I am electrified by hustling, bustling cities. I love the melting pot of sights and sounds, people and religions and cultures, art and food, and everything in between. Although it never ceases to inspire, it also has a way of squashing the seeds of sweetness and spaciousness we are all born with that, for many of us, are nourished by spending time in nature.
I cannot say that nature has 100 percent healed my pattern of type-A anxieties—fear of being disliked or letting someone down, among other things—but I can say that, like yoga, it dramatically enhances my well-being.
Being in any type of natural surrounding—for me personally, that means by the ocean—is like a long sigh of relief. It is an exhale, a hug, a comfy pillow or blanket, a sweet friend. I like to say that ocean and sunset are my favorite colors because to me there is nothing more heartwarming than witnessing this masterpiece. I was fortunate enough to visit the town of Oia in Santorini and, with a local beer in hand alongside foreigners and locals alike, watched the sun slide itself down from the sky to the sea. Like any unique travel memory, a piece of that special scene still exists within me.
This does not mean that one must jump on a plane and travel abroad to exotic and faraway lands in order to achieve peace. The United States is rich in diversified terrains and environments, from coastlines to mountain ranges to deserts and beyond. Visiting nature can be as simple as checking out a local park and putting feet or hands in the grass; it can be taking some sort of personal or public transportation to a local body of water or walking/hiking trail for some fresh air—anywhere that allows us to step out of our suit of armor and into our inherent softer state of being. The more time we can spend in an environment that fosters space and connectedness for mind, body, and spirit, the better.
In Buddhism, it is even recommended that we meditate underneath a tree—as the Buddha did under the Bodhi tree when he attained enlightenment—and to be grounded at the seat near the roots, in the company of a majestic, sturdy, living provider of oxygen and beauty. When there was no such thing as cities or smartphones, what better to do with the passing time than sit and listen to, be with, appreciate Mother Earth?
When we think of nature, we might consider its brilliance in finding balanced states, even when it might not necessarily seem that way from a human experience and perspective. The heavy heat of summer is met with the crisp dryness of fall and winter, which precedes the moist heaviness of spring, which then leads to the heat of summer...and so on. Each season provides us with the nourishment we need in that season to balance our bodies: summer's fresh and light produce keeps us cool, fall and winter root veggies ground and warm us up, spring's cleansing bounty combats any excess dryness from winter. Smart, no?
This, among Mama Earth’s endless gifts for all forms of physical and mental survival, makes it no surprise that nature would nourish us simply by being in its magnificent presence.
Here are a few practices I recommend exploring to use nature as an anti-anxiety tool and nourish mind, body, and spirit:
Take a walk in any weather.
Safety permitting, of course, but even if it's down the block and back again, one minute or several hours—it's worth it.
Get some plants, flowers, or a little herb garden for your living space.
It will freshen the room with oxygen and color; the clear air and bright presence of indoor plants will result in a more spacious, less anxious mind.
When outdoors, whether in a city or on a mountain, make it a point to bring the attention to the present.
Notice sights in your direct vision, sounds or smells that enter and exit your ears and nose, the way the air feels on your clothes or skin. The act of observing can be an excellent means of settling or clearing up unwanted stress.
Go wherever you can, whenever you can, as long as it's near some type of plant, flower, foliage, water, and so on.
Thankfully we have many parks in New York and Brooklyn, large and small, and the beach or mountains are accessible by bikes, vehicles, or trains. Find places and spaces near you that feel good to visit, whether new or familiar.
When you can, visit someplace you have never been before, near or far.
Acknowledge and work with any fear you might have of going or being there. Go with someone who makes you feel safe if it helps, and watch what happens as your time unfolds in that unfamiliar space. This is, of course, not necessary, but I do firmly believe that stepping into our uncertainties with inquisitiveness—similar to a yoga practice—will support us in working with uncomfortable or anxious situations.
When in nature, take a few steps back from devices, even it is just for an hour.
Look at the world through the lens of your eyeballs and notice how it makes you feel, or close your eyes and listen to the sounds that pulse with the beat of the space you are in.
Consider having a chat with nature.
Say a prayer, ask it if it has any lessons or messages for you, inquire about something that feels confusing or is weighing on you, or simply open your internal ears and listen to what it has to say to you in its own special language.
Take care of the planet as best you can by making sustainable choices when possible.
Consume consciously; be aware of creating waste that might harm the Earth and its inhabitants. We need nature to function optimally if we plan to function optimally in our minds and bodies, and each eco-friendly act—however small—will make a difference.
Thank Mother Nature as often as possible for all she does for us.
We would quite literally not be here without food to eat, air to breathe, natural materials with which humans make every single material object we need (or want) to get by. It is an unbelievable blessing to be connected to the ultimate provider.
Inspired to spend more time in nature? Here are some ways to use nature to regain your health.
And are you ready to learn more about what anxiety, brain health, and your diet all have in common? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Dr. Mark Hyman.