There are many examples of nature in art, even if we take the word to an extremely narrow margin and only include wildlife and plants, the plethora of work these things have inspired is huge. When we set a scene, we can often begin with the natural surroundings, and talk about the natural feelings people are expressing. Nature provides endless metaphor in the way its processes and behaviour find similarities with our own, or show how we can do things better. Artists and creators often find benefit in being outside and exposing the mind and body to fresh air, sounds of the outdoors, and all of the colours and shapes that shift as we pass. It's almost an old-wife's tale that natural surroundings help us to be more creative. We recommend it as therapy and for respite, we instinctively know of its spirit-charging quality that we can all draw on. The Japanese even have a word for it, Shinrin-yoku, meaning forest bathing.
There is in fact good science behind this phenomenon. Studies have shown various positive benefits to the body and mind associated with spending time in a natural environment. For those of us who live in the city, getting out of the artificial environment and and into the local wild-spots can be really great especially if we need to remain collected, fresh thinking, and at rest on the inside.
“ "Nature" is what we see
"Nature" is what we see--
The Hill—the Afternoon--
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee--
Nay—Nature is Heaven--
Nature is what we hear--
The Bobolink—the Sea--
Nay—Nature is Harmony--
Nature is what we know--
Yet have no art to say--
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity. ”
The Japanese conducted experiments recently in which they invited people to walk in natural and in urban environments. These were equal in length and difficulty. The blood pressure, heart rate, and personal mood were taken before and after the walks. In the experiment, those who walked in nature showed a significantly lower stress level than before the walk. Those who were on urban walks reported anxiety and stress and did not show as much physical improvement. A Finnish study was conducted in a similar way and showed that city residents had decreased stress levels if they went walking in a local park or wood for twenty minutes each day. This again was in comparison to walking in urban settings.
A study undertaken at Stanford University showed that if subjects walked in nature for less than an hour, their cognitive abilities improved. By clearing mental fog and putting a stop to clingy thoughts, the assessment demonstrated that the natural environment can help people become more cognitively able. Rumination is the act of thinking deeply about things. Although helpful if we consciously avoid negative or harmful avenues, if unchecked it can result in lingering depressive thoughts. We can ruminate on upsetting ideas and end up making ourselves unwell. The same Stanford study extended its criteria to determine whether nature walking could help us to cease rumination and depression. In this second study, the part of the brain whose inactivity is a sign of clinical depression (called the subgenual prefrontal cortex) was shown to have increased activity.
Problem solving requires creative thinking. We have to be able to see the answer when it is at first occulted from us. Doing this requires significant attention and high level thought processes. When we're surrounded by technology, our attention is often diverted to all manner of sources. With phones, televisions, radios, books, and magazines, we're likely to be only giving a fraction of our concentration to a particular problem. Being outside for significant periods of time has shown to completely undo this side-effect of our media-gluttony. A study was able to demonstrate that a group of people increased their problem solving skills significantly after spending a few days out hiking.
With all the data adding up to one clear answer, getting out and about in the natural world does and will improve your mind and mood. You'll be healthier and more aware for each step taken in nature. This means that there is yet another reason to look after our environment. Disposing of waste responsibly is really important. If we can recycle something then it's always worth doing that. Be careful with nature and it will reward us with its vast riches and diversity for as long as we live in harmony with it.
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