How Nature Heals

May 23, 2023


Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.” Walt Whitman

Even if you don’t consider yourself a ‘nature-person’, being amidst trees, watching the ocean, strolling through a park, really, being in any natural environs, can give you a sense of ease like nothing else. And there’s good reason for this.

In his article How Nature Helps Us Heal, family doctor Leif Hass, asserts “since we evolved in nature, our senses and body rhythms are best suited for that environment”. According to biologist E. O. Wilson, known for developing the field of sociobiology, there is an “innate emotional affiliation with other living organisms” that creates a sense of calm and comfort. That is to say, the sights, sounds, and smells of nature are deeply, evolutionarily, familiar to us. Good news, as that means we always have a healer at hand!

And of course, nature is a place free of triggers and free of demands. While sitting by the water, or walking through the woods, we have no emails to answer, no calls to return. Nothing to do but just ‘be’. And what a relief that is.

And there’s a good bit of research supporting nature as a healer too.

According to the Yale School of the Environment, studies have shown that time in nature is not only an antidote for stress, it can also lower blood pressure, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, reduce anxiety, improve mood, and lessen the symptoms of ADHD in children. Not too shabby!

Forest Bathing

The Japanese have long recognized the healing power of nature. Case in point, in the 1980s, the Forest Agency of Japan began recommending that people take walks in the woods to improve their health, eventually incorporating it into the country’s health program. This push began both to counter the effects of tech overload and to encourage citizens to reconnect with, and protect the country’s forests. And it worked! (PROOF?)

It was then that the term Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing, was coined by the head of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, Tomohide Akiyama.

The Power of Awe

Nature gives us something else as well. Something most of us don’t think much about: Awe.


Awe is the experience we have when in the presence of something that stuns and amazes us. Awe holds us in an exalted state as it challenges our understanding of the world. It’s a feeling we often have when encountering the beauty and mystery of the natural world, whether gazing up at the infinite-seeming expanse of stars in the night sky or looking out from the top of a mountain. But awe is not just reserved for the big ‘wow’s’; awe can emerge anytime we are drawn into a state of complete awareness. I can’t count how many times I’ve been held captive simply by the movement of a body of water.


According to Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, awe can has positive effects beyond the immediate as well. As it helps to distract us away from our daily stressors, we shift our focus from self, to the larger world in which we’re immersed, thus creating in us a greater generosity of spirit.

An added bonus

Further, it was discovered by researcher Dr. Qing Li, a professor at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, that “trees and plants emit aromatic compounds called phytoncides that, when inhaled, can spur healthy biological changes.” In his studies, Li showed that when people spend time in forests, they often exhibit changes in the blood that are associated with protection against cancer, better immunity and lower blood pressure. So, if the smell of the woods has always had an effect on you, now you know why! 

What a nature Rx looks like

Dr Qing Li president of the Society for Forest Medicine in Japan, and the author of Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing, offers a recommendation for walking in the woods that gives you the true benefits of nature:

“Make sure you have left your phone and camera behind. You are going to be walking aimlessly and slowly. You don’t need any devices. Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose. And take your time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere. You are savouring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in.”

Of course, the woods aren’t your only nature-boost option; there’s ample evidence that you can get a range of benefits from any of the following:

·  time spent gazing out the window at trees

·  playing nature sounds over headphones

·  having house plants in your home and office

·  taking breaks for a walk anywhere you can see some greenery

·  using a diffuser with woodsy scents (think pine, cedar, cypress)

And believe it or not, watching nature videos has been shown to have similarly beneficial effects. Even simply viewing Planet Earth for five minutes led participants in one study to report feeling like they were a part of something larger than themselves, and that their concerns were less significant.


With all that nature has to offer, consider incorporating a little ‘green time’ into your life; you will surely be glad you did!

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