Most of us spend our days connected to laptops, phones and multiple other screens with barely a second thought. And while we might sit in the park after a long day at the desk, or smash out an early-morning run, it’s easy to forget how beneficial time in nature really is. A 2019 study published in Scientific Reports found that soaking it in for just 120 minutes a week can help improve our “good health and wellbeing”. But that’s not all. Other studies have found that spending time in nature can reduce stress levels and activate our “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system.
It can even reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, increase the production of dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin, boost our immune system and help lower blood pressure. Appealing, right? Thought so.
“Nature is everything you are,” explains eco-psychotherapist Ruth Allen. “It is in and around you on every level, from your personal microbiome to the edges of the universe. Nature is coming and going and yet it is irreducible. It just is. You are part of it, whether you consider yourself ‘interested in nature’ or not.” In Allen’s book, Grounded: How connection with nature can improve our mental and physical wellbeing, she explores how we can become grounded (think: calm, balanced, able to survive the trials of life) through an ongoing relationship with nature, ourselves and each other. Steal this toolkit of her trusted methods for doing just that. Ready?
1. A Five-minute Grounding Practice
You can do this on grass, sand, mud or in shallow water. Let your mood dictate the choice.
- Stand barefoot with your feet hip width apart. Close your eyes; breathe deeper and slower.
- Turn attention to any sensations that you feel in your body.
- Spread your toes; notice the sensations in your feet. Breathe into these sensations.
- Envision sending energy downwards as you breathe, then “pull” the in-breath up from your feet to the top of your head.
- Bring attention back to your feet. This time, concentrate on the weight of your body and the contact with the earth.
- Stay like this as long as you wish, breathing slowly.
2. Try ‘Bee’ Breathing
Anxiety and stress can shorten our breath and cause chest tightness. However, this simple, breath-lengthening exercise can induce instant relaxation and help you feel more grounded.
- Sit comfortably with a straight back as well as a relaxed face or gentle smile.
- Place your index fingers on the cartilage between your ears and your cheeks. That's it.
- Take a deep breath inward to a depth that feels comfortable, and as you exhale, press the cartilage and make a humming “M” sound like a bee
- Repeat as desired; at the end sit quietly and just notice any changes in mood. Too easy!
3. Spot Your Inner Weather Patterns
Consider how you think – or the features of your prevailing mental weather system. By noticing which thoughts we focus on, we can work out how we spend mental energy.
Try keeping a “weather diary” of your moods a few times a day over the course of one week. Instead of labelling each as “happy” or “sad”, use more descriptive weather metaphors. Note the nuances in your mood in the same way as you might explain the weather outside, and then think about your short, medium and long-term “feeling forecasts”. What will pass, what stays around? When we can spot our own weather patterns and be aware of what comes and goes, we can look after ourselves and predict when we'll need more support.
4. Embrace Mindful Photography
This is a form of contemplation where the aim is to take time to notice what you are drawn to and to be present in that moment, rather than focusing on getting the right shot for your Instagram feed. This slower and more purposeful approach will allow you to consciously shut out your own worries and to-do list. It also provides a structure for spending more time outdoors, noticing what’s around you, grounding you in the present. Try to take pictures that capture your thoughts, feelings and emotions in that moment. This can be a great way to discover more about yourself without having to find the words to explain it.
5. Stand like a Mountain
This yoga pose is just a simple stance, but it forms a position of strength and can help you instantly feel more confident and calmer. Sign us up!
- Start by standing with your feet together and big toes touching.
- Check your weight is evenly distributed, pressing the backs of your knees forward without bending but engaging your quads and hamstrings equally. Hug your upper thighs together, then press them away from each other to activate your inner and outer thighs.
- Align your neck so it feels long and even on all sides. Then, turn your palms to face forward.
- Take a deep breath and lift your rib cage away from your pelvis. Exhale and hug in the sides of your waist to help create lower back stability. Stay quietly in this position for a few minutes, then relax and repeat this nourishing pose. Ahhh..