Get Away From it All Without Going Anywhere: 4 Ways to Relax in or Near Your Own Backyard
With the warmer weather, much of the country is back in bloom, and kids are out of school on break. It’s officially time to enjoy some well-deserved R&R–outside.
Spending time in nature isn’t just an idealistic standard to aspire to, it’s something that leaves you with tangible health benefits. The best part: you don’t have to summit a high peak or travel far to feel a difference. In today’s high-demand world, we tend to be more disconnected from the simplicity of nature than ever before. According to an Environmental Protection Agency study, the average American spends 93% of their time indoors. With over 80% of Americans living in urban areas, it might seem unrealistic to shift the numbers in the right direction. Lucky for us, it’s easier than we may think.
From forest bathing to Earthing, we’re digging into some of the most uncomplicated ways to get outside (and get all the benefits). Even if you’re cutting back on your budget this summer, these activities can be as easy on your wallet as you want them to be. Read on to learn how you can get started and weave healthy habits into your summer routine.
Take a forest bath
Derived from the Japanese concept called shinrin-yoku, forest bathing is all about relaxing in an outdoor environment and using your five senses to really take in the experience. Start with leaving your phone or camera at home. The goal is to enter a natural space and let the scene flow through you, without any distractions. How do the twigs crackle under your feet? How do the leaves look in the glancing sunlight? Focus on the details that might usually get overlooked and enjoy them for what they are.
In a Japanese study, viewing plants altered electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings—a recording of brain activity—and reduced stress, fear, anger and sadness, as well as reducing blood pressure, pulse rate and muscle tension.1 That smell of pine? It’s not just a refreshing aroma, it has legitimate health benefits. Trees release special compounds into the air called phytoncides. Studies show that these particles may support the science behind nature’s positive effects on blood pressure, stress, and the immune system.2
While the practice is called ‘forest bathing,’ you don’t need to be alone in the wilderness to try it out. The first step is finding your ideal environment—is there a field you have a special connection to or a park down the street that makes you feel at ease? Start there and simply walk through the space without expectation, breathing in the fresh air and allowing space for reconnection. No matter your fitness level or location, this is a practice you can tap into any time of year.
Get your hands dirty
Gardening is therapeutic for a laundry list of reasons: the fresh air, the vibrancy of the plants—we could wax poetic for hours. Beyond the obvious beauties of getting down and dirty with the flowers, studies show that gardening can help support a variety of health markers. For instance, there may be beneficial microbes in the soil you’re tending, like M. vaccae, which has been clinically studied for its ability to support mood.3 Studies show that serotonin-producing neurons and the immune system could be positively stimulated by exposure to M. vaccae. So ditch the gloves and let your hands soak up the benefits!
In addition to friendly microbes, getting a dose of vitamin D from sunshine can help support the body’s immune response and stress management. Not to mention the health benefits of the produce you’ll reap if opting for a vegetable garden. Even if you don’t have access to a yard or shared gardening space, you can try your hand at container gardening on an apartment porch (or even a windowsill). Discover what works best for you and get after gardening during peak growing season!
Meditation in nature
There’s a reason why some hermitages and monasteries are located in remote locations, away from the busy cities, buried deep in nature. Immersion within the energy and beauty of the outdoors can be calming, grounding, and beneficial for your health and well-being, and some of the most enjoyable locations for your mindfulness and meditation.
You can select a destination 500 miles away, or find something a 20-minute walk from your back door. As long as you are away from most urbanization, immersed in the outdoors, and able to take the time for your mindfulness routine and reduce your stress levels.
This can also be a great opportunity to branch out and try some new mindfulness practices:
Walking meditation - in its simplest form, walking meditation directs your attention to the movement of your feet and legs, and the motion of your body and your consciousness while moving through nature.
Sound meditation - your eyes are presented with the beauty of nature immediately. But what happens when you carefully tune in your ears? Listening to and identifying the natural sounds around you as a meditation practice can be a fun and relaxing experience.
Come prepared if you are in a remote location with supplies you may need for your session: a little food and water, a mat to sit on or stretch if needed, and appropriate clothing and shoes for the terrain.
Connect your bare feet to the Earth
The practice of Earthing (also known as grounding) connects your body to the Earth and its natural electric charge, in an effort to realign your own electrical energy.6 One basic way this is done is by walking barefoot outdoors.
This direct connection to the Earth appears to have numerous benefits:7
Shift your autonomic nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic
Reduce blood viscosity
Support healthy day-night cortisol rhythm
While studies continue to be done on the efficacy and the benefits of this type of therapy, getting outside regularly and walking with your bare feet on a sandy beach, grassy field, or muddy garden, while feeling the land beneath the soles of your feet can only be a beneficial boost to your wellness. Just be mindful of any possible rough or sharp objects before stepping on them.
Originally published June 14, 2022
Updated June 28, 2023
Thompson, R. (2018, June). Gardening for health: A regular dose of gardening. Clinical medicine (London, England). Retrieved June 7, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6334070/
Li Q;Morimoto K;Nakadai A;Inagaki H;Katsumata M;Shimizu T;Hirata Y;Hirata K;Suzuki H;Miyazaki Y;Kagawa T;Koyama Y;Ohira T;Takayama N;Krensky AM;Kawada T; (n.d.). Forest bathing enhances human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins. International journal of immunopathology and pharmacology. Retrieved June 7, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17903349/
Reber, S., Siebler, P., Donner, N., et al. (2016). Immunization with a heat-killed preparation of the environmental bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae promotes stress resilience in mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(22), E3130-E3139.
Hopper, Susan. “Effectiveness of diaphragmatic breathing for reducing physiological and psychological stress in adults: a quantitative systematic review.” 17, Sept. 2019, JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports. Pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
University of Michigan Health. “Diaphragmatic Breathing for GI Patients.” uofmhealth.org
Sinatra ST, Oschman JL, Chevalier G, Sinatra D. (2017). Alternative Therapy Health Medicine, 23(5):8-16.
Osichman, J.L., Chevalier, G., Brown, R. (2015). Journal of Inflammation Research, 8:83-96.