The hidden value of reaching out and getting in touch with nature
It never hurts to embark on a walk in nature for no other reason than because it’s good for you. By that, you may mean a sense of achievement for adding to your daily tally of steps or satisfaction for having done something you know to be good for your fitness.
However, enjoying just these little self-commendations and then promptly moving on with your day may rob you of the value of another string which could be added to your personal wellbeing bow: a practice of mindful tactile stimulation. To wit, your sense of touch. With nature at our doorstep, we needn’t go far to encounter the ultimate sensory confluence of sights, scents and sounds begging to delight all of our senses at once.
And as much as emphasis is placed on the value of immersing ourselves in this multi-faceted experience to reduce stress levels and augment relaxation, what about our sense of touch alone? Skin is the body’s largest organ and yet cutaneous sensation is the least understood of the five senses.
We know that massage or physical touch has long been employed to enhance physical healing and emotional health, and that gentle pressure, heat or cool can be harnessed to provide relief from muscular tension, stress, joint stiffness, pain and even injury. General research into the sense of touch also demonstrates that gentle tactile stimuli through exposure to soft, smooth, warm, or even rough textures in a demand-free activity can help people with dementia, ADHD, or those on the autism spectrum enjoy a heightened sense of comfort and safety. Exactly how this happens has not yet been conclusively established, but evidence is mounting on the side of decreased levels of stress hormones and heart rate, plus increased levels of neurotransmitters which improve mood, behaviour and impulse control.
Identifying, isolating and positively engaging your sense of touch through your body’s most sensitive areas such as your fingers, palms or face could reap similar rewards. The perfect place to access these benefits for yourself is no further away than your nearest pocket of nature, be it a local park, beach, forest, or garden. It’s quite literally at your fingertips.
As each seasonal shift offers a revolving array of natural elements to reach out and touch, we can look forward now to being outdoors and finding what puts a gentle spring in our step during the warmer months. A regular walk may already be part of your routine or maybe it’s time to re-establish a daily constitutional; either way, seeking mindful calm through intentional touch during your walk could give rise to pleasantries which not only feel good, but are good for your body and mind.
Once in a natural outdoor environment, the idea is to seek the elements which feel good to touch and be sure not to rush the experience. Become aware of what is on offer in your little neck of the bush at any given time. Leaves, moss, flowers, bark, pods, pebbles, sand, shells, sea foam, rain, wind, boulders, feathers… all have the potential to grant pleasing sensations.
Here are some tips on how to include some touch therapy into your time in the ever-changing outdoors.
- Adopt a comfortable, open posture and take some deep breaths.
- Become aware of what sights, sounds, or scents are in your range and direct your mind to the current moment.
- Turn your attention to the elements which feel good on your skin, whether it’s the warmth of the sun or a cool breeze, and focus on the experience without trying to define it.
- Be as adventurous, dynamic, or still as you like, being guided by just one factor – what feels good on your skin, especially your fingers and face. Don’t shy from taking off your shoes if it’s safe to and explore what feels good underfoot.
- Take some time to pause and be where you are. Whether you’re standing, sitting, leaning, or lying down, locate other comforting points of contact and give them the same focus.
- Enjoy soothing solitary moments which cost you nothing apart from a committed intention to delight in your sense of touch.
- Commit to memory what you can take back with you. Remember how the sensations made you feel and practise a mindful recall of it in a later moment whenever you need to be grounded again.
Words: Catherine Clark