The healing power of nature

Our natural surroundings really do support our innate healing capacity.

Man doing yoga outdoors

Nature is a powerful force when it comes to healing the mind, body and spirit. It helps us feel connected to one another and the magic of our natural world.

Oh, the magnificence of Minnesota summers! Can you remember the last time you took a moment to feel the warm sun on your face? Listened to the birds sing? Lingered to smell a blooming peony’s refreshing fragrance?

Spending mindful moments in nature helps us reconnect with ourselves, our loved ones and the natural world around us.

As a caregiver, finding time for self-nourishment can be quite a challenge. Fortunately, nature doesn’t have rules, needs or time requirements. It allows us time to just be.

It really works!

Our natural surroundings really do support our innate healing capacity.

Exposure to the outdoors can help us feel calmer, boost our immunity and allow us to sleep more soundly. Spending time in nature can enhance our mental sharpness, inspire creativity and even boost our problem-solving capacity. (Sudoku will be no match!)

Nature also reminds us of our connection to all living things, which can encourage a kinder and more compassionate sense of peace and community.

Here are a few practical ways for you and your loved ones to explore the healing power of nature:

Enjoy the outdoors at home

  • Spend a moment drinking your morning tea/coffee while sitting outside.
  • Create an outdoor garden. Cook meals using the herbs or vegetables you’ve grown.
  • Keep plants, cut flowers and fresh herbs inside your home.
  • Explore bird watching. Put up a bird feeder. Purchase regional wildlife books to help with bird identification.
  • Learn to identify native plants and their healing qualities. Did you know common plantain (commonly viewed as a weed) eases the sting/itch of insect bites?
  • Place nature-based or wildlife photos in your surroundings.
  • Try nature journaling! Draw, take photos or write about what you see, hear, feel, taste and smell.
  • Gaze at the stars and look for constellations/planets.
  • Hug a tree!

Accessibility for all abilities

Accessing the outdoors can feel overwhelming if you or your loved one has difficulty getting around. Terrain can be unpredictable and Minnesota weather can change on a dime.

But don’t let these factors deter you! Perhaps a raised bed or portable garden chair will encourage that salsa garden you’ve been wanting to grow. If you’re thinking about visiting a state park, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a listing of accessible trails, campsites and lodging.

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum offers a guided tram tour (late April through mid-October) that explores 1,200-plus acres of display gardens.

During the winter months, a visit to the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory can be restorative and rejuvenating. (Wheelchairs are available for rent for $5.)

Guided nature experiences

Minnesota has a bounty of beautiful natural resources. Our state parks system offers monthly naturalist education programs spanning topics from bird watching to astronomy.

If you’re looking to share a nature adventure with your loved one, but would feel more comfortable with a guide, check out Wilderness Inquiry. (Editor’s note: Read all about Wilderness Inquiry and its founder, Greg Lais, in this issue!)

This organization supports inclusive outdoor adventure travel for a wide range of ability levels. The Road Scholar program, meanwhile, offers grant opportunities for caregivers who want to explore natural destinations in the U.S. and Canada.

Remember, appreciating nature can be simple. Take a moment to sit outside, close your eyes, take a deep breath and let your senses take everything in.

The natural world is waiting for you to open the door!

Sharon Johnson is an occupational therapist trained in holistic health who enjoys working in the caregiver support program at the Minneapolis VA.