As we continue to celebrate the nation’s Parks and Recreation Month, which was in July – but why not celebrate all summer long – we suggest you consider using this time to start or update your wellness routine. The National Park System has many places to immerse oneself in nature — and breathe in the fresh air — literally and figuratively. Exercising outside doesn’t have to be a grueling experience. Outdoor yoga has plenty of health benefits, and research suggests it’s almost better to practice outside than in the studio. If yoga isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other therapeutic options to try in nature.
The location of your yoga practice can affect your mental and social well-being. Yoga in nature can calm the mind and increase awareness of one’s surroundings. More fresh air replenishes energy and heightens focus, and when the sun shines down on us in an idyllic setting there is an increase in endorphin releases in the brain. Nature’s calming presence and yoga’s tranquil exercise combine to destress and recharge.
Meditation is another exercise that can help us become receptive to nature’s “life,” like noticing the wind on our skin. In meditation, mindfulness takes over and teaches us to be present in the moment, relax our anxieties, and restore clarity to our minds.
Other therapeutics utilize the healing power of nature. In forest bathing, people disconnect themselves from technology and urban life and retreat to forests to boost their physical and mental health. Based on ancient Japanese and Korean practices, modern forest bathing, or forest therapy, was created by M. Amos Clifford, founder of the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy.
Clifford’s studies show the correlation between forest therapy and a reduction of cardiovascular issues in those who meditate or practice yoga in nature. Unlike hiking, which focuses on physical activity and exertion, this practice is more about a deeper, spiritual understanding of nature. Forest therapy explores how the forest operates, understanding the symbiosis between nature, animals, plants, and humanity. It can involve simply sitting and watching the trees flow in the breeze, recognizing the forest breathes and flows. National parks offer the perfect environment for forest therapy and yoga if you need an escape from the city.
In our quick-moving world, more research suggests urban dwellers respond better to being in nature as it helps reach high levels of calmness and opens their eyes to environmental issues. National parks like Acadia and Great Falls are great forest therapy and yoga spots, as they have extensive and lush wooded areas and serene bodies of water. Not to mention, the canopy cover will provide plentiful shade.
If you want a wider variety of nature and love traveling, check out parks like Rocky Mountain, Everglades, and North Cascades. They offer snow-capped mountains, glacial lakes, mangroves, tidal pools, and wildlife. More picturesque scenery will significantly impact one’s mental and physical health. It’s also more eco-friendly to ditch the studios where lights, heat/air conditioning, and music systems use large portions of energy to power. Whether you want to head to a nearby national park or take a trip to one you’ve never seen before, they offer the best natural settings in the country and allow you to appreciate nature. Yoga, meditation, and forest therapy are the perfect way to decompress this summer.