As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my home office looking out the window at the wind blowing through the trees. I can hear the birds singing; and the low buzz of traffic. As on most summer days, I’m feeling a bit antsy. The sky is blue. The air is warm. And, I’m stuck inside working. This longing to be outside is not great for my productivity. Every summer it’s the same. I think it’s something most of us struggle with. Especially if you work in an office with no outside view and the air conditioner blasting from above. (That’s one of the reasons I quit my job to become a freelancer—I kid you not!)
Despite the fact that I work for myself and set my own hours, typically when I’m facing deadlines and have a ton of things on my to-do list, I force myself to sit at my desk and get it all done. Whenever I do grant myself permission to leave my desk and take a walk outside I’m much more likely to come up with brilliant ideas and experience a flood of creativity. Despite this, I spend way too much time indoors.
This year I’m planning to make a change. And, my inspiration is this great new book, Your Brain on Nature. I adore Toronto in the summer. The beach calls to me. I love the feeling of the grass between my toes in our local park. I’m happy when I’m hanging out amongst the trees. It’s really hard to feel stressed when wandering through the forest on a beautiful sunny day. And thanks to this book, I now know why.
According to Dr. Alan Logan, a Toronto-trained Naturopath and the book’s co-author, practicing shinrin-yogu (a Japanese concept that translates to “forest air bathing”) has been proven to improve your mental state, attentiveness, energy, and even heart health. Being in nature lowers your cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and blood pressure and stimulates feelings of love and inner peace.
The bottom line: going outside has been scientifically proven to be really, really good for you.
So, why do we spend so much time in front of our computers, and televisions, and iPhones; cooped up indoors when the weather outside is gorgeous? “The lure of the screen can be very attractive to adults and kids alike,” Alan tells me. And, I know this to be true. Even when I’m out for a walk, or playing with my two-year-old in the park, I’m totally guilty of checking my email or playing on Twitter.
According to Alan, the way to reap the ultimate reward from being in nature is doing so in a mindful way. Have you ever watched a little kid examining a bug on a leaf? Or smelling a flower; commenting on the colour and shape of the petals? I know I can’t go outside with my own daughter without her stopping to scoop up rocks, hug trees, feel the earth under her feet, and chase after birds—this is as mindful as it gets.
So, this summer, I’m taking cues from my kid. Her ultimate happy place is the outdoors. Though she too can be lured by Barney and Dora and other TV shows—when she’s outside playing, she’s truly happy. So until winter rolls around and we have an excuse to complain about the cold, damp weather, this is our opportunity to benefit from what research has now proven to be the ultimate natural stress remedy. Grab your kids, your sunscreen, and your butterfly net, or ball, or gardening shovel, and get outside and enjoy the moment!
As an added bonus, all this exposure to nature should help foster a love of the earth and a more sustainable, green-friendly mindset in your kids. And, what our planet really needs right now is more kids who love and respect their natural habitat!
Here are Dr. Alan Logan’s top 10 ways to ways to cure nature deficit disorder & have some fun while you’re at it:
1. Plant a garden: backyard, roof-top, or community.
2. Learn about the native plant species in your neighborhood.
3. Get a bird feeder and notice the birds in your neighborhood. Listen for their call. Read about them.
4. Make it a priority for your family to spend 20 minutes outside daily: walk with mindfulness by observing details you might otherwise have let go unnoticed (e.g. detail within leaves, bark on trees etc.).
5. Volunteer to dog-walk for your neighbors.
6. Grab some gear for outdoor play: be it a frisbee or bug catcher or butterfly net or fishing rod.
7. Visit a botanical garden, forest or arboretum.
8. Shave off a bit of family screen time. Keep a screen time diary for a week and consider how much time is devoted to the screen. Turn off devices to minimize their intrusion into mindfulness of the outdoor experience.
9. Join a hiking group.
10. Learn about geocaching.
Want to win a copy of Your Brain on Nature? Just tell me in the comments below how you plan to get outside and really enjoy nature this summer.
Yummy Rules and Regs: You must be a Yummy Mummy Club member to win. Click to sign up! It's free and filled with perks. One comment per member. Entries accepted until June 29th, 2012. Contest open to Canadian residents (excluding Quebec). Winners will be picked using www.random.org.
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