When you think of taking care of yourself, what comes to your mind? Perhaps it's getting regular exercise, drinking plenty of water, eating well, and getting quality sleep. Indeed, those habits are very important components to our physical wellness. However, self-care is so much more than that! We are multi-dimensional beings who thrive on nurturing our entire self...physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And when you really think about it, nurturing ourselves in one form affects all the other aspects, as well! Today, I'm sharing one perspective of self-care...nature therapy.
A practice that comes instinctively to me, an effortless form of self-care, is immersing myself in nature. There is much we can gain and learn from sensory immersion. Regularly connecting with nature through our senses is known to help reduce anxiety and stress, relieve tension and negative emotions, and to promote mental clarity, confidence, and positivity. Being barefoot outside, where safe and possible, keeps me, quite literally, grounded. Even through the season of winter, I make it a point to walk out onto my deck with bare feet, close my eyes, turn my face up to the sun, breathe in the cool air, and just be still, listen. It refreshes me to my very core and I often feel a lightness, as if I could simply float away. Whether it's raining or snowing, it makes no difference. Not only is this a simple way to start my day or to recharge anytime, it is a practice that anyone could enjoy wherever they may be. The trick is, I have learned, to block out the noise or outside stimulation that may be going on around me.
I hadn't always thought of it in those terms before until participating in a nature therapy class at our local botanical gardens a few years ago. The class was based on the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or 'forest bathing', which means to take in the forest (or nature) atmosphere during a leisurely, unstructured walk. As I walked, if something caught my eye I would go to examine it, explore it with my hands, breathe in its scent, really be present in the moment and enjoy. I closed my eyes, while standing barefoot in the grass, to listen to the birds singing in the trees, being mindful of how the carpet of green tickled my feet, especially when a ladybug or ant crawled across them. Being aware of relaxing my shoulders and neck, letting stress or anxiety fall away, and blending myself in with the flow of nature as if I, too, am wild, is exquisite and freeing. My favorite space to enjoy this is in a quiet countryside setting, not in an urban environment with a lot of chaotic energy.
But that was the challenge, I discovered. While trying to 'forest bath', I was continually irritated by the sounds of interstate traffic and an unhappy, screaming child nearby. "I can't focus with all of this noise," I said to the instructor. "That's the point," she replied back. "You have to let go of the perfect scenario in order to be one with nature and to focus your attention differently to achieve that unity despite your surroundings." Bingo! That was an "aha" moment. Most of us don't have an ideal setting that helps us de-stress and to get in touch with nature. Many of us have to make the best of our environment to enjoy nature or travel somewhere else when possible to find that ideal spot. Fortunately for me, living on the edge of a quiet small town provides plenty of tranquility for nature therapy, or garden therapy most of the year. And when I want heavier doses of it, off I go to one of our nearby public nature preserves or prairies.
Wherever you are, whether in solitude or amongst others, find something in nature that draws you and soak it up. Of course, it's easy to practice nature therapy during the warmer seasons. But even during the cooler months there is much to be inspired by...See how the fallen leaves dance across the ground by the blowing wind, can you smell them too? Hear the soft snowflakes cascade around you, taste them as they melt on your tongue, and feel the crisp air brush your face. Whatever the season, go outdoors to breathe, let go, and just be at one with nature. In these small, mindful ways, we can let nature in all year. After all, it's the most natural thing to do!