What makes the trees so strong?
This question popped into my head during one of our recent forest walks. We stopped beside the two tall, massive trees, with roots growing so wide and digging deep into the ground. I’ve seen a few huge trees in my life before, but these two were definitely amongst the most impressive. I stood between them, looking up at their trunks and branches, imagining how old these trees could be. Just a while before that we had seen a cut tree trunk that we estimated to be about a 150 years old, yet these trees were much bigger, their trunks much wider. I wondered how old they really were. But what struck me even more was how did these trees survive this long without being broken by the wind and storms? Ireland is a windy country – that’s a known fact. We count at least 3 or 4 storms every year. You hear about fallen trees blocking the road or occasionally even damaging property. And yet some trees stand strong no matter the weather or the passing years. What is their secret?
What makes the trees so strong?
They say the wind makes them strong as it bends the trunks. But I am convinced the secret lies in the roots.
When the roots are diseased or weak, the tree does not get enough of vital nutrients, it doesn’t get enough strength to withstand the external conditions, such as strong winds. The tree becomes brittle and breaks. And if the roots do not go deep into the ground, the tree is not attached securely enough to the ground. If the wind blows too strong, the tree may get ripped off its ground. However, when the roots are strong they reinforce the tree and let it bend while staying rooted to the ground. They bend but do not break, thus gaining strength.
Humans are like trees
We, humans, are just like trees – if we are not rooted, not grounded, if we’re not in touch with the very essence of the nature, we also get weak and unbendable, and we break. Why? Because nature is our essence, take it away – and we are incomplete. We cannot be fully in touch with ourselves if we are out of touch with nature. And when the wind blows we are not able to withstand the challenge. We need to ground ourselves in order to be whole.
They say that stressful situations makes us stronger. We thrive under relative pressure – it is that golden moment when we are motivated, or pushed, to act, to achieve things, to slay goals. Would you work on your college assignment or work project if you weren’t stressing about the upcoming deadline? Mild stress can do us good. But here’s a thing: if we are not grounded, not connected with ourselves or the nature around us, it’s too easy to lose our footing and give in to the stress, letting it overpower us and harm us.
The link between nature and wellbeing
Multiple studies and researches have been carried out to date to prove the link between the time spent in nature and human health and wellbeing. The vast majority of these studies confirm that there is indeed a link between both perceived and actual wellbeing. Spending time in nature has shown a lot of potential benefits. For example, it can improve your mood, relieve and reduce stress and anxiety, and even alleviate depression. Natural environment, with its green or blue, or sandy shades and its multitude of sounds can be calming and relaxing, and can improve sleep. Remember all those sleep machines with water streams, tropical rains or chirping of the birds? There is a reason why these sounds have been used for years to help people who have trouble sleeping.
Furthermore, the fresh air also has a positive effect on your brain and the entire body. It’s cleaner and more saturated with oxygen than the air in your office or home, or that of an urban setting. Fresh air can boost your immune system and improve your blood oxygenation. It can be stimulating or relaxing, it can both make you more active and calm you down and induce better sleep.
Two interesting studies assessed the experiences of nature and its effects on health and wellbeing, as well as how the time spent in the nature affects the human health. The first study published some really insightful findings: for example, how the nature sounds can bring about relaxation and boost stress recovery, or how nature smells may boost our wellbeing, or how eating more natural foods can lower your chances of suffering from depression. The second study is quite different as it assesses how the time spent in nature correlates to the experienced positive health benefits, and here is a curious finding: the study concludes that nature can offer very significant benefits only if we spend at least 120 minutes a week embracing the great outdoors. I have linked the studies above if you like some light scientific reading before bed.
How Can We Restore Our Connection to Nature?
Human species evolved in the natural environment. This was our first home. If you think about it, the world as we know it with houses, cars and gadgets is only new. But with the advance of technology and our ever-growing attachment to it we quickly lost our connection to the most essential part of our human nature: The Nature. Our Home.
Of course I’m not suggesting we should all move into a forest and build a shack, and forage for our food forsaking all the modern ways of living. But getting out into a forest on the weekends and maybe (just maybe!) picking some wild berries (raspberries and blackberries are foolproof!) could be a nice pastime? Or hiking the hills? What about riding your bike? If you’re curious, stay with me for a little while to see how you can bring more nature into your life and build your relationship with it anew.
In the Great Outdoors
Nature Walks, Hiking and Trekking
One of the best ways to spend a weekend, especially in the summertime when the weather is good, is to get out on a long nature-y walk. It’s two birds with one stone: you are staying active and you are spending time outdoors. Did I mention that ‘green exercise’ also offers a range of health benefits? Just make sure you leave your headphones at home and keep the phone tucked away too, unless there is a scenery you can’t walk past without snapping a photo. Who knows, this could turn into a nice hobby?
Pick Up a Foraging Skill
As I mentioned above, picking wild raspberries and blackberries is one of the simplest, safest things – although you’d want to wash them before eating. But if you want to go further, there are companies that offer foraging courses. In Ireland, for example, I would love to try Wicklow Wild Foods Foraging Walks. They offer three different seasons of foraging and it’s bound to be an amazing experience. If you are located far from Wicklow, look what’s available in your area, or even have a chat with local farmers – they may know a trick or two.
Depending on your level of comfort with nature, camping may sound like the best or the craziest idea, or maybe both. But believe me – someone who is not a camper and loves her comfort – my two camping trips to Altai mountains in Russia were an unforgettable experience with the most beautiful memories. No nature walk or trip to the beach will make you feel as connected to nature as when you are camping. The time we went camping, we stayed on the shore of Katun River, a fast, bubbling, ice-cold mountain river, with the mountains us on both sides. We made campfire and roasted foods, told stories, played guitar and sang all the songs we knew. We slept in a tiny camping tent, it even rained one night – the memories of that pitter-patter of the raindrops on the roof of the tent makes my heart skip a beat. I could go on for hours… If you are not fully convinced, try glamping first. But here’s a trick – if you have never camped before get someone who is a seasoned camper on board with you. They’ll get your back. In the worst case scenario, get a tent and camp in your garden!
When you are out and about, be mindful. I don’t just mean being mindful about your footprint, I mean pay attention. Do not just hear the sounds around you but listen. Do not just look, but observe. There is so much going on! A quiet morning in a garden or in a field may not be all that quiet after all! Let me tell you a story how I once thought I would read a book while getting some sun tan at 10 am on a roasting summer morning. I went out, laid my blanket and settled with a book. As I lay there in the quietude I realised that the garden, in fact, was not quiet. I could hear a donkey in a distant field. Around me was a gentle rustling of the leaves in a breeze. There was an orchestra of bees and flies and whatnot! I watched a seagull float in the bright blue sky. But the most amazing thing was the blackbirds. They came into my garden to look for worms and didn’t notice me because I was so still – they must have taken me as part of the garden furniture! They were so at home, hopping a few feet away from me, chirping, working. They weren’t afraid at all. Now, this was just one morning in my garden. Imagine how much more is going on in parks or nature trails!
If you want to take your mindfulness one step further, try meditating in nature. How about under a tree?
Practice yoga outdoors
Practicing yoga outdoors is an excellent way to connect with the nature. It can also be very grounding. Try picking a nice, quiet nature-esque spot in a forest clearing, by a lake or a river, or even in a local park. If you are not a complete beginner, try practicing without any guidance – forget the apps, YouTube videos and such. Trust your body, trust the moment and let the movement flow. Listen to the sounds around you, feel the sunshine and the breeze on your skin. This may turn out be the best practice you’ve ever had. And if you’re not that into yoga, try a different form of exercise but make sure you are keeping it mindful.
In the Western world we forgot how to walk barefoot. We perceive the ground as dirty, full of germs. But while it may be true to an extent (I wouldn’t walk barefoot in the urban areas or on the roads), stepping onto the grass barefoot on a warm summer day may be a completely liberating and transformative experience. The bacteria that may be in the soil is not likely to bring you any harm at all. In fact, exposure to these natural bacteria can help strengthen your immune system. Research also shows that ‘grounding‘ can have numerous health benefits, reduced stress levels, including improved sleep and cardiovascular health, and protect against various chronic diseases. This is a truly great way to connect with nature. But if you’re unsure where to start, you can always start small in your garden.
In Your Home or Garden
Watch the stars
As we are slowly but steadily moving into the summer, the starry skies become a more frequent occurrence. I think there’s nothing more romantic than sitting in your garden, wrapped in a blanket, maybe with a mug of tea, and watching the stars. But beside romance, watching the stars is the very activity that connect you not only with the nature but with the entire universe. In a way, it is a truly magical experience, especially during the meteor showers (Perseid meteor showers in august are the most spectacular!). You can do this from the comfort of your garden or even your balcony, but also while on a camping trip. Or while camping in your back garden.
Start a garden
Growing plants is a very rewarding experience, especially when you can harvest and cook something you have grown with your own hands. The act of growing plants, be it food or flowers, will definitely bring you closer to the nature and will help to restore the lost connection. You can always take it further by using them in the kitchen, or learning how to arrange your flowers. Let your creativity flow.
Make fresh food from scratch
No matter whether home-grown or store-bought, try making your meals from scratch using the fresh, preferably organic ingredients. Learning about where your food comes from can play well both for your connection with the nature and for your health as better quality ingredients will provide more essential nutrients.
Get a bird feeder
Get a bird feeder and place it in your garden, on your balcony or even outside your window. Then watch your garden come alive! A few years ago, we placed a bird feeder in our then-boring, uneventful garden and oh glory! One bird came first and must have told the other, then more birds came. Soon enough out garden was exploded with the bird singing and gentle flapping of the tiny wings. They had their own schedule at which different species of birds seemed to have been coming for dinner! Even in winter the garden was still relatively full of birds, as they have little food in winter and we kept our feeder full of peanuts every day.
Pick up a course to learn about environment or nature
What would you like to learn about the nature? There is so much choice! You could learn about the environment, ecosystems, biology, marine biology, oceanography, botany, astronomy, geology and many more! You could learn about sustainable living or conservation – something that is on the rise right now and much-much needed. I found that when I was studying a course in herbal medicines, it woke my interest in nature. I wanted to spend more time outdoors, looking at plants, identifying them. And now I want to learn even more. I am especially interested in ecology and sustainability. Luckily, there is a lot of these courses available online, often at a discounted price. What course would you choose?
I hope this post inspires you a little or a lot to get outside more often and enjoy it more mindfully than you did before. Or maybe you are an outdoors expert already and have some tips of your own? Please leave a comment where you’re at in your relationship with Mother Nature.