The Healing Power of Nature

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Last week was tough.  I worked too many hours, had too many presentations, slept too little, and readied myself for a major flare.

What?  I readied myself for a major flare?!

Yes, that would have been the standard trajectory.  Do too much and pay the consequences.

But with the help of my sweet husband, I took a detour after the last event of the week and rather than suffering the flare, I … enjoyed nature.

In every walk with nature,
one receives far more than he seeks.
~ John Muir ~

Dave picked me up from the last conference Saturday afternoon – tennis shoes in hand. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, and we set out for a walk at one of our favorite parks.

So much work remained:  clean house, do laundry, get groceries, pay bills; reports to be written, emails to send, studies to read.  How can I get all that done when we’re walking in a park?!

So, admittedly, the first few minutes were a bit stressful for me.  But as we walked farther on the trail, smelled the scents of fall, saw the leaves fall into the water, and enjoyed the sun shining down on us, I slowly relaxed and started enjoying the moment.

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.
~ Albert Camus ~

Sure, I could have gone home and immediately started working on one thing or another – or several at once – but my spirit and my body just could not take another minute of work.  Breathing, resting, abiding with my life partner were exactly what the doctor would have ordered.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day,
listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky,
is by no means a waste of time.
~ John Lubbock ~

There’s a plethora of research that tells us nature is healing. Canyon Ranch, a leader in mind-body wellness, identifies these benefits of nature:

  • Nature boosts your mood
  • Nature keeps you in the present
  • Nature energizes you
  • Nature makes you kinder
  • Nature strengthens your spirituality

Who would want to argue with those benefits?

Indeed, the longer we walked, the better I felt. I actually saw my husband again; the week had been so frantic, I don’t think we really looked at each other. We talked, we laughed, we lived.

It’s easier to be mindful when the wind is blowing softly across your face, you hear a cardinal chirping, and you see squirrels scampering after each other. In Jill Suttie’s Mindful article, How Nature Boosts Kindness, Happiness, and Creativity, she asserts benefits similar to those quoted by Canyon Health.

  • Being in nature decreases your stress
    Certainly, movement helps decrease stress, but there’s an extra benefit when you’re outside in nature.
  • Nature makes you happier and less brooding
    I had given presentations the previous two days, and while that activity gives me a boost of adrenaline in the moment, once I’m done and start worrying about “Oh, did they really like me? Did I quote all the facts straight?,” then the adrenaline crashes and I start brooding.  I could have hatched an entire flock of chickens from those two days of brooding had we not been outside walking.
  • Nature relieves attention fatigue and increases creativity
    It felt like my brain actually hurt from being constantly “on” the past week, so much so that even figuring out what to have for dinner seemed too difficult to think about. The more we walked and talked, the more ideas I had for new recipes to try; creativity flowed.
  • Nature may help you to be kind and generous
    One of my favorite sayings is “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” If nature can help with that, I’m all for it. Every moment in nature produces a huge “awe” for me. Research tells us that enjoying those awe moments, which create positive emotions, promotes prosocial behavior.
  • Nature makes you feel more alive
    My shoulders and jaws relaxed, my neck felt better, and peace seemed to flow through my veins. That’s being alive!

We ended Saturday roasting marshmallows over a fire in our backyard. More nature and more relaxation.

There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil
are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature. 
~ Henry David Thoreau ~

Sunday, we continued our communion with nature, walking at the Martha Lafite Thompson Nature Sanctuary.  We’ve been here many times, in all seasons. One winter, we made the first human footprints after nearly a foot of snow; the silence that day was awe-inspiring.

On this beautiful day, the path was lined with carved pumpkins, the birds and squirrels were having a great time, and the light was beautiful. As we watched the leaves spiraling from their perch on the tree branches to their self-destruction, either in the water or on the ground, we recognized and appreciated our own life cycle.

I averted a full-blown flare through a variety of techniques:  mindfulness, drinking a lot of water, abiding with a loved one and being in nature.

As King Solomon so wisely said, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Our time on earth is short, and it’s important to do everything we can to keep ourselves healthy and whole.  For me, that means more time in nature.

How about you?


Cindy Leyland is ProHealth’s Fibromyalgia Editor. Cindy also serves as the Director of Program Operations at the Center for Practical Bioethics and the PAINS-KC Project Director. She lives in Kansas City with her husband, enjoys hiking, reading, and being Gramma Cindy.

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