It’s a stunning winters day, clear and crisp with just a scattering of clouds in the sky. I am alone on the beach at Otari Bay immersing myself in all the natural beauty around me. The sun shines brightly low in the sky, the ocean is sparkling. There is no surf today, just small waves rolling in and breaking gently on the shore. There is the distinct but not unpleasant smell of decomposing seaweed washed ashore in a recent storm. I listen to a Tui chortling away in the pohutakawa trees behind me as I watch a lone gannet, its wings outstretched, effortlessly soaring high above the ocean. Meandering along the shoreline, enjoying the sensation of the cool sand beneath my feet, I spot a young seal frolicking in the water, it rolls over to lie on its back, waving its flipper in the air as if to say come play with me. The stress of the last few days slowly dissolves as I become at one with my environment. I lose all sense of time, I feel at peace, a personal sense of freedom returns and once more I gain perspective on the things that really matter to me and that I value in my life. I leave feeling happy, recharged, and self-empowered once more.
Being in nature makes life better. I can’t remember where I read this but it so true, Nature is an underappreciated and untapped resource for health and wellbeing.
Nature is a place to value for its natural beauty, peace, and tranquillity, as somewhere to escape from everyday life, for the sense of happiness, harmony, and personal freedom it evokes while we are there. A place to reawaken emotions and identity, where you can be yourself and not feel constrained by external influences such as the values imposed by society.
Being in nature can have significant health benefits, reducing anxiety and stress and protecting you from future stresses, restoring your attention capacity and mental fatigue, and building self-esteem, confidence, and personal growth.
While just being/spending time in nature will benefit your health and well-being to fortify the positive experiences and benefits of nature you need to feel emotionally connected, to have a sense of belonging. Nature connectedness comes when we quieten the internal chatter going on in our brain that acts as a documentary on past events, future possibilities and current concerns and become fully immersed in the present moment. We need to stop thinking and just give ourselves completely to the present moment and the act of looking, listening, smelling, and feeling.
Unfortunately, for many of us living in urban environments, we have become disconnected from nature, with so many other things in our modern society competing for our attention. We need to take the time to go out and find those special places that resonate with us, where we feel like we belong. It might be your local park, lying on your back under a tree and looking up into its canopy, walking barefoot along the beach watching the surf roll in, sitting beside a stream or hiking up in the mountains, gazing out over the vast open spaces. Different environments will evoke different emotional connections and it is not a one size fits all approach. Start noticing nature again, the sensory experiences of sight, smell, hearing and touch, the growth and temporal changes going on, the wildlife, the beauty and wonders of nature, the effect of the weather, the colours and textures, the emotions and feeling nature evokes.
Let us appreciate the healing powers of nature and its health benefits and once more normalise nature in our daily lives.
Pretty, J. (2004). How nature contributes to mental and physical health. Spirituality and Health International, 5(2), 68-78.
Shanahan, D. F., Franco, L., Lin, B. B., Gaston, K. J., & Fuller, R. A. (2016). The benefits of natural environments for physical activity. Sports Medicine, 46(7), 989-995.
Franco, L. S., Shanahan, D. F., & Fuller, R. A. (2017). A review of the benefits of nature experiences: more than meets the eye. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(8), 864.