Much of my childhood was spent outdoors. It was a time when kids could run freely around the neighbourhood and explore their natural surroundings without worry or much supervision.
For me, this meant spending a lot of time crouched by our neighbourhood brook, studying the minnows and turning over rocks in the woods to look for salamanders. Family time also meant time outdoors, hiking in nearby state parks, going on picnics, and camping in the woods. It was a good way to grow up, and it was good for my health.
More and more research is concluding that time spent in green spaces—woods, gardens, and parks—is beneficial to your physical, mental, and spiritual health. Walking in the woods has been shown to decrease feelings of stress and depression, increase immunity, and lower blood pressure. In addition, being outside in nature is an opportunity for spiritual growth, as it offers you a chance to contemplate and connect with the wonders of the divine.
Many of the foundations of Chinese medicine are also based on patterns in nature. When you get sick, you may exhibit signs of heat, cold, wind, or dampness. The healing properties of food and herbs are important in treatments, and the path to good health follows the dictates of nature. This means being more active in the late spring and summer, harvesting your food in the fall, and hunkering down and conserving your energy during the winter months.
Connecting with nature
While I would love to be outside all day, every day, some days it’s just not possible. There are, however, some ways to connect with nature even when you’re not able to hike for hours or camp for days. Here are a few simple ideas:
Go barefoot. In Chinese medicine, the soles of the feet are considered to be a microsystem, in which your entire body is represented. According to microsystem theory, any pain or illness in your body would translate to pain in the corresponding spot on the map of your foot. Going barefoot stimulates the bottoms of your feet, which stimulates your whole body. In addition, walking barefoot outdoors puts you into direct contact with elements of nature.
Pay attention to the light. The sun rising is nature’s way of telling us to get up and get moving. Conversely, when the sun sets, it’s time to slow down and prepare to rejuvenate through sleep. It’s easy to take the rising and setting of the sun for granted—it happens every day. Our primitive selves, however, are meant to gauge our activity and rest according to what the sun is doing. This is true of seasonal changes in light, as well. During the winter, when there’s less light, you’re meant to get more rest as a way to store calories that you need to stay warm.
Bring nature inside. Plants, tabletop fountains, skylights, and furnishing your home with wood and stone are all ways of bringing the outdoors into your living space.
Explore new worlds. When you travel, pay attention to the unique habitats around you. Traveling to a new place gives you the opportunity to explore the landscape, plants, and animals there that are different from where you live. While your backyard woods or local garden may become familiar over time, exploring outdoor spaces far from home can be a great way to reconnect with the immense diversity of nature.
Take photographs. When you’re taking pictures, it causes you to look at nature with a different perspective. Looking for outdoor photographic opportunities can cause you to pay more attention to details, lighting, and perspectives that you might not otherwise see.
Eat according to the seasons. This is straight out of the Chinese medicine playbook. By planning your menu based on what’s ripe right now, you’re connecting with the cycles of nature and the nature of the seasons.
Grow a garden. Whether it’s a plot in your backyard or a couple of pots on your deck, growing your own stuff is good for the soul. Watching the plants you’ve carefully cultivated turn into herbs, vegetables, or flowers is fulfilling and links you to the natural world in a special way.
Look at the night sky. Stargazing is the one activity that makes me feel insignificant as well as totally connected to the universe, all in the same moment. You may have to get out of town to get away from the light, but finding a dark spot and looking at the Milky Way touches your very soul.
Eat outdoors. This is one of my favourite activities. Whether I’m backpacking or eating out on my back deck, having a meal outdoors is the perfect blend of food, nature, and good company. Since I live in a cold climate, eating outdoors also carries with it the special meaning that it’s actually warm enough to sit outside.
Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on AcupunctureTwinCities.com