How Nature Benefits Your Brain

Recent studies show that nature and especially the coast, is one of the best places to alleviate stress and find calm to recharge our minds. The reasons for this is quite fascinating.

In nature all your senses are engaged, and this means you can’t help but wake up out of your urban slumber. Maybe this was what the American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau hoped to experience when he submerged himself in nature.

Thoreau hoped to gain a more objective understanding of life through personal introspection, so he went to live in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, amidst woodlands near Concord, Massachusetts.

The experience later inspired the book Walden, in which Thoreau starts off with the now famous words: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

What Thoreau found was off course that nature not only helps you to stop and “smell the roses” it also stills your mind.  What John Burroughs hints at with: “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”

In a sense, you start to experience an exchange of energy with nature, and it opens you up via the five senses—hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching.

Let’s take the beach for an example, I mean most people will agree with me that there’s something calming about the sound of ocean waves, the smell of fresh salt water, and the feeling of warm sand beneath your toes.

Having grown up spending most of my holidays at the beach, I always classified my happiness on the beach as no more than nostalgia. But, recent studies prove that a beach-type environment can have a profound impact on our brains and mental health.

Hearing

Listening to the rhythmic crashing of the waves can actually help you achieve a meditative state. Mostly because the resemblance of the sounds of your rhythmic breaths when meditating, and the repetitive sound of the waves crashing gently on the beach are rather alike.

Seeing

Combined with this, the studies have shown that different colours often produce different psychological, emotional, and physical effects. The colour blue, for instance, is often used in marketing material to convey a sense of calmness. Thus, to surround yourself with blue, can in a way help you reduce stress. So, to sit and stare at the ocean can change your brain waves’ frequency and put you into a mild meditative state.

Smelling

The most primitive of the senses, smell connects us directly with our memories, emotions, and instincts. When we smell something, we are actually absorbing some of its molecules, making aromatherapy a form of natural medicine. Even the smell of the ocean mist, the fresh smell of grass or wild flowers has benefits.

Natural and earthy smells have been shown to have a pronounced anti-depressant effect. It can ground you and help you feel calm. Subsequent studies have found that when you go outside for fresh air it can alleviate symptoms of stress and tiredness.

Tasting

Each of the tastes (sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter, and astringent) has a unique effect on the mind-body physiology.

Touching

Touch is fundamental to health and well-being. When your skin is stimulated by tender touch or massage, it releases many healing chemicals that enhance immune function, improve circulation, and promote restful sleep.

Walking barefoot has been proven to have a number of stimulating benefits to our bodies and minds. The reason is that our feet contain a rich network of nerves and acupuncture points. Our feet can absorb free ions on the earth surface in much the same way that our lungs are able to absorb ions in the air.

So, when you walk barefoot, you’re connecting your body to the negatively of the earth. The result is one that many of us feel as soon as we kick off our shoes. Walking barefoot on the beach or grass patch can trigger tingling warm sensations produced as a result of us connecting to the earth.

Exactly what Thich Nhat Hanh poetically points to with: “The true miracle is not walking on water or walking in air, but simply walking on this earth.”

There are all these cognitive and emotional benefits that we derive every time we spend time in nature, once you get into it, you realize that it’s chemistry, it’s biology, it’s physiology. It’s deeply personal but it’s also strong science.

So, when are you going for a walk? And if you live close to the ocean, do I even need to say it…go!