activity: Reconnecting with nature

Title: Reconnecting with Nature

Activity: Carve out dedicated time in your day to experience and appreciate nature. While this can be done in a variety of ways, consider a daily 20 minute walking meditation or savording walk (described below) to and around parks or other natural areas. That being said, studies suggest even the simple act of viewing nature documentaries has the power to improve well-being (source), so flexibility is truly possible here. Get creative and try whatever works best for you in your environment. 

  • Walking meditation: As you walk, focus your attention on the rhythm of each of your steps as your primary point of focus, similar to how you might focus on the rhythm of your breath while doing a sitting meditation. (more details)
  • Savoring walk: As you walk, deliberately focus your attention on noticing and acknowledging the positive sights, sounds, and smells around you. (more details)

Science: The connection between nature and well-being is well documented. 

“Over 100 studies have shown that being in nature, living near nature, or even viewing nature in paintings and videos can have positive impacts on our brains, bodies, feelings, thought processes, and social interactions” (Green & Keltner, 2017).

Short visits, including strolls of just 20 minutes – like suggested above – within parks and natural environments have been shown to decrease stress levels, especially compared to time spent in cities which can actually lead to a decrease in positive emotions (Tyrväinen et. al., 2014). In another study, participants who walked within nature for 50 minutes experienced significantly less anxiety and rumination, in addition to improved positive emotion and working memory, when compared to counterparts who walked in urban settings (Bratman, Daily, Levy & Gross, 2015). Evidence also supports the common notion that nature immersion has the ability to increase creativity and problem solving (R. Altchley, Strayer & P. Altchley, 2012). 

Results: I started a meditation walking practice while in Brooklyn, doing 10-20 minute walking meditations to and around my local park. I then transitioned to more in-depth nature experiences after travelling to the Seattle area, including a variety of park visits, trail runs, and nature hikes. Across all variations of reconnecting with nature, I noticed almost immediate benefits. The more I was able to focus on and appreciate my natural surroundings, the more noticeable the impact. Unsurprisingly, I found it much easier to feel connected when hiking in lesser-traveled nature areas compared to walking to and around parks in New York City. Though with time, the park walks became increasingly powerful as I grew more accustomed to the practice. I’ve even started transitioning my sitting meditations to be green spaces outside to better reconnect and appreciate the nature around me (we’ll see what happens when winter rolls around). 

Additional Thoughts: 

  • Nature brings clarity: I’ve found that being in nature and allowing my mind to focus on my surroundings helps provide perspective on the ”big” problems I had been wrestling with for days. As the world feels bigger and more connected, my problems feel smaller. I wonder how much of this has to do with less time spent in front of a screen. 
  • It’s easier now than ever to lose touch with nature: Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve always been attracted to nature and the outdoors. While my access to nature has decreased over the last five years or so, living in London and New York, I didn’t quite realize a) how much less I’ve been engaging with nature, and b) how much my well-being has been impacted as a result. This awareness will allow me to make important adjustments moving forward. 
  • Being active: I’ve been meditating semi-regularly for years, but had never seriously considered walking meditation as a viable option. As someone who enjoys being active, I find walking meditation to be more enticing than a sitting practice. I’m glad to have discovered an additional workable option to supplement my existing awareness practices. 
  • Evolutionary biology: The idea of humans being drawn to nature can be tied back to the evolutionary biology concept: Biophilia, “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms” (Wilson, 1984). While commonly discussed and debated in present day, I do like, and believe in, the idea of a powerful evolutionary force intrinsically motivating us to connect to nature. I worry about the societal effects of moving further and further away from nature connectedness. 

Next Steps: I’m excited to spend the next few weeks further reconnecting with nature in the Pacific Northwest through nature walks, lake visits, hiking, and more general time spent in the abundance of green spaces. When I head back to New York in September, I know I’ll have to work a bit harder to maintain the practice, but also know that it’s worth every bit of extra effort to continue to reconnect with nature and experience the benefits. 

Research: 

  • Atchley, R. A., Strayer, D. L., & Atchley, P. (2012). Creativity in the wild: Improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings. PloS one, 7(12), e51474.
  • Bratman, G. N., Daily, G. C., Levy, B. J., & Gross, J. J. (2015). The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition. Landscape and Urban Planning, 138, 41-50.
  • Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007). Savoring: A new model of positive experience. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Green, K. & Keltner, D. (2017). What Happens When We Reconnect with Nature. Greater Good Magazine.
  • Savoring Walk. Greater Good In Action. https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/savoring_walk
  • Suttie, J. (2016). How nature can make you kinder, happier, and more creative. Greater Good Magazine.
  • Tyrväinen, L., Ojala, A., Korpela, K., Lanki, T., Tsunetsugu, Y., & Kagawa, T. (2014). The influence of urban green environments on stress relief measures: A field experiment. Journal of environmental psychology, 38, 1-9.
  • Walking meditation. Headspace. https://www.headspace.com/meditation/walking-meditation
  • Wilson EO. Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press; (1984).

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