May 2011

Posted by Michael G. Duhaney on 15 May 2011 | 0 Comments

Expressions by Jane Harrison

Nature's Gift

Feeling a tad philosophical today...I have been in deep thought since driving home from work. A fellow being interviewed on CBC radio paraphrased a quote by Henry David Thoreau: "the measure of a man (person) is not how much he has, but how much he can live without." I thought to myself - this is the perfect quote to describe how I want to live a simple and self-sustaining lifestyle in three years time when I retire to my country farmhouse in Prince Edward Island.

I am going to challenge myself to see how much I can live without while I reap the benefits of living in a home surrounded by fields and forest.

I've been sitting in front of my computer for awhile reading up on Thoreau, about whom I had limited knowledge. He felt that the closer one lived to nature the more simple and "spiritual" one's life became. I tend to agree with that also - perhaps that makes me a transcendentalist? I don't know but what I do know is that being out in nature on a regular basis has been both a spiritual AND life-saving practice for me. Does that seem like an exaggeration? Well, read on....

I've always known that going for a hike in the woods, or walking along a beach, weeding in my garden, biking down a country road or falling asleep in my hammock at the trailer while listening to the doves crooning makes me feel better - happier, relaxed, calm, peaceful, less stressed.

A week ago I heard another snippet of a CBC interview related to this topic which completely piqued my interest. I jotted down the name of the fellow being interviewed (Psychologist Marc Berman) and later looked him up on the internet. It seems that the theory that spending time in natural surroundings can be calming is no longer a theory - it is a proven fact.

It has been proven that living in an urban environment takes a toll on our brains:
"Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control." If you'd like to read the whole article - How the City Hurts Your Brain - The Boston Globe.

In the city our minds are always being vigilant - there are so many things to pay attention to - distractions like cell phones, dangers such as speeding cars, noise, smells, traffic lights - it's a continual assault on our prefrontal cortex. This tires our brain and we can no longer focus very well. This part of our brain also controls our ability to resist temptations (our ability to control our impulses) so when our brains are zapped we are far more likely to make purchases that we don't need and eat food that isn't good for us (drink alcohol, consume drugs, smoke) which can lead to addiction, over-spending and being overweight.

This explains why, at the end of a school day during which I've been on high alert with all my spidey senses tingling for six and a half hours, I am utterly exhausted and want to eat everything in sight!

Is there a cure? Yes there is. It's very simple. Give yourself a frequent (daily would be best) nature break and if you can't get outside to a park then look at nature photography like the ones I've included in this post. The real thing works best but it has been proven that simply looking at photos is beneficial.

It's been proven that patients in hospital who can see trees and the sky from their windows recover more quickly than patients who can only see a brick wall. Amazing, no? There have been many studies completed and they all show a huge positive impact from simply having access to nature.

Being able to get away on weekends to my trailer helped me get through the breakdown of my marriage. Hiking and biking out in the country has also been therapeutic and my habit of recording these treks with my camera means I can relive those experiences over and over again.

Thank goodness for trees and flowers and soft billowy clouds - without them I'd probably weigh twice what I do now, I'd still smoke and I'd be drinking a bottle of red every day after school!!

I have found several you tube nature videos that I am going to look at on my lunch, or I'll go outside for a walk, sit under a tree and listen to the birds. I'll see if that helps me be more focussed in the afternoon and if it helps curb my appetite once the school bell goes at 2:10pm. I already know it works - it just needs to be part of EACH and EVERY day.

As Thoreau stated: "In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to society." All of that from a simple walk.

Jane Harrison is a teacher and blogger