Determining The Daily Dose of Nature
Humans are ancient beings living in a modern world. We have been hard-wired through evolution to require and seek contact with nature. A healthy, balanced life, physically and emotionally, requires this contact. Exposure to nature is one of the key foundations to a meaningful life. Indeed, a growing body of evidence overwhelmingly suggests connecting with nature is paramount for optimal health.
Connection with nature has been associated with:
How much exposure to nature and outdoor natural environments is necessary, though, to ensure healthy development? Are there such things as minimum daily requirements of nature?
Determining a daily dose of exposure to nature is comparable to the nutrition pyramid that has been touted as a useful guide for the types and quantity of food consumption necessary to be healthy. It has been dubbed the Nature Pyramid,.
Referring to the standard nutritional pyramid, towards the top are things that are less healthful in larger quantities—meat, dairy, sugar—and should be consumed in the smallest proportions. Moving down the pyramid are elements in the diet—fruits and vegetables—that should be consumed more frequently and in greater quantity, and then finally the foods that contain the most nutrients that are needed on a daily basis. The Nature Pyramid would work in a similar way.
The Nature Pyramid challenges us to think about what the analogous quantities of nature are, and the types of nature exposures and experiences, needed to bring about a healthy life. Exposure to nature, that is direct personal contact with natural, is not an optional thing, but rather is a necessary and important element of a healthy human life. So, like the nutritional pyramid, what specifically is required for optimal health? What amounts of nature, different nature experiences, and exposure to different sorts of nature, together constitute a healthy existence? While researchers may lack the same degree of scientific certainly or confidence regarding a specific quantifiable amount of connection with nature necessary to ensure a healthy life, the pyramid at least begins to ask the right questions.
Nature-Deficit Disorder and the Nature Principle
In 2005, in Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv introduced the term nature-deficit disorder, not as a medical diagnosis, but as a way to describe the growing gap between humans and nature. Every day, our relationship with nature, or the lack of it, influences our lives. This has always been true. But in the twenty-first century, our survival — or thrival — will require a transformative framework for that relationship, a reunion of humans with the rest of nature.
The Nature Principle is an amalgam of converging theories and trends as well as a reconciliation with old truths. This principle holds that a reconnection to the natural world is fundamental to human health, wellness, spirit, and survival. Primarily a statement of philosophy, the Nature Principle is supported by a growing body of theoretical, anecdotal, and empirical research that describes the restorative power of nature — its impact on our senses and intelligence; on our physical, psychological, and spiritual health; and on the bonds of family, friendship, and the multispecies community. What would our lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in electronics? How can each of us help create that life-enhancing world, not only in a hypothetical future, but right now, for our families and for ourselves?
Our sense of urgency grows. In 2008, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lived in towns and cities. The traditional ways that humans have experienced nature are vanishing, along with biodiversity. At the same time, our culture’s faith in technological immersion seems to have no limits, and we drift ever deeper into a sea of circuitry. We consume breathtaking media accounts of the creation of synthetic life, combining bacteria with human DNA; of microscopic machines designed to enter our bodies to fight biological invaders or to move in deadly clouds across the battlefields of war; of virtually-augmented reality; of futuristic houses in which we are surrounded by simulated reality transmitted from every wall. We even hear talk of the “transhuman” or “posthuman” era in which people are optimally enhanced by technology, or of a “postbiological universe” where, as NASA’s Steven Dick puts it, “the majority of intelligent life has evolved beyond flesh and blood intelligence.”
This collective disorder threatens our health, our spirit, our economy, and our future stewardship of the environment. Yet, despite what seem prohibitive odds, transformative change is possible. The loss that we feel, this truth that we already know, sets the stage for a new age of nature. In fact, because of the environmental challenges we face today, we may be — we had better be — entering the most creative period in human history, a time defined by a goal that includes but goes beyond sustainability to the renaturing of everyday life.
Symptoms of Nature-Deficit Disorder
Do you or does someone you know experience nature-deficit disorder (NDD)? In this day in age, it is common to develop mild or severe forms of NDD. Here are several symptoms to look out for:
Interpreting the Nature Pyramid
At the bottom of the pyramid are forms of nature and outside life that should form the bulk of our daily experiences. Here there are the many ways in which we might daily enjoy and experience nature, both suburban and urban. As adults, a healthy nature diet requires being outside at least part of each day, walking, strolling, sitting, though it need not be in a remote and untouched national park or otherwise more pristine natural environment. Brief experiences and brief episodes of respite and connection are valuable to be sure: watching birds, hearing the outside sounds of life, and feeling the sun or breeze on one’s arms are important natural experiences, though perhaps brief and fleeting. Some of these experiences are visual and we know that even views of nature from office or home windows provides value. For school aged kids spending the day in a school drenched in full spectrum nature daylight is important and we know the evidence is compelling about the emotional value of this. Every day kids should spend some time outside, sometime playing and running outside, in direct contact with nature, weather, and the elements.
Moving from the bottom to the top of the pyramid also corresponds to an important temporal dimension. We need and should want to visit larger more remote parks and natural areas, but for most of us the majority of these larger parks will not be within distance of a daily trip. Each week, we should seek out a local park or area larger than your backyard. Each month, we should seek out a larger, national park. At the top of the pyramid are places and nature experiences that are profoundly important and enriching yet are more likely to happen less frequently, such as remote verdant areas, perhaps only several times a year. They are places of nature where immersion is possible, and where the intensity and duration of the nature experience are likely to be greater. And in between these temporal echelons (from daily to yearly) lie many of the nature opportunities and experiences that happen often on weekends or holidays or every few weeks, and perhaps without the degree of regularity that daily neighborhood nature experiences provide.
Like the food items higher on the food pyramid, the sites of nature highest on the Nature Pyramid might best be thought of occasional treats in our nature diet—good for us in small and measured servings, but actually unhealthy if consumed too often or in too great a quantity. For many urbanites from industrialized nations, large amounts of money and effort are expended visiting remote areas, from Patagonia, to the cloud forests of Costa Rica, to the Himalayas. It seems we relish and celebrate the ecologically remote and exotic. While they are deeply enjoyable nature experiences, to be sure, they come at a high planetary cost, as the energy and carbon footprint associated with jetting to these places is large indeed. No longer are such trips appreciated as unique and special “trips of a lifetime,” but fairly common and increasingly pedestrian jaunts to the affluent citizenry of the North. The Nature Pyramid sends a useful signal that travel to faraway nature may as glutinous and unhealthy as eating at the top of the food pyramid.
A Solution - Shinrin-yoku (Forest Bathing)
Forest bathing—or Shinrin-yoku Forest Therapy—is a Japanese healing method that allows an individual to immerse in the forest’s atmosphere. It stills the mind, leaving bathers focused and more alert. Researchers have observed that evergreen trees secret a natural chemical called phytoncide, which directly reduced stress levels and boosted immune systems in subjects (Li, 2009).
Researchers (Hansen, Jones and Tocchini, 2017) have determined with the healing components of Shinrin-yoku specifically hones in on the therapeutic effects on:
How to Forest Bath
Beatley, T. (2012). Exploring the Nature Pyramid – The Nature of Cities. [online] The Nature of Cities. Available at: https://www.thenatureofcities.com/2012/08/07/exploring-the-nature-pyramid/ [Accessed 21 Mar. 2018].
Hansen, M., Jones, R. and Tocchini, K. (2017). Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(12), p.851. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14080851
Li, Q. (2009). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 15(1), pp.9-17. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12199-008-0068-3
Louv, R. (2012). The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. Algonquin Books.
The Biology of Belief
We are moving into a higher state of consciousness. However, we have all been limited by our subconscious programming. Everyone of us has been programmed. While these subconscious programs are a requirement to life, they are not inherently negative. The negative part of subconscious programming is the deleterious programs.
Life requires programs for a very simple reason - before humans can be conscious, we require the programs to operate consciousness. As an infant is born into a family and has to become a member of the community, there are rules that must be followed; every culture has rules. Rules cannot be genetic, since rules change all the time from culture to culture. So as we come into the world, we must first download behavior to learn how to be a member of the family and community in order to participate collectively. During the first seven years of a child's life, the brain is operating as a lower vibrational frequency (as measured by EEGs) and is essentially in a state of hypnosis. Thus, during these first seven years, we observe, record, and download other people's behaviors in our subconscious mind in order to participate.
Unfortunately, psychologists today have discovered that 70% or more of our programs are disempowering, self-sabotaging, and limiting. Most of the programs that we have downloaded are critical of ourselves. This was due to the behavior of parents criticizing their children in an effort to goad them to be better off when they grow up. In the first seven years, when the recording and downloading is occurring, consciousness is not at full capacity, and the child does not understand the good intentions behind the parents' criticism. The child is in a state of hypnosis and records these self-limiting programs. The function of the mind is to take the programs that we downloaded and create reality using those programs. Thus, we are all operating from various programs. The problem is that many of the programs are negative and self-destructive.
The relevance of this relates to the health status of the entire planet. Only 1% of all disease is associated with genetics. Over 90% of the health care issues that people around world face today have nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with lifestyle and their perception of the world.
Via the growing field of epigenetics, researchers have discovered that genes do not control health. There is a ubiquitous misconception, or program is you will, that genes turn off and on, and give us our characteristics, be they physical, emotional, behavioral. The genes do not control anything - the environment in which the cells are placed controls the expression of the cell. Epigenetic researchers have discovered this conclusion by various experiments, one of which includes placing genetically identical cells in three different petri dishes. The cells were identical in each of the dishes but what changed was the environment in which the cells were placed, that is the composition of the culture medium serum. In the end, each of the genetically identical cells ends with a different fate; one becomes a muscle cell, one becomes a bone cell, and one becomes a fat cell. The perplexing conclusion is that the genes are not controlling the fate of the cell (they all have the same genes) - it's the environment.
The phenomena of the cell in a petri dish responding to various types of culture mediums can be extrapolated and applied to the entire human body. When you look at your body and see a single entity, there is a misconception, because the human body is composed of trillions of cells. The cells in the body are the living entity. You, the name in which you go by, are a gigantic community made up of trillions of cells, that live in and on your skin working in harmony to create your life. Thus, in essence, the body is akin to a skin-covered petri dish with trillions of cells. When researchers recreate the petri dish experiment, the growth medium is synthesized to be similar to the blood of the organelle. Therefore, the growth medium, in terms of the human body, is the equivalent of blood.
So, in the petri dish experiment, the genetics of the cell are controlled by the composition of the culture medium, which is the equivalent of blood. In the body, which is a collection of trillions of cells in a skin-covered petri dish, the genetics of the cells are controlled by the composition of the culture medium, which is the blood. Thus, the chemistry of the blood, the culture medium, is controlling the genetics of the cells.
So what is it that controls the chemistry of the blood? The nervous system is the conductor, synthesizing chemicals to coordinate all the functions, and sending those chemicals to the body through the blood. Well what controls the nervous system? Here's the astonishing conclusion...
Whatever paradigm, or picture, you have in your mind about yourself, your life, and the world, is read by the brain, and that picture is broken up and translated into a variety of chemicals which are released to the body. Your body becomes a complement, or a reflection of the picture created in the mind.
In other words, life starts with the picture, or paradigm, in one's mind. The brain analyzes that picture and converts it into a panoply of chemicals, known as neuropeptides, which will complement that picture. That vast array of chemicals is released into the body to control your genetics, behavior, and the overall outcome of your life.
Researchers can and have observed the change of circulating levels of hormones in various individuals believing different paradigms. For example, if a person begins to see and feel the world with the experience and perspective of love, the nervous system releases wonderful chemicals into the body such as dopamine, perceived as pleasure, oxytocin, perceived as the bondage between two individuals, and growth hormone, perceived as an overall healthy, vibrant glow. This is because the chemistry of the culture medium is affected by the picture of love in the mind of the individual. Conversely, if we take another individual and that person creates an image of fear and hate about themselves and the world, researchers observe elevated levels of cortisol, perceived as stress, and inflammatory agents, which are released by the brain, resulting in compromised biological adaptations and genetics.
The way we see the world in our mind is the how we create our reality.
Now it is up to us to change the subconscious programs to be in line with our conscious beliefs, in order to create the reality we desire. Easier said than done.
Lipton, B. (2016). The biology of belief. Hay House, Inc.
Myss, C. and Shealy, C. (1998). The creation of health: The emotional, psychological, and spiritual responses that promote health and healing. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Shapiro, D. (2007). Your body speaks your mind: understanding how your emotions and thoughts affect you physically. London: Piatkus Books.
The Awareness domain contains research, news, information, observations, and ideas at the level of self in an effort to intellectualize health concepts.
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