Last updated May 3, 2021
By Charlene Gisele, former top London litigation lawyer turned professional biohacker, Corporate Wellness Consultant and health coach.
The importance of nature for our well-being is slowly starting to be realized, both in our intuition and within the scientific and medical community.
Intuitively, when we are stressed or want a break, we want to get away from it all and go on holiday—to a place of greater beauty, a place more in touch with nature.
There is a truth we seek in nature that it can reconnect us, it can fix broken or blocked connections throughout our mind, body and spirit.
There is a growing body of evidence in the scientific and medical community to support the importance of nature immersions’ therapeutic effects for many conditions.
So long as people feel safe, immersing themselves in nature is an antidote for stress; it can lower blood pressure, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood.
Even studies show people heal faster in hospitals when their bed is next to a window as opposed to those whose beds are not. We need nature to heal and thrive!
As most of us become ever more immersed and part of the urban century, there is a counter awakening underway to the value of nature immersion and the risks and costs to our well-being if we lose it.
We may not all be able to escape into nature as often as we wish, but it is possible to practice nature immersion, paired with the urban adaptation, so you can still enjoy the benefits.
Forest bathing is a simple and powerful restorative practice. All you need to do is find a forest! It doesn’t need to be a grand one – a local, small forest or wood would be perfect.
The power of forest bathing is being present, so make sure to turn off your phone and remove any technology that has you connected to the modern world. We need to disconnect to reconnect.
Breathe through your nose and deep into your belly—the best cue to remember is to smell the forest. We want to reignite our ancestral senses: how does the forest smell, how does it make you feel, what colors can you see, what wildlife can you hear?
Close your eyes so you can listen more deeply or keep them open so you can take in all the colors nature has to offer. If you’re after deep relaxation, try looking out for different shades of green and blue, as these are the most calming colors in nature.
When trying to build a new well-being habit, start small and slowly build up. So you might only be able to manage 15 – 30 minutes initially, but work your way up to two hours or more when you feel ready.
Building a regular forest bathing session into your life is an extremely powerful immune system boosting practice. The forest gives off aerosols (Phytoncides) that, when inhaled, elevate our levels of Natural Killer NK cells—these are cells that fight infection and cancerous cells in our body.
If a forest isn’t within reach, try to replicate the benefits of forest bathing in your home with plant bathing instead. To do this, you need a houseplant; the bigger, the better! Then put on a playlist of natural soundscapes to help transport you into a simulated forest.
You can also use tree-based essential oils like cedar or pine to replicate the forest aerosols you would normally be breathing in while in a forest. Studies have found that tree-based essential oils can improve sleep and increase the amount of NK cells.
Plant bathing is about using your imagination to recreate the real-life forest bathing experience. Actively engaging your imagination will help you to disconnect from your day-to-day stresses and is a valid form of nature immersion.
Wild swimming is a form of full-body natural immersion and has two significant benefits to our well-being, the first being exercise and the second being cold water exposure.
Swimming is a fantastic form of exercise due to its low-impact nature and is excellent for those who may be recovering from injury or who suffer from joint pain. The cold exposure element provides many physiological and sensorial benefits, such as lowering inflammation, boosting brown fat and supporting the immune system.
At the sensorial level, when you enter cold water, your body awakens—the cold shocks your body to life and leaves you feeling euphoric due to having pushed yourself out of your comfort zone—it’s a positive form of stress!
If you can’t access a wild swimming spot or an outdoor pool for nature immersion, bring the power of wild swimming into your home with an ice bath or cold shower. For an ice bath, fill your tub with cold water and depending on how cold you want it, pour in between 3kg and 5kg of ice.
For first-timers, start with a three-minute immersion and work your way up to six or eight minutes. For cold showers, set the temperate to as cold as possible, starting with three minutes and working your way up to five.
Watching the Sunset as Nature Immersion
Our current state of working in front of screens all day is very new to us as a species. We evolved to be in natural light—our genetic make-up is molded by the cycle of natural light throughout the day.
The majority of physiological processes are controlled by our circadian rhythm and sleep pattern, and our exposure to light controls these. Thus, access to sunlight is crucial for our health, bodily systems and regulation—all these aspects are vital to our well-being.
These shifting colors stimulate the conversion of serotonin into the hormone melatonin, which is a precursor for sleep. When our circadian rhythm is optimized, our body is better primed to be in a positive mood.
Immersing yourself in the sunset is a powerful stimulus to turn on your parasympathetic nervous system, your rest and digest nervous system. This is the state we want to be in to relax, recover and repair our mind, body and spirit from the stresses of life.
Nature immersion is also a natural time to engage in mindfulness practice.
If you can’t immerse yourself in a natural sunset, you can simulate one with its calming and spiritual effects on the body by setting up a candle-gazing meditation in your home.
Choose a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed, turn off the lights and shut the blinds. In a sitting position, stare at the candle and allow it to be the main focus of your mind. Hold your eyes steady in the allure of the flame, even if you feel distracted or bored.
Your eyes may begin to water; just blink and return your attention to the flame. Just as a sunset has many colors, you can choose candles with specific colors to help influence your meditation and apply the same introspective practices you would when watching a sunset.