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How Spending Time in Nature Heals Us (Episode 34-39)

And Why We Should Be in Nature at Least 2 Hours Per Week

Benefits of being in nature

At current day, there are more people living in cities, than in rural areas (Williams, 2018). Research has shows that people in rural areas are generally happier than people in cities. I’m sure you recognize this too; when we’re outside, in nature, it all just feels calmer and more relaxed. When we are outside, in nature, our bodies unwind and automatically let go of tension. ‘When you walk out in nature, it’s like wearing rose-colored glasses. In nature, everything is a little more positive’ (Williams, 2018). ‘Tapping into the restorative powers of the natural world can boost mental acuity and creativity; promote health and wellness; build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities, and economies; and ultimately strengthen human bonds’ (Louv, 2012). When we’re in nature, our mood improves; we can let go of anger and stress; we become more active; our physical health improves, as well as our confidence. By now, there have been almost a thousand studies conducted on the benefits of nature. All these studies point in one direction, ‘Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function’ (Robbins, 2020). Thus, it is clear that spending time in nature has healing powers. Therefore, it is important for us to spend more time in natural surroundings. With this post, I hope to inspire you to do exactly that.


To learn more about the healing powers of nature, I have talked to someone who knows a lot about this from personal experience. Her name is Sara Schulting Kranz, and I have picked her brain about healing in nature and why we should do much more of this. After having dealt with her share of trauma, Sara learnt through her own experience how nature has helped her heal, cultivate compassion, and practice forgiveness. This inspired her to write a book about her experiences, titled ‘Walk Through This: Harness the Healing Power of Nature and Travel the Road to Forgiveness’. She also started a company offering nature retreats in amazing vast locations such as the Grand Canyon and Alaska.


Nature’s benefit on a cellular level

It is obvious that we benefit from time spent in nature. When we smell the fresh air, listen to, and watch the birds and other animals, while we feel the leaves crunch under our feet, we just become more grounded, more relaxed, and happier. ‘Your senses get a workout in nature, but your body is also experiencing and reacting below the surface in ways of which you aren’t even aware’ (Johnstone, 2019). Multiple studies have shown that being outside in nature boosts the NK cells in our body. ‘NK cells are best known for killing virally infected cells, and detecting and controlling early signs of cancer. As well as protecting against disease, specialized NK cells are also found in the placenta and may play an important role in pregnancy’ (Eissmann, 2022). ‘Japanese researchers have studied “forest bathing” — a poetic name for walking in the woods. They suspect aerosols from the forests, inhaled during a walk, are behind elevated levels of Natural Killer or NK cells in the immune system’ (Robbins, 2020). Thus, there are real benefits of spending time in nature, even at a cellular level. However, many of us are experiencing a lack of exposure to the benefits of nature.


Nature Deficit Disorder

Nature deficit disorder is the idea that human beings, and especially children, are spending less time outdoors now than in the pasts, and that this causes a range of behavioral disorders. This term was coined by Richard Louv ‘to serve as a description of the human costs of alienation from nature and it is not meant to be a medical diagnosis’ (Louv, 2019). In the last three decades, social and technological changes have accelerated the human disconnect from nature. Amongst other things, this is due to extensive electronic communication, poor urban planning, and the disappearance of green spaces, and a diminishing importance of nature in public and private education (Louv, 2019). Nature has been put into the backseat, and it’s not doing good for our wellbeing. As mentioned above, ‘[…] the number of studies on the impact of nature experience on human developed has grown from a handful to nearly one thousand. This expanding body of scientific evidence suggests that nature-deficit disorder contributes to a diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, conditions of obesity, and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses. Research also suggests that the nature-deficit weakens ecological literacy and stewardship of the natural world. These problems are linked more broadly to what health care experts call the “epidemic of inactivity,” and to a devaluing of independent play’ (Louv, 2019).


I’ve talked to Sara about the nature deficit disorder. As she stated, ‘If you’re having a problem leaving your phone at home when going somewhere, that speaks volumes’ (Schulting Kranz, 2022). I know I am guilty of this at times. Only when going out for my bike training or running practice, do I leave my phone at home. For some reason, then it doesn’t feel weird. However, I know that like me, many people are guilty of being overly attached to their phones and electronic means of communications as mentioned by Richard Louv. He is right. We need to get back into nature again. Without our phones, being present. This can be done without much complication; simply going outside and sitting down, taking in what happens in nature around is works miracles. It doesn’t have to be at the ocean or in the mountains as Sara explains. Simply going to the park, being outside, or even merely opening your window, while opening up your senses will make a big difference. Become receptive to all that is out there. ‘Go outside and simply sit. Go back to the breath, because the breath always brings us back to the present’ (Schulting Kranz, 2022). ‘Opening up your senses, that alone, is […] healing’ (Schulting Kranz, 2022). Doing so in nature even more.


Nature takes us out of our stories and into the present

We spend so much time in our heads and with the stories we tell about who we think or believe we are. We tell stories about who we are to ourselves, and to others. These stories are almost always entirely about the past. We make the mistake to attach these stories of the past to events in the present and the future, and by that we keep ourselves stuck. Being engulfed in the repetitive nature of these stories, it is difficult to break free or gain an outsider perspective and get out of our heads. ‘We’re a mindset society’ (Schulting Kranz, 2022). However, as Sara rightfully points out during our talk, there are certain things in life which we cannot mindset. For example, we cannot mindset healing, or forgiveness. These are ‘an experiential journey into self’ (Schulting Kranz, 2022).


Trauma is stored in our physical bodies (Van der Kolk, 2015). We can’t get rid of it by only focusing on what happens in our heads. As Sara explains, when we’re only staying ‘inside’ to deal with our trauma, through talk therapy without moving the body and aligning mind, heart, body and soul, trauma will be unable to become truly released. In this way, ‘[y]ou’ll actually stay in the mindset space. [Instead], walking, moving, getting out of our head and into our heart is so important for the healing process’ (Schulting Kranz, 2022). ‘What it does is it takes us back to our intuition’ (Schulting Kranz, 2022).


Trauma is stored in the body as tension and tightness. When we are in nature, walking, moving repetitively, almost meditatively, we can become free of this tension and tightness. Nature helps us get out of our head and out of the stories we tell ourselves and others. Nature moves through us and helps us feel and experience differently. Nature brings us into the present moment. Sara shared her experiences far out onto the Pacific Ocean, while on the peddle board. There, she spent time with the dolphins and whales. Through these encounters, she was connecting with the universe, with nature, with something so much greater than herself (Schulting Kranz, 2022). Those experiences helped her put things into perspective. It helped her realize that the meaning of life is not to sit in crap while feeling depressed. Instead, it is about facing what’s ahead and being present in the here and now (Schulting Kranz, 2022). Being in nature brings us in the present. Being present brings us to ourselves. At times, this can be very confronting. For this reason, we might even unconsciously evade being in nature (by ourselves) because it almost forces us to look within. Sara writes in her book, ‘I’ve learned through my own trauma recovery that we must go deep within ourselves and sit with who we are, in order to climb out of our pain and transform’ (Schulting Kranz, 2020). I really like this and can relate to it very much. Once we can face our full self, we can face anything. Doing so while spending time in nature amplifies and aids the experience.


Nature humbles us

Being in nature can be a very humbling experience. We tend to sit in a lot of ego when it comes to the problems we face. We sit in anger. When we then spend time in nature, it humbles us and dissolves our ego, our importance, and the basis for our anger. It’s so easy to get stuck in the fear, in the anxiety, and in all the things that keep us tensed up. When we venture into nature, or take time to appreciate its miracles or vastness, that fear and anxiety subsides. During our talk, Sara shared the experience of encountering a whale, four miles out from the coast on the Pacific Ocean. Although she had peddled out onto the ocean with a head full of thoughts and concerns, that encounter made it all dissolve. It was only her and this enormous mammal. They connected, and she was humbled by this creature’s presence. I too have had a similar experience when snorkeling once in Malaysia. While being trailed at distance by a small boat, I was able to swim together with a very large turtle for almost an hour. We connected and acknowledged each other. Seeing this majestic creature and being a guest in its vast habitat made me feel small, and in awe of its resilience, grace, and wonder. When we stop and see nature’s miracles for what they are, all we can truly be is humbled. In those moments, our problems and concerns simply lose their grip on us. All we can do then, is just be.


Healing trauma through nature

In her life, Sara has dealt with her share of trauma, including sexual assault and relational and betrayal traumas. In order to deal with her traumas, Sara unconsciously started to spend a lot of time outdoors, in nature. She used the outside space for her healing process. She ran ultramarathons, climbed mountains, and paddle boarded onto the Pacific Ocean many times over, gradually releasing her fear and anger (Schulting Kranz, 2020). What she realized during this time, was that she was the most important person to believe in herself. As she stated during our talk, ‘the first person that needs to believe in you, is you’ (Schulting Kranz, 2022). By being in nature, humbled by its magnificence, our problems, fears, and anger lose grounding. They lose significance when we really take in the vastness of the natural world around us. Instead, we can find inspiration and newfound energy to continue forward and face our obstacles and problems head on. At age 17, Sara had leant from her mother that when experiencing trauma or hardship, one needs to walk through this; to continue moving forward, walking through your trauma holding your head high (Schulting Kranz, 2022). ‘Things happen to all of us. We all have trauma, and things we need to walk through’ (Schulting Kranz, 2022). What happens to us offers opportunities for growth. In her book, she writes, ‘[l]ife is happening for you, not against you’ (Schulting Kranz, 2020). I really like this perspective, as it is empowering and puts us in the driver’s seat. Being in nature helps us with overcoming traumas, as it helps bring us back to the here and now, the present.


During our talk, I asked Sara what the essence for her of this process of healing in nature is. She had to laugh, as she had asked this question to the universe while out on a paddle board on the Pacific Ocean. What came to here were the following three words:

  1. Truth. Always speak your truth. Know your truth, believe your truth, and get into your truth. This is the hallmark of who you are. Our truth obviously can be very different from someone else’s truth, and it good to be mindful of this fact. According to Sara, we need to know our truth, understand it, and stand in it; really get to the essence of it. We need to embrace it, as it is who we are;

  2. Inspiration. Finding inspiration is what gets us out of our head. It’s the awe, the wonder, and the joy. Sara recommends actively finding moments of inspiration every day, creatively. One way of doing this is creatively looking at our lives and asking ourselves how we want to live it. Bringing that to reality will instill inspiration and energy for change;

  3. Hope. Hope is an internal space, an internal flame that needs to be fed every day. It’s nothing external at all. Thus, we need to look inside to find hope, instead of outwards. Hope is the fuel for achieving anything. It is our task to find it.

When we spend time with ourselves in nature, we can find all three. We can find truth, within ourselves, inspiration, from the natural surrounding around us, and hope within us. When we are present in nature, we can become present to ourselves. Especially when we have vast spaces and distant horizons, it always becomes still, inside of me.


Two hours per week

Most of us, I think, know at least intuitively that it’s good to be in nature. As Sara has shown through her own experience, and in her work with others, healing takes place when we spend time in nature. A study of 20,000 people, published in 2019 and led by Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces, parks, or other green and natural environments were substantially more likely to experience good health and well-being as compared with those who didn’t. This could be two hours at once, or spaced out over multiple visits to nature (White, Alcock, and Grellier, Et. Al., 2019). Interestingly, the study showed no benefits for people who didn’t meet the two hour per week threshold. Thus, in order to increase our health and psychological well-being, we need to spend at least 120 minutes per week in nature. That’s just over 15 minutes per day. If we do this walking around, we’re also benefiting from the movement involved. Double win! Either way, whether walking, or sitting still in awe of ones natural surroundings, we’d all do good by making time for nature, and thereby for ourselves. Will you join me, 2 hours a week?


Image: Trap Pond State Park, Chesapeake Bay, United States. Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program. Taken from ChesapeakeBay.net.


 

Interview


From personal experience, I know the power of spending time in nature. It results in an inevitable recharge and reset. Nature, without question, has healing powers if you ask me. To learn more about this process, I have talked to someone who knows a lot about this process. Her name is Sara Schulting Kranz, and I have picked her brain about healing in nature and some why we should do much more of this.


After having dealt with her share of trauma, Sara learnt through her own experience how nature has helped her heal, cultivate compassion, and practice forgiveness. This inspired her to write a book about it, titled ‘Walk Through This: Harness the Healing Power of Nature and Travel the Road to Forgiveness’. She also started a company offering nature retreats in amazing vast locations such as the Grand Canyon and Alaska.


It was both fun and inspiring to talk to Sara, and I’m sure this will be true for you listening/watching too! Enjoy!



Personal website of Sara Schulting Kranz: https://www.saraschultingkranz.com




 

Sources


Eissmann, Philipp, 2022, Natural Killer Cells. British Society for Immunology. https://www.immunology.org/public-information/bitesized-immunology/cells/natural-killer-cells, accessed on 17 April 2022.


Johnstone, Caitlyn, 2019, Nature Rx: The science behind nature's effect on the human body. Chesapeake Bay Program. https://www.chesapeakebay.net/news/blog/nature_rx, accessed on 17 April 2022.


Kolk, van der, Bessel, 2015, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. https://amzn.to/3KRUniI


Louv, Richard, 2012, The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder. https://amzn.to/3rwIXJH


Louv, Richard, 2019, What is Nature-Deficit Disorder? http://richardlouv.com/blog/what-is-nature-deficit-disorder, accessed on 17 April 2022.


Robbins, Jim, 2020, Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health. Yale Environment 360. https://e360.yale.edu/features/ecopsychology-how-immersion-in-nature-benefits-your-health, accessed on 16 April 2022.


Schulting Kranz, Sara, 2020, Walk Through This: Harness the Healing Power of Nature and Travel the Road to Forgiveness. https://amzn.to/38LVjXC


White, M.P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J. et al., 2019, Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Sci Rep 9, 7730. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3


Williams, Florence, 2018, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.https://amzn.to/3OdtZSB

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