• Hannah Ireson

Wholesome wellness on a budget?

A return to true nature

We instinctively feel the beneficial effects of the outdoors on our nervous systems. It is all too easy to forget that experiencing this wealth of healing power is, more often than not, free of charge. Indeed, amidst the beautifully marketed world of curated wellness products, it is more crucial than ever not to overlook the truest and least expensive form of therapy – nature.

Being in nature is closely linked with being more physically active and contributing to all the benefits that are associated with moderate exercise such as lowered risk of heart disease, healthier weight, and even, increased lifespan.

With many of us living in more urban environments, what steps can we take to tap into those rewilding health benefits on a day-to-day basis? The predominantly indoors, screen-driven, 9 to 5 operating lifestyle of the modern human is making us pay with more than just money. The irony is that the very thing we need the most to counteract these effects doesn’t cost us a thing. We came up with a selection of activities that are accessible, inclusive and by no means exhaustive – but most of all, free. These are divided into 2 loose categories, so whether you’re feeling up for some movement or are craving peaceful stillness and contemplation, there’s something for everyone…

Moving in nature:

Walking – the simplest form of exercise (and transport!), walking is also incredibly beneficial for digestive health. Walking is a great way to smooth out any spikes in blood sugar too, so why not try swapping the TV for an after-dinner walk? We can also implement focused walks that are intentionally tech-free to benefit mental health and encourage undisturbed creative thinking.

Forest bathing – A Japanese wellness practice implemented for mental reset and assisting immunity, forest bathing entails hanging out in a forest or wood with intentional presence in your surroundings. Minimise your distractions and spend some time walking and relaxing in woodland. Focus on your senses and your breath, what can you smell, hear, and see? Observe your surroundings in detail and try to remain present.

Wild swimming – Regular cold-water swimming has been gaining popularity lately for its reputation as a fun social activity, but also for the plethora of benefits associated. Cold immersion lowers blood pressure, improves libido, decreases muscle pain, and gives a surge of endorphins and energy. Many other benefits such as improved circulation and calorie burning are further motivation to take the plunge.

Low impact wellness:

Watching wildlife – Until very recently in human history, our eyes have adapted explicitly to view natural shapes and patterns. Indeed, studies have shown that the fractal patterns that occur naturally in waves, sand, clouds, and leaves stimulate the frontal lobes of the brain produce alpha-waves. This type of brain wave sends a calming electrical current round the brain, inducing a state of relaxation and free associative thought patterns.

Watching the sunrise & sunset – On a similar thread, watching the sunrise and sunset has physiological and emotional benefits including a greater sense of benevolence and decreased anxiety. While getting up at the crack of dawn is often associated with efficiency and getting things done, early rising can facilitate a special time for private reflection. The time around sunrise holds a spiritual place for many and is referred to in the yogic texts as the “ambrosial hours”. Watching the sunrise can invigorate and inspire us for the day ahead, where spending some quiet time with the sunset is a great way to wind down, relax and appreciate fleeting natural beauty on a huge scale. Watch alone or in company, and try to enjoy without the distractions and temptations of your phone or sundowner cocktails.

Stargazing – Interacting with the outdoors during night-time hours gives us a refreshing take on our usual surroundings and can become part of a peaceful evening ritual before bed. Just as watching the movement of the sun aligns us with the shift from day to night, stargazing puts us in sync with the changing skies and the wax and wane of the moon. Studies have shown that this immersion in the sky taps into the notion of something greater than ourselves, inviting feelings of wonder, connectedness, and oneness.

These natural practices invite a greater moment-to-moment awareness which impacts all other aspects of our lives. Spending time outdoors reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and cortisol production – and all for free! The human organism hasn’t strayed far from our hunter gatherer ancestry in biological requirements, so it is no surprise really that being in nature makes us healthier and happier. The mountains, the sea, the smell of fresh air, the pleasure of a gentle walk amidst unobstructed countryside and the feeling of the sun on your face… Decades of culminative research can confirm what we already intuitively know, that the systems of human biology require direct experience with nature in order to thrive.

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