How Nature Can Heal - And How You Can Join In

I’ve been stuck in the city, pining away for the Catskills this week. I’m recovering from a small surgery, and have had to stay close to doctors for the time being. What drives me nuts is that I keep thinking how much better I’d be healing if I were in the mountains/woods/stream/meadows that surround me up in Bloomville. I mean just look at this place:

The literary canon has shown us over and over the potential for spiritual healing in nature. But I wanted to know if my instinct, that being in nature could make me heal faster, was something that could be backed up by the sciencey folk. I did a little nosing around, and found a long and rich traditions of nature as healer. Like the Nordic philosophy friluftsliv, literally meaning “free air life,” that tells us that returning to nature is returning home. Or shinrin-yokuthe concept of forest bathing, aimed at reducing stress. (How delicious does that sound?)

And I also found some science. A stunning and inspiring piece in this past January’s National Geographic made an incredibly compelling case for getting your butt out into the woods. From health benefits, to improving mood and problem solving, nature came through again and again.

In 2009 a team of Dutch researchers found a lower incidence of 15 diseases—including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines—in people who lived within about a half mile of green space.
— "This is Your Brain on Nature" by David Gessner, National Geographic, January 2016

One of the many interesting things about this research is that in many cases, the subjects didn’t have to go camping for three weeks in Alaska. The exposure to nature was as simple as spending time in a local park — or even just looking at trees from a distance.

Compared with people who have lousy window views, those who can see trees and grass have been shown to recover faster in hospitals, perform better in school, and even display less violent behavior in neighborhoods where it’s common.
— "This is Your Brain on Nature" by David Gessner, National Geographic, January 2016

So here we go. I’m challenging myself, and all of you, for the next 30 days to spend some amount of time in nature every single day. Maybe it’s five minutes, maybe it’s an hour. Choose an increment that fits in with your life, and stick to it. You don’t have to do anything special, though avoiding electronics is advised. Just be with our tree friends.

Country mice have an advantage here, but you don't need to live in an agrarian utopia to get this done. Visit parks, public gardens, and yes, escape the city.

I’m going to commit to 30 minutes a day, which will be easy some days, and tough on others, since there are threats of a hurricane looming. But I’ll persevere (safely, of course).

For accountability purposes, (and support, in the case of the aforementioned hurricane) I'll be Instagramming a photo every day, and tagging it #30inNature. If you're joining the challenge, I invite you to share your photos there too.

Can’t wait to see you out there, my friends.