It's not hard to recognize that spending time in nature is soothing to the soul, but did you know that there are several scientifically-proven benefits of immersing in the outdoors? We’ve talked to certified Integrative Health and Wellness Coach, Justine Nelson, who shares with us 4 ways wellness ranch vacations embrace the healing power of nature.
We all know that feeling… the fresh breeze blowing through your hair, the sunlight warming your face, the sound of the waves crashing and the cool sensation of digging your toes into the sand.
Here we delve into understanding how immersing in nature on a wellness ranch vacation has been scientifically proven to benefit mental health – take in Justine’s top tips for mindfulness for beginners, too!
What is the healing power of nature?
Imagine yourself viewing a beautiful sunset in the mesmerizing Wild West scenery.
As you take it in, your thoughts begin to fade into the background and your mind becomes clear.
Your shoulders begin to drop and a feeling of relaxation radiates throughout your body. Your breathing begins to slow and a sense of peace empowers you to let go.
This is the healing power of nature!
Thanks to current scientific research, we are now able to empirically see how spending time in nature can be therapeutic to the mind, body and soul.
This is your sign to take the plunge and book yourself the wellness vacation you deserve!
Read on to discover four benefits of nature for mental health:
How much does nature reduce stress?
The psychological benefits of nature are enormous to humans.
Recent studies show that spending time in nature or even viewing scenes of nature reduces anger, fear and stress, and increases pleasant feelings.
Wellness ranch vacations are the best destinations to truly immerse in nature’s offerings and feel the stress float away.
Not only are wellness ranches located in some of the most picture-perfect places on the planet, the majority of all ranch vacation activities take place in The Great Outdoors.
Photo: Echo Valley Ranch, Canada
In addition to increasing positive emotions, exposure to nature like this contributes to physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones.
Can’t escape to your dream wellness retreat just yet? When you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck in a rut, take a moment to step outside, find a place where you can get some fresh air and take in the beautiful scenery.
Even having a plant in your house or office can help bring the same benefits indoors.
Try this mindfulness tip: Next time you’re outside, find a place where you can sit comfortably and take in your surroundings. Begin to anchor your awareness in the present sensations (sight, smell, sound, taste and touch). Explore observing your surroundings without judgment, but rather letting them be as they are. And after, take a moment to reflect how that exercise impacted you.
Does nature boost your immune system?
Yes! Ever heard of ‘forest bathing’?
The benefits of forest bathing are being heavily researched in Japan and the studies focus on how spending time in forests can help prevent certain kinds of cancer.
“A walk in nature walks the soul back home” - Mary Davis
When we breathe in fresh forest air, we are breathing in phytoncides, which have antibacterial and antifungal qualities that help plants fight disease.
When humans breathe these chemicals, it increases a type of white blood cell called ‘Natural killer cells’ or ‘NK’.
These cells kill tumors and virus-infected cells in our bodies. So, taking a walk in the woods not only makes us feel better mentally and emotionally, but helps us repair and restore health on a cellular level.
On a wellness ranch vacation, there are so many opportunities to explore beautiful and ancient forests and woodland, whether on bike, foot, ATV, horseback or even skis!
Try this mindfulness tip: Slow down and breathe. Wherever you are, allow yourself to pause and take a few deep breaths. Explore repeating to yourself a mantra, such as ‘Breathing in I calm my body, breathing out I smile.’
How nature affects the brain
Spending time in nature brings us back to the present.
When we engage ourselves in our senses, we can let our wandering mind settle and allow ourselves to just be.
Studies show that being in nature can help sharpen our minds and increase attention capacity, creativity, focus and our ability to connect with other people.
On a wellness ranch vacation, you’ll most certainly be trying new things and nature’s classroom is the best place to learn any new activity, as you’ll have increased mental clarity and focus.
Photo: The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana
Wellness retreats offer wonderful learning experiences: there are ranches with yoga in peaceful outdoor settings, ranches with meditation and some even offer calming workshops, like photography and painting classes in the Great Outdoors.
Try this mindfulness tip: Next time you find yourself in a mental block or unable to focus, take a short walk or find a trail in nature. Immerse yourself in the moment by noticing your surroundings and practicing observing without judgment, witnessing things as they are. You might just find this helps quiet the worried mind and allows your creative thoughts to flow!
Nature connects us to something bigger
When we immerse ourselves in nature, we are reminded that we are part of something greater.
Studies show that spending time in nature reminds us of the interconnectedness in life and unites us to each other and the world at large.
It has been shown that when we view nature scenes, the part of our brains where we experience empathy and love light up!
If you embark on one of the best wellness ranch vacations in the U.S. or Canada, just taking in the jaw-dropping scenery that surrounds you will instantly fill you with a huge sense of awe.
Photo: The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, California
Picture the beautiful Big Sky of Montana, or the vast, imposing Rockies… there’s nothing like it on earth to make you feel grounded again – this sense of being in awe reminds us that there is a power greater than the individual self and even humans.
This positive emotional response helps increase prosocial behaviors, and reminds us how to be kind and compassionate.
Try this mindfulness tip: Explore practicing a love and kindness meditation. Close your eyes, place your hand(s) on your heart and visualize a person, people, or place that you wish to send love to. As you rest here, imagine sending them thoughts of love and kindness, and any other positive energy/prayer you wish to send them.
Final thoughts on the healing power of nature
In conclusion, when we connect ourselves to nature we connect to our roots. We feel more grounded, centered and at peace.
In our fast-paced modern society we can forget how to slow down and can lose sight of what is truly important.
Spending time in nature on a peaceful wellness vacation allows us to take a break from the stressors of modern life and return to simplicity.
Spending time in nature also reminds us of our body’s natural ability to heal itself.
All of these studies and more show the capacity of the mind to choose relaxation over stress, and therefore improve a state of holistic health and wellbeing.
Photo: Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, Montana
Immersing yourself in nature on a specially-curated wellness retreat is a way to help bring yourself into a relaxed state, but practicing mindfulness and meditation regularly can help you achieve that state wherever you are.
If you like the sound of immersing in nature to heal, ground and learn, then a wellness ranch vacation could be just the getaway for you.
Take a look at these beautiful wellness ranches and if you love our mindfulness tips, explore the practice of mindfulness even further at one of our ranches with meditation and mindfulness.
So now, get outside as often as you can! Surround yourself by plants, trees, dirt, sun, fresh air and water, and let the wisdom of nature speak to you.
Original article written by Justine Nelson, BA, MS, IWC, 200hr RYT, certified Integrative Health and Wellness Coach.
Co-written, edited and created by Kate Hammaren; luxury and adventure travel writer, editor and world traveler.
Thanks to the Auberge Resorts Collection's Bishop's Lodge for the beautiful banner image
Justine was born and raised in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. At a young age her parents introduced her to Transcendental Meditation and later, this spurred her onto a path of self-discovery and opened up her curiosity into the human psyche. Achieving a Bachelor's Degree in Art and Psychology, studying alternative forms of therapy, Justine then went on to complete a Master’s Degree in Mind-Body Medicine where she studied the mind-body connection and alternative methods to help encourage holistic wellbeing. Today, Justine is a certified Integrative Health and Wellness Coach who specializes in teaching mindfulness meditation, Ayurveda medicine and yoga. With a deep love and passion for understanding, she believes that teaching these ancient practices is a way to give back to humanity, reminding us of our unlimited being, so we can learn to flow with the rhythms of life and optimize our overall health and wellbeing. Follow Justine’s journey on Instagram
Atchley, R. A., Strayer, D. L., & Atchley, P. (2012). Creativity in the wild: improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings. PloS one, 7(12), e51474. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0051474
Franco, L. S., Shanahan, D. F., & Fuller, R. A. (2017). A review of the benefits of nature experiences: more than meets the eye. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(8), 864. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14080864
Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine. 15(1): 9-17.
Zhang, J. W., Piff, P. K., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., & Keltner, D. (2014). An occasion for unselfing: beautiful nature leads to prosociality. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 37, 61–72. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2013.11.008