City dwellers are suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder!
Urban life has its magic, but it also poses insidious threats to wellness through air, noise, light, and speed pollution which are linked to ailments ranging from stress and fatigue to heart disease, cognitive impairment, tinnitus and hearing loss, disrupted circadian rhythms, cognitive disorientation, lonely alienation, and sedentary sickness.
There is a CURE. A recipe. It goes like this:
Nature is Medicine to us Walking Grounds us Talking Supports us Walking + Talking + Nature = TONIC
INGREDIENT 1: Nature is Medicine
Time in the outdoors increases awareness of the relationship with the natural environment (of which we are a part), and supports heightened attention inside, leading to inner confidence, feelings of tranquility, self-discovery, and belonging. One’s essence can begin to emerge.
There are inherent rewards in taking breaks from civilization, as biologist Clemens Arvay shares in this evocative passage:
‘Being away’ means we are in an environment where we can be as we are. Plants, animals, mountains, rivers, the sea — they are not interested in our productivity and performance, our appearance, our paycheck, or our mental state. We can be among them and participate in the network of life, even if we are momentarily weak, lost, or bubbling over with ideas and hyperactivity. Nature does not send us utility bills. The river in the mountains does not charge us for the clear, clean water we get from it when we wander along its banks or camp there. Nature does not criticize us. ‘Being away’ means freedom from being evaluated or judged, and escaping from pressure to fulfill someone else’s expectations of us”
There is a groundswell of new modalities such as Greenexercise, Ecotherapy, Nature Therapy, Ecopsychology, Forest Bathing and Horticultural therapy. They all have rewards:
Stress Relief: Walking in green nature lowers levels of cortisol — the body’s primary stress hormone — as well as lower sympathetic nerve activity and higher parasympathetic nerve activity. (Parasympathetic nerve activity is associated with our “rest and digest” system, while sympathetic nerve activity is associated with a “fight or flight” state.). This in turn lowers the pulse and blood pressure, allowing more breath and oxygen. Taken together, heart-rate variability stabilizes.
Stronger Immune System: Being in nature has repeatedly been shown to enhance activity of the natural killer (NK) cells and expression of anti-cancer proteins. This is largely attributed to botanical compounds known as “phytoncides” (more on that below).
Better Sleep: Maybe we should count trees instead of sheep? Studies show that two hours per week of nature walking significantly deepened sleep and reduced insomnia. Clients who suffer from minor or major depression show remarkable positive shifts in energy, sleep, and mood with just 3 outdoor walks per week. When combined with psychotherapy, the treatment is likely to be even more effective.
Embedded in Something Bigger: Those experiencing loss or grief can benefit through nature revealing seasons and cycles and adding a sense of life or “aliveness”. Increases Locus of Control, which, is a person’s perception of the degree of control or agency they have in their lives. Being able to move one’s body increases the overall sense of being able to respond to situations that arise on the trail and in life, granting greater levels of confidence and increased self-esteem
Essence and Presence: All the fresh air and natural light, tries, birds and bees makes for a heightened sensory experience and makes the moment feel richer and more memorable; it opens one up to the beauty of the world and can bring a sense of awe and gratitude and a fuller, more embodied internal exploration. Experience of nature can lead to a sense of belonging in the world and of connection to the whole, thus decreasing isolation and alienation (Berger & Mcleod, 2006)
Pain Relief: Chronic widespread pain decreases with gentle green walks, and/or sitting. Nature proximity increases the rate of recovery from fatigue and illness.
Cognitive Function: Enhanced attentional/focus capacity, improved ability to reflect on problems, and improved mood and less anxiety
INGREDIENT 2: Walking Grounds Us
Walking is the mechanical magic at the core of our humanity
Emotional Integration: Movement helps to unleash tight muscles and emotional binds/constraints. The bilateral motion (back and forth) of the arms and legs leads to stimulation of the left and right hemispheres, allowing whole brain integration. In this looser, more spacious physical and mental state, body armouring can fall away and give us access to our emotions.
Return to embodiment: New learning occurs through sensory involvement; it is an immersive experience which engenders insight gained from “learning by doing,” (Priest & Gass, 1997). Body awareness is enhanced, the client has access to their belly center, and feels grounded, more present, mindful, actively involved, and is thus able to get to issues faster. Increase self-care which lasts beyond the session and can develop a healthy habit of walking, leading to more physical improvements such as better sleep, decreased body fat, decreased cholesterol, and reduced risk of heart attack
Insight Quickens: Walking can provide a symbolic and metaphoric representation of the various issues, conflicts, and resolutions that a client might face. The physical act of walking and literally moving forward it can act as a powerful catalyst to personal change. Clients who feel “stuck” in a situation can benefit from moving forward. It can help them to process the emotions that have been keeping them stuck in one place. Creative problem-solving and even the production of new brain cells in certain parts of the brain occur due to walking.. Many people tend to “think better on their feet” and can access more than when sitting and trying to think of things to say. Once the blood is pumping, cognitive clarity follows.
Brain Function and Regeneration
Recent findings from cutting-edge research by neuroscientist Shane O’Mara reveals how the brain and nervous system give us the ability to balance, weave through a crowded city, and run our “inner GPS” system. Walking is good for our muscles and posture; it helps to protect and repair organs, and can slow or turn back the aging of our brains. With our minds in motion we think more creatively, our mood improves, and stress levels fall. Walking together to achieve a shared purpose is also a social glue that has contributed to our survival as a species. As our lives become increasingly sedentary, O’Mara makes the case that we must start walking again-whether it’s up a mountain, down to the park, or simply to school and work.
INGREDIENT 3: Therapy Supports Us
We all need to be seen, heard, and received in warm understanding. Your voice matters. Your story counts. Your gifts matter to the world. Unleashing your full potential is a noble journey. The therapeutic alliance is the holding environment for your best self to be born. And true nature is the bedrock beneath our searching feet.
WALK AND TALK is Unique
§ You benefit from the holding environment offered by nature AND your therapist.
§ By definition, you are present, embodied, and moving through life
§ The setting is more expansive than 4 walls, and you are less “under the microscope” than in traditional face-to-face, eye-to-eye format