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We’ve all been there: You’re in the middle of a long workday, stuck in a sterile, air-conditioned office. If you’re lucky enough to have a window, you can catch glances of the world outside. You long to be out there, taking in the sights and sounds of Mother Nature. That yearning is your nervous system seeking the inspiration and healing energy to be found among the living world.
Lately, I’ve been prescribing “nature therapy” to my patients to help them cope with the stress of illness and to enhance their healing. Multiple studies over the past decade cite the health benefits of exposure to nature through practices such as forest bathing and garden therapy. In fact, exposure to nature can improve cognitive function, lower blood pressure, enhance immune function, support stress recovery, and reset your sleep cycle.
I’m not immune to the same forces that weigh down my patients. After a stressful year, I decided to take some of my own medicine. I wanted to really get away, so I booked a trip to the Maldives, an island chain in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Seeking a nature-based escape, I was invited to visit the beautiful Joali Being, Maldives’ first nature-inspired wellness resort. Based on my experiences there, I offer these tips to help you tap into the healing powers of nature.
Choose accommodations that keep you close to nature
With 68 over-water or beach villas, Joali Being brought nature to my literal back doorstep. Because the resort is a coral oasis in the ocean, I chose an over-water villa to be as close to nature as possible. Every morning I woke as the sun rose to practice yoga to the sounds of the ocean. After morning practice, I slipped into the crystalline water to snorkel, accompanied by vividly-colored fish. Being so close to the ocean not only gave me a break from everyday stressors, but allowed me to energetically integrate with the sea. I felt as if I were forging a spiritual bond with the natural world and with my inner self.
If you can’t get as far away as the Maldives, consider an activity close to home where you can see, hear, and smell the wonders of nature. Camping or renting a cabin such as the tiny Getaway houses allows you to leave technology behind and commune with nature—and yourself.
Take a mindful walk outside
The best way to cultivate a deeper connection with nature is to interact with it. Even when we are in a place of beauty, our movements may be rushed and mindless. Pausing to take a mindful walk can do wonders for your mood, and can even help you feel less anxious. Observe how the ground supports your feet as you take each subsequent step. It offers a thoughtful perspective on walking that we often take for granted. Labyrinths and botanical gardens cultivate the art of slowing down while we walk, so we can truly enjoy the journey.
Joali Being offers guests a sound path—an outdoor oasis dotted with instruments that allow you to take an active part in sound healing. The experience, curated by musical visionary Aurelio C. Hammer, includes nine hand-made instruments that resonate with the natural rhythms of the island environment.
The minute I stepped onto the path, my pace slowed and I experienced a feeling of unlimited belonging. I played some of the instruments and listened to others. I could almost visualize the sound of the wind chimes. It was not long before the symphony of the jungle fused with the music, imbuing a sense of inner peace and calm.
Practice pranayama outdoors
When you are scuba diving or snorkeling, the only sound you hear is your own breathing. In the Maldives, I swam alongside 100-year-old sea turtles, reef sharks, and spotted eagle manta rays—all of which paid me no mind. As the fish respirated through their gills, I breathed through my respirator, and we floated symbiotically in the water, exploring the depths of the ocean. The colors, textures, and shapes of the corals shimmered so brightly, it (almost) took my breath away.
When we notice the wonders of nature, we are more inclined to take deep, cleansing breaths. You don’t even have to go far to find awe-inspiring spaces. Anywhere you are surrounded by nature, your breathing slows and you become more mindful, which can help your nervous system relax. Go a little off the beaten path—to the shore or into a forest—to escape urban pollutants and sip in clean air for a breathwork practice.
Practice mindfulness outside
I took every opportunity to meditate during my six-day stay on the island. As I sat on the sand or a tree stump, the earth beneath me felt energetically restorative and grounding. I would set the intention of cultivating my meditative garden—planting the seeds of letting go, fertilizing it with my breath, and growing into the practice. I felt alive and awake to all my experiences, and authentically connected with the jungle surrounding me. Feeling the sun and the sea breeze against my skin, I could truly be in the moment and feel at one with the island’s environment.
When you practice being mindful, you enhance your overall awareness in each moment. In a natural setting—whether it’s a nearby nature trail, or your own backyard—your senses become acutely sensitive to your surroundings and connect you to the space you occupy. Incorporate journaling into your outdoor meditation practice to record any thoughts and feelings that may arise as you commune with nature.
Use nature to reset and recharge
On most afternoons at Joali Being, I would spend time on the beach, drinking in the beauty of the island. Every afternoon, a white-tailed tropicbird, a rare avian inhabitant who hatched on the island last year, would fly above me with its long, feathered tail tracing the horizon. The tropicbird spends most of its life far out at sea, but this one built its nest on the beach near where I sat. As I watched the bird glide effortlessly in the sky, I reconnected with the natural ease and simplicity of life. Sitting on the beach without my phone or internet connection helped me center myself and use all my senses to appreciate my surroundings.
Making time to spend in nature gives you a path back into your soul. Being outside can shift your perspective on a variety of levels. Whether you are in the middle of an ocean, or only as far as your neighborhood park, communing with nature draws your heart back to the simple wonders of life. So, go for it. Go outside. Your doctor says so.
About the Maldives
Where: The Maldives stretch across 90,000 square kilometers of the Indian Ocean, and host more than 132 resorts.
Getting there: The travel time was intimidating—36 hours door-to-door—but the minute I stepped off the seaplane and dug my toes into the warm, soft sand, the long journey was quickly forgotten. Fly into Malé, the country’s capitol, and take a seaplane to visit the neighboring islands like Joali Being.
The environment: The islands of the Maldives are grouped in atolls where coral reefs surround each island just below the ocean surface. Vibrant sea life feed and live off the coral reefs, so it’s important to protect the ecosystem by not touching or taking anything, and having proper gear. Visiting the natural world may be inspiring, but taking care of it is a profound act of ahimsa.
The people: Due to its geographical location, Maldives culture is heavily shaped by Indian, Sri Lankan, Malaysian, Arab, Persian, Indonesian, and even African influences. Islam is the major religion, evident from the many beautiful mosques around Malé.