Let Nature Be Your Guide: A Simple “Appreciation” Activity
Over the past eighteen months, there has been a growing appreciation for nature and all that it has to offer. With fewer places to go during the pandemic, many people have found themselves outdoors hiking, biking, boating, and camping. Social media accounts have never been so flooded with photos of the natural world from trees and bees to flowers and leaves. There’s even been a resurgence of picnics in the park and stargazing.
Communing with nature supports mental health, physical well-being, and spiritual growth. It’s a place where the senses are activated and the heart sings. You can breathe in fresh air, listen to the birds chirp, feel the warmth of the sun on your face, smell the scent of fresh grass after a rainfall, and taste the sweetness of wild berries growing along your walking path. Being outside in nature can dissipate the stress of the day, calm the nervous system, and be a reminder of what it feels like to live in the present moment.
Nature is also symbolic of the ebb and flow of life. In fact, every aspect of nature represents a facet of ourselves and how we make meaning of the world around us. Therefore, turning to nature during challenging times for self-care and personal support can be a powerful remedy to uplift the mind and heal the body.
One way to approach nature as a “tool” for well-being is by paying close attention to the four elements - earth, water, air, and fire - and doing nature-based exercises that meet your emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual needs.
The following section lists the four elements of nature, what each one symbolizes, and suggestions for things you can do to strengthen an aspect of yourself. This leads to a mindfulness exercise you can do anywhere at any time that focuses on appreciation.
Four Elements of Nature
EARTH: Groundedness | Nurturing | Growth | Stability | Strength
Walk barefoot outside to ground yourself. Take slow steps, feeling your heels and toes as they bend and lift while moving. Plant your feet firmly in place and connect to the earth like a tree with roots. Do your feet feel cold or warm, wet or dry? Close your eyes. What image comes to mind that reminds you of strength and stability. Perhaps you see yourself as a tree or a mountain. Hold that image in your heart.
- Find a tree to hug. Bring your whole body as close to a tree as possible with your toes touching the base and your entire body leaning into the trunk. Wrap your arms around the tree if possible and rest your cheek on the bark. Close your eyes and feel the tree receiving your embrace. In turn, feel the strength of the tree in you. Whenever you need to feel strong or supported, imagine yourself leaning into and hugging the tree.
WATER: Flow | Change | Ease | Cleansing | Healing
- Spend time by water. What is accessible to you in your neighbourhood? Perhaps you can visit the ocean, a lake, a river or stream, or even a fountain. Consider having a water feature in your home such as a small plug-in bubbling rock or playing ocean sounds in the background while you work. Listening to the sound of water provides many health benefits, such as relaxation and improved sleep. It is also very healthy to submerge in water, such as going for a swim, taking a bath, or soaking your feet. As you spend time with water, think about your relationship with change. Are you able to go with the flow or do you get stuck in resistance? What does water mean to you? How can water be a source of healing?
AIR: Breath | Communication | Creativity | Perception | Spirit
- Breathe fresh air. We spend much of our day indoors breathing stale air. This is further impacted by the need to wear masks for hours at a time. Getting outdoors to allow air to enter your nose and mouth is healing for the body. In particular, breathing fresh air through the nose can help to boost oxygen levels in the lungs, and clear dust and allergens from the nasal cavity. You can also practice “dragon breathing” by inhaling through the nose and exhaling with force from your mouth. Hear and feel the breath as it expels from your body. Imagine breathing in wellness and breathing out anything that no longer serves you. Our breath is our lifeline, our ability to exist. It is also a gateway to communication and creativity. How do you express yourself? Are you able to breathe freely? Spend time focusing on your breath from it’s tempo to rhythm. A slow steady breath is calming.
FIRE: Energy | Passion | Power | Love | Assertiveness
Stand in the light of the sun. How can you absorb the light and warmth the sun has to offer as a way to start your day? Perhaps you can step outside into your yard, onto a balcony, or even stand in front of a window where the sun shines through. Allow your eyes to adjust to the brightness without looking directly at the sun. Did you know that acquiring doses of sunlight first thing in the morning is excellent for keeping your circadian rhythm in balance? In fact, morning sunlight equals a better night’s sleep. Throughout your day see if you’re also able to spend time in the sun to boost levels of vitamin D and improve your immune system. Feel the power of the sun to shine down on you from millions of miles away. Think of all the ways the sun provides energy to every cell in your body to keep you healthy.
- Light a fire. While you might not be able to build a bonfire outdoors, you can likely create a fire indoors. This might include burning wood in a fireplace or a wood burning stove, turning on a gas fireplace or even tuning into a fireplace television station (yes, they exist!). However, you can also simply light a candle. Sit quietly and watch the flicker of the flame. What colour is it? How might you describe how the flame moves and finds stillness? What lights a fire in you? What are you passionate about? What do you love? As you focus on the flame, imagine a fire burning inside of you that is powerful, passionate and fills you with energy. When you are feeling down or doubtful you can remind yourself of the flame and your fire within.
An Exercise in Appreciation
This is a simple exercise that can be done anywhere at any time in your day such as taking a shower, driving your car, or teaching a lesson. It can take a few seconds to several minutes depending on your state of mind and desire to repeat the exercise. The goal is to focus on the present moment and practice appreciation until you feel at peace.
Take in your environment with all of your senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste) and discover something you appreciate. Do not spend time thinking about it. Just follow your intuition. What comes to mind immediately? Can you be descriptive? Can you connect to the four elements of nature? What else in your environment is worth appreciating?
Say to yourself “I appreciate . . .” and name what you notice.
Examples that include the four elements of nature:
- I appreciate the crunching sound of fallen leaves under my feet
- I appreciate the feel of pulsing water on my body from the shower
- I appreciate the warmth of the sun on my face as I walk to my car
- I appreciate the coolness of fresh air as I breathe it deeply into my lungs
- I appreciate the glimmer of dew on the grass as it sparkles in the sun
Other examples of things you might appreciate in your life:
- I appreciate the smell of fresh coffee in my cup
- I appreciate the taste of eggs and toast in the morning
- I appreciate the knowing smile my colleague gave me as we passed in the hallway
- I appreciate the enthusiasm of my students as they play this game
Traci L. Scheepstra, Ph.D., is the CEO/Founder of Embodied Learnings. Read HERE to learn more about her work in education.