Are you getting out into nature as much as you’d like? If yes—my hat is off to you, and I want to know your secret! If no—you’re certainly not alone. These days, most of us spend our days indoors, in cities, and in front of screens, especially in winter. Limited daylight and inclement weather, combined with current shelter-in-place restrictions, create multiple barriers to getting outdoors.
Fortunately, there are many ways to connect with the peace and beauty of nature indoors, even in the midst of a city. And because nature is so powerfully healing, a little goes a long way. A single green plant or nature image in a room or a brief view of a natural scene has a measurable impact.
It’s great to get outside and into wild places we can. But when we can’t, connecting with nature indoors can bring peace, balance, and delight into our days. Here are a few simple ideas for how to do that. All offer some of the same benefits as being in a natural setting, including reducing stress and anxiety. And all except #2 can be done virtually anywhere—even in a windowless building.
1. Bring the outside in. Having green plants or nature images in a room beautifies the space and reminds you of your relationship to the natural world. It also reduces stress, enhances performance, and supports healing. This is especially valuable in rooms without windows or natural views.
2. Look up and out. We all need breaks to stay effective, especially if we spend a lot of time on screens. Gazing at green plants or other views or images of nature, even for just a minute, restores your attention and focus. Looking out the window regularly or for longer periods of time helps you connect with daily and seasonal cycles and get to know your natural neighbors. Watching the sun rise or snow fall, observing birds feeding, or mindfully connecting with a tree reminds you that nature is part of your everyday environment and helps you feel more connected with it.
3. Connect with a natural treasure. Choose a found item from nature that is special to you, perhaps a stone, shell, or feather. Sit or lie down, holding it in your hands, and slowly and mindfully explore it with all your senses, focusing on one sense at a time. (Closing your eyes will heighten your awareness of other senses.) You may also want to tune into its subtle or energetic essence, or try speaking directly to (or even as) your nature treasure. Notice if you discover new things about it, and if you feel different after doing this practice.
4. Take yourself back. Visualizing yourself in a special place in nature helps you stay connected with it and gives you some of the physical and mental health benefits of actually being there. Sit or lie down in a quiet, comfortable spot and travel in your mind’s eye to your special place. Picture yourself there, noticing what you see, hear, and sense and drinking in the natural goodness. When you’re ready to come back, find a way to give thanks to that place and then transition gently back by noticing your breath and present-time physical sensations. (Another option is to use recordings of guided meditations that feature nature imagery.)
5. Give thanks. Expressing gratitude for some of the gifts we receive from the Earth helps us enjoy and appreciate them and fosters a more respectful relationship with nature. You might pause to give thanks for the food on your plate, a sunset, or a lovely flower. Consider keeping a gratitude journal, or writing a thank-you letter to the Earth or a being or place in nature that is special to you. The more you feel and express your gratitude, the more it will nourish you and the natural world.
6. Cultivate allies. You can develop special relationships with plants, animals, or other beings in the natural world and call on them for guidance and support wherever you are. You may invite a particular being to work with you, or ask for an ally to come to you and see who appears. While it may feel awkward at first, speaking to them directly will foster a stronger connection. Working with your allies regularly will deepen your bond with them and your capacity to access nature’s wisdom. Remember to honor and thank them for their gifts and find ways to give back.
7. Listen to your body. Your body is part of nature, and listening to it connects you with powerful, natural wisdom that can help keep you safe, healthy, and happy. Check in with your body periodically to notice what you need (food, water, a break, movement?) Closing your eyes, placing your hands on your body, and tuning into your breath or physical sensations are simple ways to bring awareness to your body. Also notice what kind of environments you are instinctively drawn to, and which ones leave you feeling relaxed, nourished, or enlivened.