Small and insignificant
Standing under old growth redwood trees over 360 feet tall and nearly 2000 years old, makes me feel really small and insignificant. But in a good way! When spending time in these magnificent forests I feel a sense of calm, peacefulness. Maybe it is getting back in touch with my childhood camping trips. Or something about the clean air and refreshing swim in the river nearby. Or the long distance gazing at the canopy above when my eyes usually focus on only the near (computer, phone, TV, book, or the car ahead of me on the road). Maybe it’s the associations I have with spending time with great friends on these trips. Whatever the combination, being amongst these giants puts into perspective what is important in life. It also helps me recognize when I’ve begun to focus too much on life stressors that have become unnecessarily sticky – they start to melt away for me pretty quickly when exploring these more “natural” environments. Even on the drive back home to the fast pace urban world with work looming the next day, I feel more resilient, rejuvenated and ready to cope with whatever comes my way. These get away trips are huge SIMs in my life.
Nature does good things to the human brain
An interesting National Geographic article, This is Your Brain on Nature and accompanying video (below), explore the positive health and societal benefits associated with experiencing and connecting to the natural world. As they point out, “Science is proving what we’ve always known intuitively: nature does good things to the human brain—it makes us healthier, happier, and smarter.” Importantly, they mention that positive health benefits do not necessitate full emersion into untouched nature, but can be gained from engaging with the more natural elements of an urban environment and even exposure to images of the natural world.
Context, context, context
So how can we fully leverage this for ourselves and for our patients? As Dave and Lorimer mention in EP Supercharged, “DIMs and SIMs can hide in hard to find places.” Well maybe some SIMs are easier to find then we thought – if we look to our local, regional, state, national parks and open spaces or even to our own back yards. Reminding people to do their exercise in a variety to contexts, including the setting, may be able to take advantage of this relationship between nature and our brains. Consider changing “home” exercises to include specific places that are meaningful to that person, so they become “garden” exercises, “bush” exercises or “park” exercises.
And even when it is not feasible to go to these places due to limited time, finances or access, then imagery can play a roll. We can ask ourselves and our patients, where is a meaningful place for you, that could give you a similar effect, a reconnection to the natural world that positively influences your brain?
Benjamin Boyd (PT, DPTSc, OCS) is currently an Associate Professor at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, California, where he primarily teaches in the Musculoskeletal Patient/Client Management and Capstone course series. He has been teaching courses on peripheral nervous system anatomy, biomechanics, clinical evaluation and intervention since 2004 and he joined the NOI US teaching faculty in 2013. email@example.com
Great advice! I recently encountered this yesterday when my patient with a fresh total knee told me he was working on range of motion by sitting on his garden swing and rocking back and forth with his foot planted on the ground. I thought it was a perfect exercise. Of course he is 94 so he has probably figured out a lot of things about life that we have yet to learn.