Have you ever noticed how, when you’re outdoors immersed in the natural world, you feel energised and invigorated? This relationship with nature is vital to our wellbeing as our modern lifestyles draw us further and further away from it.
Spending time in the garden is one of the easiest ways to connect with nature, especially as getting your hands in the soil establishes a physical link with it. There are a number of reasons this relationship energises us. One of these is that we’re moving our bodies – gardening is a physical activity that strengthens and stretches our muscles and can even get our heart rate up if we’re digging or doing something particularly energetic. Even weeding requires movement and strength. Getting outdoors into the fresh air also helps oxygenate our bodies and gives us a break from the many indoor air pollutants.
According to University of California at Berkeley professor Clare Cooper Marcus, who is also one of the founders of the field of environmental psychology, time in nature is both calming and stress-reducing. She says that one of the reasons for this is that it puts the mind into a state similar to that of meditation. When we engage with nature, we naturally stop thinking, obsessing and worrying; our senses are awakened, which brings us into the present moment, and this has been shown to be very effective at calming and relaxing us.
There’s also a growing body of evidence showing the beneficial impact of grounding. A 2015 study found that grounding, or ‘earthing’ ourselves by having our hands or feet in the soil, can help reduce a number of common health conditions such as inflammation, pain, and stress. In 2007, a neuroscientist also discovered that certain strains of soil-borne bacteria dramatically stimulated the human immune system and that exposure to soil bacteria was a significant factor in developing strong immunity.
Another scholar praising nature as the key to health and wellbeing is Harvard naturalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson, who came up with the term biophilia, or love of living things. Wilson believes that we have an affinity with nature because we are part of it, and instinctively prefer the beauty of fields and flowers over concrete and steel. As an integral part of the natural world, our senses and responses are attuned to it.
Spending time in the garden helps us to renew our kinship with the cycles of nature; the natural rhythms which many of us have become so distant from. As an activity that dates back to the beginning of time, there’s an innate sense of reconnecting with our primal selves when we’re in this space. It really is the antithesis, and antidote, to the digitally dominated lives so many of us live now. In our modern societies, we don’t question our sterile, man-made environments – it’s easy to forget that as living organisms, we have evolved and adapted over thousands of years to function best in nature. It is our source and sustenance.
After taking time out overseas last year and stepping out of our fast-paced lives, coming back and reintegrating felt overwhelming. For us, having rhythms in our life that help us to slow down are key to not getting burnt out. Spending time in our garden helps us to slow down and to be in the moment, it’s a place where we don’t have to watch the clock or rush to the next thing, and we come away feeling energised and recharged. There’s an element to this connection that is a sort of solace from our busy lives: the garden is a place to revive and reset, to reflect and to restore ourselves. It serves as a place where we can be receptive to the beauty of nature and take the time to consider and learn from its gentle pace.