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Connecting with nature

From the tinkling sounds of a stream, to the song of the wind and the feel of the soft, springy earth beneath your feet as you walk through a centuries-old forest, the sight of a thundering waterfall or the silence at the top of a mountain, man has taken solace from connecting with nature for centuries.

© Christopher List Photography

Even the most hardened city girl will admit to a feeling of wonder as she sees the sun go down in a kaleidoscope of colour that is never once the same. Unfortunately, in today’s world we spend most of our time indoors - a fact which has dramatically impacted our health and that of our families.

A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 8-18 year olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media over a typical day in a school year (more than 53 hours a week!). Meanwhile, what little time adults have after spending the day (indoors) at the office is, in 90% of cases, also spent indoors.

So how does this affect us? Known as nature-deficit disorder, it can lead to disease, including obesity, myopia (nearsightedness) and possibly ADHD.

Says Brain Mertins of Natureawareness: “As people, our relationship to nature has a direct impact on our wellbeing and on the choices we make for our planet. We gain the tools to make the world a better place by developing a deep awareness of the natural world.” 

Benefits of connecting with nature:

The natural world is alive with incredible beauty and wonder, teeming with the lives of millions of creatures, some that can't be seen with the human eye.

All you have to do is find the time to get outdoors and appreciate the miracle of mother nature, from the touch of a granule of sand to the mystical sight of a full moon on a winter's day.

What follows are just some of the benefits of regaining our lost connection with nature.

© Christopher List Photography

Connecting with nature results in heightened sensory awareness:

One of the tangible benefits of exploring the natural environment is increased sensory awareness - awakening the five senses and allowing a person to be more fully present.

What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more,     
to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks    
where I can bathe my fingers in a cataract of rippling notes,     
or to clamber over a stone wall into green fields that     
tumble and roll and climb in riotous gladness! 

- Helen Keller

Connecting with nature increases vitality

A series of studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology shows that just being out in nature makes people feel more alive, and creates a sense of increased vitality beyond the ordinary effect of increased physical activity and social interaction.

Just breathing in fresh, oxygen-rich air and absorbing the beauty of nature will increase your energy levels, and result in an improved sense of well-being.

One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between Man and Nature shall not be broken.

- Leo Tolstoy

© Christopher List Photography

Connecting with nature results in increased physical health:

Spending time outdoors connecting with nature increases exposure to sunshine, which allows for Vitamin D to be absorbed into the body. This protects you from bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues.

In fact, most nature-based activities involve some form of exercise, leading to better physical (and mental) health and combating obesity. Research also shows that outdoor exercise is more beneficial than indoor exercise. What's more, being out in nature also lowers the chance of myopia (nearsightedness), and could even stop myopia from getting worse,

The indescribable innocence of and beneficence of Nature,-- of sun and wind and rain, of summer and winter,-- such health, such cheer, they afford forever

- Henry David Thoreau

Connecting with nature heals the mind and spirit

Studies have shown that natural settings can dramatically reduce ADHD symptoms. It can also improve cognitive functioning (your ability to learn and remember information, to organise, plan and solve problems and your ability to focus).

In fact, another study revealed that just a view of a natural setting (rather than of a built environment) from a hospital room’s window benefitted many patients as compared to those without a view, helping patients recover faster from surgery, led to less illness among prison inmates, improved work performance in job settings and even increased job satisfaction.
© Christopher List Photography

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountian parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life!

- John Muir

What’s more, connecting with nature is deeply spiritual. Stress levels fall, anxiety and depression lift and awareness and connection with nature encourages closer relationships and sense of community. Says William Shakespeare: “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin”.  

Many people testify to having life-defining mystical experiences in wilderness settings. It can be argued that it is losing our connection to nature that has resulted in the many ecological problems of today.

© Christopher List Photography

As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar eloquently says: “An intimate relationship with the environment is built into the human psyche. Historically, nature, mountains, rivers, trees, the sun, the moon have always been honoured in ancient cultures. It's only when we start moving away from our connection to nature and ourselves that we begin polluting and destroying the environment. We need to revive these attitudes that foster our connection with nature”.

One of the first permaculture principles, and the simplest way to connect with nature is just to observe. “Everything in life is speaking in spite of its apparent silence”, states Hazrat Inayat Khan.  

© Christopher List Photography

There is an order in the way nature works, everything has a purpose and a reason for its existence. What’s more, everything is interconnected in a series of complex relationships. Everything in a forest, for example, coexists without any intervention.

Look!  Look!  Look deep into nature and you will understand everything.  

- Albert Einstein

Most people can relate to the feeling of staring at a star-studded sky, and thinking of how small we are in the midst of something so infinite. It gives you an appreciation for powers larger than yourself, whether it be Mother Nature, God, Buddha or the Universe. The realisation that you are an important part of something much bigger than you, can result in a sense of purpose, peace and belonging.

Man is not himself only...He is all that he sees; all that flows to him from a thousand sources...He is the land, the lift of its mountain lines, the reach of its valleys.  

- Mary Austin

One of the reasons permaculture gardening brings about a sense of community and sharing (permaculture ethics), is because it allows for a reconnection to nature.

Almonds on the tree

© Christopher List Photography

Similarly, a sustainable lifestyle that is in harmony with nature strengthens our bond and connection with everything around us, allowing us to feel joy and wonder of our natural surroundings. Even if you live in a city, you can connect with nature - in the sight of the sun rising for a new day, the flourishing plants on your balcony, the connection you have with a pet, or the sounds of the birds at the park.

If you want to find out more about connecting with nature, continue reading about developing your nature awareness.

Or read a selection of incredible Quotes about Nature, which, combined with some of the best Nature Photography around Southern Africa - makes for some serious inspiration!

Connecting with nature: Resources

  1. Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature - Journal of Environmental Psychology
  2. Oudoor Recreation, Health and Wellness - Geoffrey Godbey, Resources for the future
  3. Time spent outdoors couldĀ  reduce risk of nearsightedness - Science Daily
  4. Time spent playing outdoors after school and its relationship with independent mobility: a cross-sectional survey of children aged 10-12 years in Sydney, Australia - International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity
  5. At Home with Nature: Effects of “greenness” on children’s cognitive functioning. Environment and Behavior - Sage Journals Online
  6. The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature - Science Direct
  7. Spending time in nature makes people feel more alive: University of Rochester
  8. Benefits of outdoor exercise confirmed - Science Daily
  9. Our spiritual connection to nature - Huffington Post

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Hi, my name is Melissa and I created this site together with photographer Christopher List to help spread awareness about green lifestyles and travel, so everyone can learn how easy it is to live in a sustainable way. Enjoy!

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