Greetings Beautiful People

I have just returned from a swim at our local dam as we don’t have the gyms and indoor swimming pools that most folk are used to, when living in the city. So the swimming done here is outdoors and I must therefore work with nature.

The dam is at the back of our small town and nestled below the Langeberg range of mountains surrounded by forest. I do have a few rituals when I go there. Firstly, it is to scan the water for snakes, as the odd Cape Cobra or Berg Adder are known to take a swim. I have come across these on a few occasions although they are just as nervous as they too, are out of their depth. On these encounters I walk on water… well almost! Secondly, I simply become very still and consciously pay attention to the sights, sounds and feel of the breeze if any, the kiss of the sun on my skin and simply give thanks for the experience. Then sometimes half way through my swim in the middle of the dam, I lie floating in the water facing the mountain. My arms and legs in a star formation and just meditate for a bit.

There is something about nature that is very spiritual for me and I feel the difference the moment I return from the city. It allows me to reflect and connect with something greater than me and through this connection I am more peaceful. I am not the only one who feels this from nature. Many people from my classes say they feel “whole” in nature – a sense of peace and tranquility.

There have been some studies in the neuroscience field that suggest our brains (amygdala) become more settled, thus we become less stressed, if we live near nature. I don’t think most people require studies to tell us this as we already know it. However for those interested to know more, here is some research on how nature can help your brain (Source: National Geographic – Article “A Call to Wild”)

  • People living near more green space have less mental stress
  • In hospitals, those who have views onto green or trees recover quicker than those who have poor window views
  • Being in nature can improve one’s heart rate variability (indicates stress levels in the body) after a stressful task
  • A 15-minute walk in nature can reduce the stress hormones cortisol, decrease blood pressure by 2% and reduce heart rate by 4%
  • A 90-minute walk can reduce activity in the subgenual pre frontal cortex which is linked to depressive rumination. In other words, you become happier

For me personally, I have very creative moments in nature. Ideas come to me in flashes and I find I have these spurts of motivation that come from somewhere in the moment and I must get home to write my ideas down, such as this blog.

So, how do we find nature in the big cities where we are surrounded by noise and concrete and our stress levels are high with no mountain ranges and the wilderness nearby?

Nature does not have to be a large forest or game reserve. A garden will do. I have just been in Johannesburg and Cape Town these past two weeks, and so grateful for the respective venue’s beautiful gardens. What I consciously do is ensure I spend some time before and after class, in the gardens – being present to the sounds of the birds and the abundance of small life around me. The difference it makes to my energy levels is remarkable.

I think that is why many people love gardening. They get a chance to play and connect with nature which is so important, especially in the large cities, where this positive effect of nature can be lost behind the cement. It is interesting to note this is not a modern-day phenomenon i.e. using gardens to reduce stress. The earliest gardens for relaxation were designed and built 2500 years ago in Persia. Later, Islam and the Zen gardens of the East evolved and were focused on creating peace and harmony for the visitor to the garden. These gardens became the inspiration for many writers and poets such as Rumi.

If you have a garden, it is kindly bringing nature to your front doorstep, for you. Making time to sit in that quiet place, just before or after work, may just make that difference in a very busy world.  Even a patch of lawn will do. A wonderful and simple technique to improve a sense of calmness and grounding, especially when anxious or stressed, is to stand barefoot on lawn and connect to the ground. If you don’t have a garden, take time for a walk in the park.

So dear reader, I leave you with this wonderful saying from Rumi:

Take care and stay aware



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