Tip of the Week: Connect with Nature

This week’s tip: Get outside and connect with nature. 

When I asked Dionísio, our Azorean tour guide, how he felt about nature, he didn’t hesitate for a moment. He immediately began describing the calming energy that we get from being outside and how important it is to stop and connect with nature to rejuvenate. “In nature, everything is very simple and pure. We are here walking, you know, listening to the water on one side, the birds singing on the other side, the wind sometimes on the leaves on the top, so you just… get back to zero root.”

I love that. Zero root. Nowadays, it can be so easy to get caught up in the digital world. Living in a city, when I take public transportation, it’s always the same thing: gazes cast down, eyelids flicking from left to right, fingers swiping up and down on smartphones. Many of us spend at least 8 hours a day on our computers — eyes glazed, focusing on the artificial light two feet in front of us. How can we find that natural balance? How can we get back to zero root?

For every 5 minutes we spend inside and absentmindedly preoccupied with technology, I think we should spend 5 minutes outside, staring absentmindedly at the clouds, letting their dances paint stories in our imaginations.

Just in case you aren’t already feeling inspired to get back to zero root, here are 4 reasons why connecting with nature is important for our health and happiness:

  1. Natural sunlight helps us reset. It gives us necessary vitamin D (important for immune function and calcium absorption!), helps regulate our circadian rhythms for better sleep, and can increase serotonin levels.
  2. Being outside rejuvenates our energy. Whether I am outside exercising (like the 9-mile hike I took today!) or simply connecting and grounding with the earth, being outside always lifts my energy levels and reduces stress. Research proves that walking in nature strengthens our immune systems AND our muscles.
  3. Nature restores our focus and improves our cognitive abilities. When we are outside, we are away from the over-stimulation and incessant multi-tasking that digital devices constantly impose on us. We are away from the noise of machinery, free from the distractions of technology. In nature, we can fully appreciate our senses and live mindfully in the moment.
  4. Nature inspires awe and gratitude. When you see the sun and the moon, when you smell flowers and fresh air, when you hear the wind and the waves… how can you not feel blessed and awe-struck? Research shows that feeling awe can have a profound affect on our happiness.

Today, my friend Katie and I hiked around Lagoa do Fogo (Fire Lagoon), one of the three famous crater lakes on São Miguel. We were led by Dionísio of Azores Adventure Islands, and the day was nothing less than perfect. Having been recently stuck inside for many days with pneumonia, and then battling the sub-freezing temperatures of Boston for a few days before flying to the Azores, I was in desperate need of connecting with nature.

I feel so much better today. To soak up the sun infused me with warmth and lifted my spirit. To hike up a luscious green mountain and around a gorgeous blue lake filled me with awe, energy and focus. To smell the many flowers, ginger root, fresh air, and even the happy cows brought me joy. To watch the rippling waves of the lake and the soft fog upon the endless horizon brought me calm. To listen to the wind rustling through the trees, the crunch of our footsteps along the path, and the call of the seagulls above (and sometimes below!) brought me peace.

I have three strong recommendations to conclude this post:

  • The first, for those who are feeling a little adventurous, is to buy this Groupon (the offer expires later today — time for some spontaneity!), fly your butt to the Azores, and get on the next tour with Dionísio.
  • The second, for those who might not be able to book a vacation on a dime, is to turn off your phone or computer and get outside and connect a little bit with nature. Even the glitter of snow, the brisk winter air, and a glimmer of sunshine does the trick.
  • The third, for those who may not be able to brave the cold (I understand — but don’t underestimate the power of layering!) is to just check out these gorgeous photos I took today and spend some time enjoying nature vicariously. Some research reveals that works, too!

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