Monday 6 August 2012

"Sunshiney Days"

"Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher." ~ William Wordsworth

It's the end of a luscious summer long weekend, the kind when the days are sunny and long and the evenings are breezy and worry free. I hate to say goodbye to it but at least I can do so knowing that I appreciated each moment of it.

I am having a great summer. I have to admit that it's probably the best one that I have had since I was a kid. When I think back to some of my best memories of childhood, many of them took place outside in the summertime. The grass under my bare feet was soft and damp in the summer mornings and in the evenings, when I loved to lay on my back in my front yard with my friends and look up at the stars in the night sky. We talked about silly things and important things and just enjoyed the moment in time before we even knew what that was or how hard it would be to recapture as adults

I remember the apple tree in my grandparent's backyard. My grandpa built a swing from rope and wood and it was so fun to swing in the shade of that tree. I also loved the weeping willow that they had in their front yard. It was old and beautiful and my brother and I used to love to grab onto the thin branches and swing around the tree. Can you remember being small enough to be able to do something like that?! That poor tree. But she was sturdy, tough, and yet delicate and beautiful - and she gave me years of joy. Today when I see a weeping willow I am instantly transported back in time.

Over the years, somehow, I lost my connection to nature. I have always had a great appreciation for the beauty of my city and province, but it's been more at a distance. I have enjoyed many walks on the seawall and through Stanley Park over the years but that real connection, when time slows down, has escaped me. I must have forgotten the importance of it. Sad, really.

Last summer was my worst summer. I was in the depths of depression and it was difficult to see the beauty around me in anything, or enjoy any moments in time. I spent most of that summer with my parents at what I like to call my "country home", away from the jarring sounds of downtown traffic or the hectic pace of business. For the first month or so of summer it did as it often does on the West Coast - it rained. And I craved sunshine. Every morning when I woke up, my most fervent wish was for just a little sunshine. Finally, it happened. The clouds literally parted and the sun began to shine. I started to spend time outside, first just sitting and reading in my parent's backyard and then going for walks. Nature was all around me - from deer and birds, to the flowers growing in my mom's garden, to the horses and cows in nearby farms.

And then it happened again. The clouds parted and the sun began to peak through, slowly and gradually, day by day just a little bit more sunshine. This sunshine was the hope and joy in my life. I had thought that it was gone for good. But no, here it was once again. It hasn't really been gone, just tucked away. Kind of like my childhood memories and love of the outdoors.

So what is it about nature? Was it just a coincidence that I began to feel better the more time that I spent outdoors? It was certainly part of many things that I was doing to become well which included medication and cognitive behavioural therapy. But I do believe that for me it was equal to those other two factors in becoming well once again.

The July 2012 issue of Chatelaine magazine has a great article called Nature Rx written by Laura Bickle. It speaks to the importance that nature plays in wellness. In the article Bickle references the Japanese who do a lot of nature-brain research. In the 1990's researchers sent study participants into Japan's ancient forests and found that a 40 minute walk reaped great rewards: lowered cortisol levels (the stress hormone!), improved sleep, and reduced psychological stress and depression.

Here are some ways that Bickles suggests to reap the benefits of nature:
* Make The Time: A University of Rochester study showed that 20 minutes in a green setting was advantageous to health and vitality.
* Put A Plant On Your Desk: Potted plants are proven to increase productivity and mood and reduce eye strain.
* Hang a Picture (or just picture it): Studies show that an image of a pleasing natural setting can have  emotional benefits. Same goes for just closing your eyes and just thinking about it.

So how about committing to slowing down and staying in the moment? Lay on the grass, feel the earth beneath you, close your eyes, and listen to the sound of the birds. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Feel the breeze blow your hair. And when I can't be outside? I am going to close my eyes and think back to my grandparents' weeping willow and the joy it gave me then and now.

KB xo

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