Back to Nature

Biofeedback for Your Body and Soul

By Jennie Hastings
[Savvy Self-Care]

When I was a child, my mother would turn off the television and shoo my brother, sister, and me off the couch and outside. Without her insistence, we never would have chosen this change in activity ourselves, but she knew better than we did. She knew how important it was for people to get outside, breathe some fresh air, and feel the sunshine on their skin.
I was always reluctant at first. It would be so much easier to stay in my soft burrow in the couch, watch another episode of Saved by the Bell, and eat some dinosaur-shaped fruit snacks. Going outside meant breaking my comfortable inertia and figuring out what to do with myself once I was there. I didn’t have a choice in the matter, so my decision was clear.
That was then, this is now
Once I cast off my sluggishness and made it outside, I always felt better. I had a favorite fallen log on the side of our driveway that I thought looked like an alligator, and I loved to play on it. We had bikes, a pogo stick, stilts, jump ropes, roller skates, and various other objects of recreation to play with. A favorite outdoor activity was to check all the basement window wells for toads. As I got older, I would hit tennis balls against the garage door for hours.
Now, as an adult, I love being outside. I am grateful that my parents instilled in me a love of nature and showed me how to play in it. Nature is one of the best forms of self-care I have these days. There is nothing more healing to me than walking on a path through a forest. I don’t care where it is, what kind of trees there are, if it’s uphill or downhill, or even where it leads. Just the act of walking a trail brings me to a centered and secure part of myself. The branches arching overhead, the sound of birds chirping, and the rustle of leaves in the wind bring me a sense of calm and grounding that I deeply value and truly need.
For most of human history, we have intuitively known that nature is healing. Now science is beginning to provide evidence that proves what we already know. At the University of Utah, researcher David Strayer showed that nature measurably reduces stress and lets our brains rest. In one of his studies, participants performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tests after four days of wilderness backpacking.1
In South Korea, most people live in urban areas and experience high pressure to succeed, and addiction to technology is rampant. The government has so clearly recognized the link between nature and human well-being that they are creating hundreds of national forests for people to use to restore themselves. Firefighters with posttraumatic stress disorder are sent to the forest, where they hike, practice partner yoga, massage each other’s arms with lavender oil, and create dried-flower collages. Prenatal mothers go to the forest for meditation, and cancer patients go to make crafts.
Research shows that simply being able to see nature outside the window helps people with concentration and improved health indicators. Passive time spent in nature, like driving the scenic route instead of through the middle of town, affects people positively. In Sweden, researcher Matilda Annerstedt van den Bosch stressed people with math tests and simulated job interviews, then had them spend time in a virtual-reality forest, surrounded by sounds of nature. The subjects’ heart rhythms returned to normal faster than people who spent the same amount of time in a room without the virtual forest.2
We are nature
In my internet research, I learned that science can conclusively link nature to better health, but none of the articles actually mentioned why. Looking away from Western medical science to Eastern medical philosophy, it occurs to me that nature positively affects our well-being because it is elemental. We are nature. Our bodies and the body of the earth are made up of the very same things. Spending time in healthy, natural environments is like biofeedback for the human body. An environment in balance, in health, in beauty, and in peace is surely able to influence the environment of our internal landscape.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how good it feels to spend time in nature. You are probably already looking forward to the next hike you will take on your favorite trail or planning your last camping trip of the season. Hopefully, this article will reinforce the importance of nature in your life. Besides being fun, nature offers life-enhancing self-care. If you can notice how well you are taking care of yourself by getting outside, it might encourage you to do so even more.
If anything, after reading this, I hope you shut down your computer, turn off the TV, lace up some comfy shoes, and get outside. Get back to nature.

Jennie Hastings is a board-certified massage therapist, writer, and teacher. She is the creator of The Blossom Method and author of The Inspired Massage Therapist (Massage Blossom Books, 2012). She wants to be your friend on Facebook. Sign up for her monthly newsletter and check out her blog at

1. Ruth Ann Atchley, David L. Strayer, and Paul Atchley, “Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings,” PLoS One 7, no. 12 (2012): e51474.
2. Matilda Annerstedt van den Bosch et al., “Inducing Physiological Stress Recovery with Sounds of Nature in a Virtual Reality Forest—Results from a Pilot Study,” Physiology & Behavior 118 (2013): 240–250.