The outdoors – including the feeling of sunlight on your skin, the chirping of birds, the smell of a rose, or even just seeing an awe-inspiring vista on one of YogaToday’s online classes – can have an instantaneous positive effect. Science is starting to back up what humans have known since the dawn of our existence: being in the outdoors helps to heal the mind and body in profound ways, from boosting our mood to lowering our blood pressure and providing us with the essential elements for living with vitality.
1) Spending Time Outdoors Can Boost Your Mood
In a 1940’s study, Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a Japanese researcher, found that people who spent 40 minutes per day walking in a forest had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is involved in blood pressure and immune system function, compared to when they spent 40 minutes walking in a lab. This practice of “forest bathing” is now an established treatment in Japanese medicine. Mood-boosting vitamin D, which also calms the nervous system and improves issues such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is absorbed by you every time you are in direct sunlight.
2) Nature Can Strengthen Your Spirituality
The exact mechanism of how the outdoors helps mood disorders is unclear, but researchers agree that time in nature tends to lift the spirits. The healing power of nature has been used by people for centuries for mental and spiritual well-being. The placement of temples in locations of exceptional beauty to connect us to wonderment and awe, the use of water in baptisms for blessing and spiritual cleansing, and the use of fire in rituals are just a few of the numerous ways that the Earth has been incorporated into spiritual practices.
Nature is a source of positive images that can be used for therapeutic meditation. At its essence, connecting with nature encourages you to be in the present moment, to quiet your mind, and take in the sights, sounds and smells that surround you. Mindfulness meditation, which brings your attention to the present (rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future), is a well-researched therapy for minimizing stress and anxiety.
3) Activities Outdoors Build Immunity
Researcher Dr. Qing Li found that trees and plants emit aromatic compounds that, when inhaled, can change the blood in ways that are associated with protection against cancer, better immunity and lower blood pressure. Besides promoting positive moods, vitamin D also promotes calcium absorption in the body. Getting the proper amount of calcium can help your body minimize the risk of hypertension, as well as fight cancer and certain autoimmune diseases. Multi-disciplinary research has revealed that contact of the human body with the surface of the Earth, called grounding or earthing, produces intriguing effects on our physical health. Such effects relate to inflammation, immune responses, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Specifically, grounding produces measurable differences in the concentrations of white blood cells and other molecules involved in the inflammatory response, according to researcher James Oschman.
Write yourself a prescription for more time in the outdoors! Spend time planting in your garden, or sunbathing in your backyard (midday is when you can get the most vitamin D). Exercise outdoors more, like doing your yoga routine in the park or your backyard, and walk on a nature trail instead of on a treadmill. You can also bring a touch of the outdoors inside. Adding indoor plants to your home or office space can keep your indoor air clean and even reduce headaches and fatigue. Hearing the sound of running water by having a small water fountain in your home or office can add a calming effect to your life.