Connecting to Health through Time Outdoors
In many ways, getting out of the studio and into nature during the Covid-19 pandemic have unintentionally deepened our yoga practice, our connections to each other, and our connections to the earth. As a naturopathic doctor, there a number of benefits I see that relate to spending more time outdoors in nature.
Moving beyond Walls
Without our usual cozy yoga studios to house our mindfulness practices, we have moved outside and connected to each other (our quarantine crew or our family) and to the earth by finding creative ways to practice yoga and meditation. No doubt we all had our share of Zoom classes and YouTube “stress reduction meditation” during our multiple lock downs. But as our need to heal our eyes from screens, our minds from worry, and our bodies from staying inside constantly, we are being drawn to nature.
Om Outside The Home
Families living under one roof have at times in the past 12 months felt like guinea pigs in a lab. People have been moving within a confined space for much longer than usual, with rules about when and how to leave if at all.
Through our resiliency we have found unique ways to play, to learn, and to work. In doing so, we have deepened our family roots. Yet when we safely emerge to a spot on the beach or travel to a desert to be together without masks, we unexpectedly feel like we have returned home. We have returned home to ourselves. We have been moved to practice in nature and in doing so reconnected to the earth and to our families.
“Pandemic-related stress has made girls in our Girl Powerful program feel confined to their rooms and lonely. What the girls can control in their lives and what they can do to feel good (mind, body, soul) has been our most frequent conversation. We encourage girls to take action and create a safe space outdoors to unplug and connect with nature. This helps youth think clearly, feel free and alive and hit their inner reset button.” –Sonya Serge, Co-founder of Girl Powerful
Vitamin Sea and Theta Therapy
Being near the ocean and other large bodies of water can actually have a medical effect–and science explains some of the reasons why. According to marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols, author of the Blue Mind, just being near the water engages relaxation. Research backs this up by showing that being near the water reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. And we experience an increase in Theta waves in our brains (which also occurs during meditation or falling asleep). Our nervous systems lean more toward a parasympathetic state (rest and digest) instead of the sympathetic state that has become the “new normal” in today’s world. (In the sympathetic nervous system state, the body shuts down or slows proper digestion, while our pulse, blood pressure, and cortisol levels all rise since the body thinks we are running from a bear…or a virus).
Negative ions flow from the ocean to our bare feet and into our lungs, circulating in our blood and gently reminding our brain and our gastrointestinal tract to increase serotonin production. Serotonin strengthens our motivation and improves our mood.
Vitamin D and Time Outdoors
Most of us have required supplementation with this crucial vitamin (it is actually a hormone). We need our Vitamin D levels to be high enough to support bone density, mood regulation, and hormone health. When we spend daily time outside without sunscreen (while avoiding the damaging midday UV rays) for about 15 minutes, the sunlight helps us to absorb Vitamin D through our skin. For supplementation, keep in mind that Vitamin D must travel through the liver and kidney to be activated, so it is important to do what we can to maintain organ health.
Hydrotherapy: Heat and Cold
Switching between warm/hot and extreme cold water as a formal therapy has a long history of use, thousands of years in fact, throughout the world. It arrived in the United States in the late 1800s. Hydrotherapy is used to reduce pain and anxiety. It can reset the mind, metabolism, and nervous system. The practice is to go from warmth to cold quickly (and always ending on cold). The alternation in temperature reduces inflammation and supports detoxification by changing flow of blood in the body’s small vessels. It also stimulates nerve endings. As Wim Hof, also known as the Iceman explains, “We have become alienated from nature. But the cold is capable of bringing us back to what we once had lost.”
Earthing and Time Outdoors
By practicing yoga directly connected to nature instead of through a studio floor allows us to experience another layer of healing and connection. Feeling the sand or dirt under our feet brings us a sense of deep grounding and connection. Moving and balancing on the uneven natural floor of nature challenges us to stay present and movable in our flow. From the book, Earthing, The Most Important Health Discovery Ever! Ober, Sinatra, and Zucker explain, “ Contact with the earth restores your body’s natural electrical state.”
Mother Nature inspires and informs the practice of Yoga. We bow to the luminaries, we fill our lungs with oxygen, and we connect to the earth. In this way we remember that we are not separate from nature, we are very much a part of her.
– Desi Bartlett
We all need to let go, laugh, and have a bit of fun with our yoga practice. Try creating new postures inspired by nature and animals. Can you make the shape of a wave, a cactus, or a mouse? Teaching each other, getting creative, and playing is good for our mental health. In fact, research strongly shows a correlation between laughter and increased dopamine levels.
May we remember the depth and creativity we have found by practicing in nature so that we can come to the earth more often and know that she supports us. Grab your round mat or just your bare feet and reconnect to yourself and heal by spending time outdoors and practicing outside in nature.
Dr. Natiya Guin is a family medicine doctor and safe skin leader who enjoys healing skin from within, increasing client self-confidence, and magnifying whole person health outcomes. Deep Living Skincare by Dr. Natiya
Her vegan, organic line by Deep Living is founded on the belief that skincare should not only be healing, it should be safe. Her products are designed for all ages and are designed to be shared with the whole family.
Photos in article and meditation by Dr. Natiya Guin
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Dr Natiya is an amazing naturopathic doctor, who will guide and nurture you in discovering health, expressing your creativity and support you in seeing your magnificence. -Dr. Moira Fitzpatrick