Nature therapy is an important part of Ayurvedic teachings, but one often under-emphasized because at the time the texts were written, human life was still interwoven with the natural environment. Lets take a few minutes to consider how nature therapy can play a part in our self-care.
The average American spends only 7% of their time outdoors, with the rest of their time being indoors or in their automobile. Given that some of the outdoor time is just walking in the parking lot, that doesn't give much time for nature. Even children nowadays spend only about half an hour a day outside, while nursing home residents are typically outside for only minutes a week. Often our vision of 'exercising' is to drive to the gym, exchanging one indoor environment for another. Another popular form of exercise is mall walking. In an indoor mall you don't have to worry about heat, cold, rain or mountain lions. But you also don't get any sunlight, fresh air or nature.
Ayurveda places various aspects of nature therapy among shamanam, or pacification of doshas as well as among rutucharya or seasonal routines. Some of the important ways to calm down disturbed doshas and remove toxins include maruta seva or 'taking the air' and atapa seva or sunbathing. We can practice taking the air by strolling, sitting on the porch or patio or spending time in a park or garden. Sun therapy can be as simple as making sure we get a twenty minute walk in daylight during the winter months, or sitting in a pleasant, sunny corner for a cup of tea. Doing yoga outdoors, especially sun salutations, is highly recommended for both sunlight and taking the air. When Sadananda and I are on vacation, a favourite part of each day is chi gong outside. Some of my happiest memories of each place we have visited involve chi gong in the garden or park!
The classical Ayurvedic text Ashtanga Hridayam spells out types of nature therapy for each season. In winter the author, Vagbhat, recommends getting sunlight whenever possible without becoming too chilled. As spring arrives, more time outdoors is recommended. "Spend the middle of the day in forests, parks or gardens with cool breezes, lakes and ponds and filtered sunlight, enjoying the sound of the cuckoo and the beauty and fragrance of flowers." There are no cuckoos here in Colorado, but the sound of the mountain chickadee is equally thrilling. And just lately it has been so refreshing in our garden and as we stroll the neighbourhood--all the beauty and fragrance of lilac, iris, and the pungent sweetness of chokecherry blossoms as well.
In summer, picnics are a recommended self-care activity. "Daytime should be spent in forests with tall trees reaching the sky, obstructing the hot rays of the sun." Extra outdoor time can be gained by sleeping on a terrace or back patio, with good exposure to the cooling rays of the moon. And on warm autumn evenings, Vagbhat encourages us to sit on the terrace or porch, dressed in white and enjoying the moonlight.
While getting into deep nature in forests and mountains is ideal, it may not be feasible on a daily basis. Tending your own garden--or even patio garden--is a readily accessible form of nature therapy, as well as walking in a park or strolling through neighbourhoods enjoying other people's gardens. Songbirds delight us in residential areas and we can use bird feeders and the like to encourage them. At Alandi we eat outdoors on the porch or lawn whenever the weather permits--gaining a double benefit by combining mealtime with outdoor time.
How can you increase your time in nature? Can you bring a lunch to work and eat it in the park instead of sitting in a restaurant? Can you start a garden or help with a friend's garden? Can you add outdoor walking to your exercise routine? Soothing and refreshing, nature therapy is a great way to stay in balance.
Alakananda Ma M.B., B.S. (Lond.) is an Ayurvedic Doctor (NAMA) and graduate of a top London medical school. She is co-founder of Alandi Ayurveda Clinic and Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula in Boulder Colorado, as well as a spiritual mother, teacher, flower essence maker and storyteller. Alakananda is a well known and highly respected practitioner in the Ayurveda community both nationally and internationally.
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