The healing power of hiking and nature.
Trekking the great outdoors is more than just visually stimulating.
Walking in nature is an opportunity for us to listen to our soul, tune in to our body, and refresh our mind.
As the world progresses (or appears to) with technology, urban surroundings, and fast-paced living, we may sometimes feel overwhelmed. Society has glorified our overachieving, busy lifestyles, and now we are experiencing stress, burnout, and chronic health problems as a result.
Even if we not at the extreme spectrum of burnout, we may find that we don’t have much time for ourselves—our soul, self-care, and just pure fun.
There are many reasons why nature is healing. Walking outdoors can reveal areas in our life that we have neglected and need our attention. We may find an answer we’ve been seeking but were unable to hear through our busyness. It may be as simple as refreshing your entire being with a much-needed boost of joy. The beautiful thing about nature is: we can all receive something uniquely beneficial to our lives.
A lot of our troubles today are due to our overburdened way of living and a lack of patience. We are forfeiting the ancient wisdom of the forest and the open air, replacing our inner voice with external satisfaction and noise. Or, as the old book says, “satisfying the flesh.”
And while there is nothing wrong with hard work and enjoying things of the world, there’s a fine line that we mustn’t cross if we want to experience deep fulfillment in our soul, body, and mind. Or, in simpler terms, peace and stillness.
When we learn about ourselves, we begin to know when to slow down and when to take action. From a calm, centered, and grounded position, we can make decisions that are right for us—even if others don’t agree. When we are acting from this position, we are more likely to experience peace, stability, joy, and overall health.
Let’s explore the healing power of hiking and nature:
How is hiking beneficial for understanding our stress levels and for healing?
1. Replenish your brain cells.
Going for a hike can aid in releasing built-up stress and tension. The physical act of walking is a well-documented activity for stress relief. Scientists recently discovered that we could generate new brain cells in our adult years. Previously, we believed it was only in our younger years. Stress can affect our brain cells, so it’s good to know that restoring these cells is possible.
2. Shrink problems and highlight solutions.
Walking in nature can help minimise our problems. Think back to when you were feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and after you exercised, the issue didn’t seem so big anymore. Hiking can take us away from the problem for a moment. If you’ve heard of the saying “sleep on it”—it’s the idea of giving the problem some rest rather than continuously fixating on it. You may find that after a hike, a solution or idea will come to you.
3. Restore or deepen spiritual growth.
Making time to enjoy nature can inspire you to pray, meditate, or seek wisdom rather than trying to force yourself through life. As you look out into nature at the trees, fauna, the birds, and even the weather, it can be a great reminder of how the seasons work together, how everything flows even though there is change. There is a deeper wisdom taking place—and throughout the seasons, there is a purpose. Summer all year long, just like nonstop stress, would mean no contrast and no room for breathing. We need the ebb and flow, just as we need the array of seasons.
4. Fuels appreciation, which can lead to more joy.
Appreciation is the pathway to joy—and a joyful heart is more likely to attract healthy relationships and opportunities. Hiking can naturally boost our appreciation without much effort. The simple act of walking amongst incredible beauty and fresh air is invigorating. It’s not tied to anything or anyone—it’s purely fueling your spirit.
5. Helps us to choose or create healthier habits.
Becoming aware of our habits means paying attention to what may influence our choices. Stress is often a cause for unhealthy eating and reaching for an extra serving or sugary option. We may very well be endeavoring to work hard, be healthy, and live a happy life—but find ourselves in yo-yo cycles or falling back into old ways soon after starting. While endeavoring to make changes, it is always beneficial to use your time in nature to learn about yourself and why you want to make those choices.
6. Quiet the worldly noise.
The open space outside without technology, other voices, and the speediness of life may awaken something in you. Who were you before the world told you who you are? Who are you if all these layers of expectation, cultural influence, and “ego” are stripped away? What’s your identity—does it depend on all these things? Do you like yourself without the success, fame, money, attention, status? Do you feel love for yourself? These are deep questions.
Hiking can be a positive tool to bring up blind spots and reveal to us what areas we are neglecting or overcompensating for. It doesn’t stop there, though. Walking in nature creates space for us to listen and be in the moment. In this state, we may be able to hear “why” we are doing certain things or uncover parts of ourselves that we have ignored. Furthermore, it may introduce an idea or solution that allows us to make positive changes.
7. Draws subconscious habits and traumas to the surface.
We can be so busy in our lives, and if we don’t have the ability to just be still, we may not be aware of habits and traumas that are lying beneath our consciousness. Why is it important to face these hidden areas of our minds? When we understand ourselves on a deeper level, we are more likely to live our lives more clearly. And if you’ve found yourself in unhealthy cycles (food, relationships, procrastination, giving up) and you wonder why you keep repeating the same patterns, it could be a matter of unaddressed patterns of thinking.
Nature allows us to enter into a different space in our minds. The overactive, doing part quiets for a moment. Relaxation is the best state for seeing complex, hidden aspects of ourselves. It allows the intuition to speak, and while walking in nature, we are more likely to hear ourselves—without distraction. This is also the best state of mind for making positive changes because they come entirely from you, not an external source (like social media or other peoples’ expectations).
8. Inspire creativity and boost quality productivity.
The idea that rest, recovery, and introspection can be good for our work seems counter-intuitive, but it is paramount. It shows us that everything is not entirely up to us and that the world does not sit on our shoulders. We may be limiting ourselves when we are constantly pushing everything to the limits and relying solely on long hours without rest. There are paths that are more efficient and require less strain. Discovering these alternative or unknown paths can be inspired by nature.
9. Serve from a full cup.
Think: if you are well, you treat others well. If you expand, this flows over to others too. If you make time to make peace with yourself, others will feel this from you. Sometimes what holds us back from self-care is the feeling that we will let others down by putting ourselves “first.” But we cannot serve from an empty cup.
10. Balances the central nervous system.
Walking in nature at a consistent pace can support our nervous system by releasing excess energy. Stimulants such as coffee, being too busy, stress, emotional traumas, and various foods can burden our central nervous system (CNS), leaving our overall well-being out of balance. A great way to check whether we are out of balance is to hike in the great outdoors. It will reflect back to you the current condition you are in. If you feel incredible, mentally lighter, after a hike (even a nice tired feeling) but you are not experiencing this in daily life, use this as a reference to make some healthy changes in your everyday routine.
11. Reminds us to look up.
Technology has drawn our eyes downward. Intense focus on our phones or computers for long periods of time can affect our eye health, as well as posture. This may result in headaches, tension, back pain, and difficulty concentrating. Walking outdoors and gazing at the lush greenery, blue skies, and natural surroundings is a healthy way to balance our mental focus and physical health. It’s a natural booster for the brain and mind too.
12. Keeps novelty alive.
If we are not seeking out adventures, life can become stagnant and routine. Ensuring our lifestyle includes novelty and surprise is not only healthy but it can ignite new ideas and creativity. It does require us to ditch the mentality that life is all work and no play. New experiences and making time for the unfamiliar can boost our overall success.
13. Allows us to breathe deeper.
In our busy, fast-paced, competitive world, we may find that we are breathing shallowly. Deep breathing is not just about feeling calmer. It’s a vital practise for the entire health of our body and brain. Every part of you—your organs, blood, heart, muscles—needs an adequate amount of daily oxygen to function optimally.
Symptoms of shallow breath may be:
>> Poor digestion
>> Reactive rather than responsive
>> Lack of patience
>> Lack of clear thinking
>> Low tolerance toward yourself or others
>> Fitness becoming stagnant
Walking in nature deepens your breathing and oxygen intake. If you’re a beginner, it takes practice and time to develop your fitness. One of the other reasons trekking outdoors may help us to breathe better is due to the lack of distractions and things to do. We are simply walking, enjoying, and basking in fresh air. Our body is able to release tension and drop into a relaxed state, which gives our body and mind a chance to unwind.
14. Clears out emotions.
Circumstances and people in our life may evoke certain emotional reactions. When we act on those emotions without allowing ourselves time to calm down and reflect before responding, we may say or do things we later regret. But sometimes, our emotions can lead us to believe things are a lot worse than they are.
Hiking in nature is a useful way to practice self-awareness and mindfulness. After walking for a period of time, you may find yourself sinking into a calmer state without much thought or force. Situations that were rattling you may not seem so gloomy. It’s not that you need to hike every day to feel this sense of calm and clarity. But rather, you can reflect on your trail walks as a reminder of how it feels not to act on emotions, and instead, engage in an activity and let your emotions quiet down before responding.
15. Nature teaches us to live in a loving state.
Nature has this funny way of exposing the truth of who we are—to ourselves. If we are daring enough to listen and act, our journey will become more aligned with the real us. We’ll show up in the world as our true selves and with less fear of disappointing others. Nature reminds us that life is not about being perfect. The outdoors fills us up with love, and when we live with love flowing in and out of us, life is a little calmer, clearer, and more joyful.
If you are new to hiking or looking for some extra motivation to hit the outdoors a little more regularly, check out the list below:
How to get started:
- Explore your own state. If you are time-poor or a full-time worker, it may be challenging to go on long trails or hike overnight. Find locations closest to you and set yourself a goal to hit the trails once a month minimum.
- Live a healthy lifestyle daily. Choose plant-based foods, make time for exercise, and drink plenty of water every day. This will prepare you for your hikes and keep you energised.
- Post on social media requesting others to join you. Social hikes are just awesome! Walking and talking is therapeutic, and it’s also a more relaxed way to get to know people. You’ll find those nerves and barriers break down a lot easier when you’re outside trekking with people. There’s little room for worrying about trivial things like how we look! (Please continue to follow all current health guidelines around distancing and masking.)
- Find boots or sneakers that are supportive for your feet. Honestly, this will make all the difference in your hikes. If the only thing you can invest in is good footwear, it’s worth it. Pop in the comments below your hiking boot recommendations!
- Walk light. If you are heading out on weekends for a few hours, choose light clothing and take less with you. This is a great way to commute to your brain that you are content with less. It’s also comfortable and causes less strain on your body.
- Leave your phone in your bag or pocket. Try walking without using your phone, not even for photos. Let yourself get into the zone without interruption. After you have enjoyed this deep state of relaxation, whip out the phone, take your pics—and then put the phone back. Check the photos when you are home. You’ll find yourself less concerned about perfect imagery too!
- Write about your experience hiking. Whether for a blog or your own personal journal, writing is a useful tool for healing and self-reflection. Enjoy the process of rehashing your hiking experiences again with words. It’s not only enjoyable but it also allows you to reflect more deeply on what came up for you while in nature.
Hiking—or just purely being in nature—is a powerful antidote to many issues we face in this world. The more of us who shake the shackles of consumerism, busyness, and the “more, more, more” mentality, the more we can be an example of true contentment and fulfillment. The more we heal as a whole, as a community and globally, the less strain we place on each other and our environment at large.