Mindful Moment How Nature Heals Mind and Body

Mindful Moment How Nature Heals Mind and Body

The Healing Power of Nature

Mindful Moment Design by Alexis Lira

Mindful Moment is a new mindfulness column from Psych Central that invites you to look within. Each month, we’ll feature a conversation with a mindfulness expert and offer tools, tips, and inspiration to help you tap into your inner resources to create meaningful change in your life.

Nature is not only healing, but also beneficial for mental well-being. Recent research in March 2022 reveals that spending time in the great outdoors is associated with significantly less anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic. This discovery has led doctors in Canada to prescribe access to national parks to improve mental and physical health.

In addition to its healing properties, nature also has a grounding effect, inviting a sense of steadiness and presence to the mind and body, which helps cultivate inner peace and contentment. But what if I told you that your connection to nature could also help heal the Earth? It may sound unbelievable, but there is an inherent connection between humans and nature that goes beyond just personal well-being.

According to Buddhist teachings, everything in nature is impermanent. Our thoughts, bodies, and the natural world are constantly changing. Roxanne Dault, a French-Canadian mindfulness teacher based in Montreal, believes that nature can be our greatest teacher. She emphasizes the deep connection she feels when touching the Earth, describing it as a shared connection and a source of support.

Buddhist teachings also describe the elements within our bodies – earth, air, water, and fire – as reflections of the elements in nature. By recognizing and acknowledging our connection to nature, we can begin to appreciate the Earth within us. This understanding helps us embrace impermanence and let go of things we cannot control.

The Japanese Zen priest Shunryu Suzuki Roshi famously observed that “everything changes.” Nature reminds us of this impermanence, and just as we witness the changing seasons, we must recognize that we too are constantly changing. Nature teaches us the importance of letting go and not holding on too tightly, enabling our minds to stabilize even in the face of external fluctuations.

By developing a broader understanding of the causes and conditions that shape each moment, we can learn to receive instead of reacting. This broader perspective encourages us to consider our interconnectedness with the world and prompts us to recognize that we are all part of this shared experience.

This inherent connection between humans and the Earth is not limited to Buddhist beliefs. Astrophysicist Adam Frank’s 2022 study suggests that since the Earth is “alive,” it may possess its own consciousness. This concept of planetary consciousness could revolutionize the way we address climate change, reminding us that we must use our intelligence to prioritize the greater good of the planet and ensure our collective survival.

Eco-anxiety is a real concern that is affecting individuals in therapy sessions across the United States. The United Nations has also issued warnings about the consequences of inaction on climate change. If we truly believe in our interconnectedness with all living things, including the planet, we must consider our actions on a daily basis.

Self-evaluation becomes a mindfulness practice in itself. Becoming aware of our behaviors, choices, and consumption patterns can help us make more conscious decisions. Each person has the power to make a difference, and with intention, our choices can have a positive impact on the collective and potentially influence planetary consciousness.

As we strive to take care of ourselves, each other, and the environment, recognizing our interconnectedness can inspire a sense of care and responsibility. We belong to each other and are part of the same family. Embracing wisdom in renunciation allows us to let go of what is unnecessary and focus on what truly matters.

“But what’s my role in this?” you may ask. How can you bring a sense of deeper wisdom to this moment? While there are many things beyond our control, acknowledging what we can do at a personal level is a crucial first step. Small choices made every day can have a significant impact. Consider actions like recycling, composting, reducing plastic use, cutting down on meat consumption, supporting local food sources, driving less, and conserving water.

Earth Day serves as a reminder to raise awareness about climate change, but it shouldn’t be limited to a single day. Each day can be an opportunity to make a difference when we commit to taking action. By considering our interconnectedness with all beings and the Earth, we can make choices that support the well-being of the planet.

Grounding practices have a stabilizing effect on both the body and mind. Roxanne Dault highlights the power of grounding practices and their ability to provide a clearer understanding of our human experience. When practiced in nature, grounding takes on an even more profound significance.

A 2020 research review indicates that “earthing” or walking barefoot outdoors can have numerous health benefits, including reduced inflammation, pain relief, stress reduction, improved circulation, better sleep, and increased vitality. Grounding helps us reconnect with nature and facilitates a meditative experience.

Dault attests that connecting with the body, especially through the feet touching the Earth, creates a sense of stillness and reduces mental agitation. In these moments of grounding, we can find the space between seconds, as author Richard Wagamese beautifully describes, and experience a profound sense of grounding.

Finding stillness amidst an agitated mind is not about suppressing thoughts but rather becoming aware of them and considering their truth. Dault, drawing from her experiences on silent nature retreats, emphasizes the significance of silence in heightening body awareness and observing the mind’s reactions.

To cultivate this stillness, you can start by becoming aware of your body, feeling the different touchpoints present. Pay attention to your breath and expand your awareness to the sounds around you, noticing the space between each sound and embracing moments of silence. If your attention starts to drift, refocus on the anchor of your feet on the Earth.

By incorporating these grounding practices into your daily life, you can bring yourself back to the present moment whenever your mind starts to wander. It may take time to develop the skill of connecting with your body, but it is a valuable technique for finding stillness and grounding yourself.

Our connection to nature mirrors our connection to ourselves and each other. According to Dault, connecting with nature means connecting with our fellow human beings. This interconnectedness offers hope for the future and inspires us to consider the impact of our actions on the planet, our home.

While we may not have complete control over the world, stabilizing practices like grounding can help us find acceptance amidst impermanence. Connecting with nature through the body allows us to navigate our experiences and develop a sense of peace and stability. As the monk Ajahn Sumedho expressed, “It’s like this right now” – a reminder that whatever we encounter, we can find comfort knowing that we are okay.

Roxanne Dault is a dedicated meditation teacher, sitting retreats across Asia and the West. She teaches in a variety of settings, including nonprofit organizations and marginalized populations. Trained in Somatic Experiencing®, she explores the intersections of body, mind, and trauma relief.

Andrea Rice, an award-winning journalist and yoga teacher, covers mental health news and trending topics. With a focus on mindfulness, her work has appeared in acclaimed publications and news outlets.

The healing power of nature is a profound resource that nurtures our mental well-being and offers valuable lessons. By embracing our inherent connection to nature, we can foster personal growth and contribute to the healing of the Earth.