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How Nature Heals Us

Richard Louv, the author of “Last Child in the Woods” writes about the importance of nature in the lives of children.  He coined the term, “nature deficit disorder” and he sets out some pretty impressive research about how children heal in nature, how they are inspired to creativity in nature and how they develop their full range of senses in nature.  I can relate to all of this as an adult and I know that there are many adults out there suffering from “nature deficit disorder” too.

Before I describe now nature heals us, I want to further define “nature deficit disorder”.   Richard Louv puts it this way, “Nature deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them:  diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.  The disorder can be detected in individuals, families, and communities, nature deficit can even change human behavior in cities, which could ultimately affect their design, since long-standing studies show a relationship between the absence, or inaccessibility, of parks and open space with high crime rates, depression, and other urban maladies.” (Last Child in the Woods, page 34)

How does nature heal us?  Nature plays a key role in our physical, emotional and spiritual development.  When we take a look over the past 100 years, we see a slow migration from living in tune with the cycles and rhythms of nature, to living in the confines of man-made environments.

When there was no electricity, we depended upon fire for light at night – and then we went to bed much earlier.  Our body clocks were in tune with the sunrise, the sunset, and the dim light of the stars scattered through a dark sky.  Now, we stay up late with t.v. sets blaring, lights shining, and chores demanding our attention.  We get up with the help of an obnoxious alarm clock after getting too little sleep and we rush around to get ready for another electric (and hectic) day.

It does not take a scientist to see the increasing rates of insomnia, obesity, high blood pressure, higher cortisol and stress levels and to understand that getting away from the natural rhythms of nature’s cycles has done us harm.

Nature heals us through our sense of sight.  Many studies show that humans have a natural affinity for looking at nature.  The mind and body relax when looking at fields of green or skies of blue.  It has been long known that hospital patients who have a view of a brick wall out their window will take longer to get well than patients with a view of grass, trees and sky.
Nature heals us through our sense of touch.  If you have known the joy of digging into fresh soil and planting something – you may enjoy knowing that this has the ability to bring healing to your emotions as well as healing microbes into your system.  When we dig in the earth, the little micro-organisms that make up the soil get absorbed through the pores on our skin.  We need a certain amount of these healthy little micro-organisms to keep us physically strong.

In addition to physically nourishing us, touching and interacting with nature also lowers our stress levels, calms anxiety, and lifts our mood.  We were created to live in a garden (literally) and the further we move away from “the garden”, the less whole-health we enjoy.

Sebastiano Santostefano, director of the Institute for Child and Adolescent Development, explained his view that nature has power to shape the psyche, and that it can play a significant role in helping traumatized children.  He found that playing outdoors, whether along a river or in an alleyway, “is how a kid works through issues.” (Louv, Last Child In the Woods, page 51)
Rather than send our kids to a gym to play basketball, we need to be sending them outdoors to interact with nature, to play in nature, to make forts, to hop over rocks in streams, to build things with sticks and twigs.  Rather than just taking ourselves (as adults) to a fitness center to pump iron, we should mix it up with a hike through nature, a swim in a lake or ocean, digging in our garden, planting seeds and sitting under the stars at night.

Take off your shoes and walk barefoot on grass, dirt or sand.  Allow the negative ions of the earth to enter the soles of your feet to recharge your soul.  Calm your mind by viewing the Milky Way, watching the moon climb in the night sky, or simply smelling the cooling earth and trees as evening gives way to night.  I dare say that if you set aside regular time each week to interact with nature, to get conscious in nature, to see, smell, feel and experience nature, you will immediately reap profound benefits in mind, body and spirit.
John Burroughs shares this thought with us, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.”


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