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Gut, Brain, Earth: Nature Therapy FTW

Spring is springing, and ‘tis the season for all you winter hermits to finally get outside. While it is important for us to get outdoors in every season, winters in Niagara can often be a rip-off. We get massive storms resulting in snow that stays on the ground for all of 30 seconds, or awful rain-ice pummelings that keep us all inside for fear of being impaled with icicles or drowned in flood puddles. You may be of a group of weirdos (like myself) that love winter, and embrace that chilly outdoor life every chance you can, but most likely you only find winter useful as a countdown to spring.

Unfortunately for us, winter in Canada is often a time of sadness and depression for many. We don’t get much sunlight through our colder months, and are left with grey days that can really affect our moods and our wellbeing. The good news is that we are now into longer, brighter days, bluer skies and greener pastures that can be incredibly effective at improving mood.

Using nature as a therapeutic tool is not a new concept, although it does seem to be trendy af right now. One recent study found that walks in nature reduced activity in the part of the brain responsible for worrying about the same things over and over, a behaviour characteristic of anxiety and depression. However Chinese, Japanese and Indigenous cultures, to name a few, have been using nature therapy for centuries, recognizing the physical and mental benefits of connecting to our Planet. Did you know that in Scotland some doctors are actually prescribing outdoor activity as part of the patient’s healing protocol?!

Here in Niagara we are lucky to have many outdoor spaces in which to experience the therapeutic effects of nature (unless Dougie Dipshit messes that up), so be appreciative of what we have, and get out there.

Grounding, or earthing, is the concept that direct connection with the soles of our feet to the earth is good for our wellbeing. I’m talking toes in sand, barefoot on grass kind of connection that we don’t very often experience anymore unless we are on vacation. Some scientific studies show that the electrons on the earth’s surface are absorbed into the body and have a positive effect on our body systems. Grounding is shown to decrease inflammation, improve sleep, increase energy, reduce stress, and help relieve pain. So where to go to ground? Long Beach and Port Dalhousie Beach are my fave spots to beach-it barefoot in the area. Montebello Park (watch out for poop) and even your backyard can be great options for some grass to tickle your toes.

Forest bathing, or in Japanese shinrin-yoku, is the act of taking in the forest by simply being in nature. Leave your phone at home, head into the forest, walk slowly and just be. You are aiming to use your five senses to experience everything the forest has to offer and connect with the natural world around you. If possible, try to find times to go when there are fewer people out and about so you can really listen and get some time with the sights and sounds of nature without interruption. I recommend Decew Falls and the Ball’s Falls and Shorthills sections of the Bruce Trail to feel totally engulfed in forest in some spots so you can really connect to the beauty around you, but know that these spots can get quite busy, especially on the weekends.

We can all agree that getting some fresh air is good for you and your soul. Spending time outdoors puts pep in your step and clears your head, as long as you can really embrace it. Just remember to stop, breathe deeply, smell, listen, touch, and truly appreciate that connecting with nature can be an effective form of therapy.

Written by Kate Notwell

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