When we take a walk in nature, surround ourselves with trees, oceans or streams, we are immersing our senses in the more than materialistic world. The natural world entices our senses, planting us in the present moment and supports our body’s natural, innate, capacity for healing; mentally and physically.
Through the practice of mindfulness, present-time awareness, we are able to tune into the messages our bodies are sending us. Where does stress/anxiety/ sadness show up for you? For some, it’s tightness across their chest, nail biters or it’s a skin break-out. We are all different and it’s important that we learn these internal cues so that we can stop addressing and reset.
Nature provides the perfect platform to engage through our senses, become more mindful, slow the pace, and in effect become calmer.
Step outside, feel the breeze on your skin, the warmth of the sunshine your face, the grass under your bare foot. How does it make you feel? Is the grass dry and prickly? Is it wet and squishy between your toes? Feel a fallen leaf; is it dry and crunchy or wet and decaying? Take time to feel how different parts of our bodies feel more or less and the difference.
Our sense of touch is found all over our body. Of all the others, smell, hearing, taste sight; they are located in specific parts of the body. Our sense of touch is the one sense that we can’t switch off. This is because the sense originates in the dermis, the bottom layer of skin. The dermis contains many nerve endings that are constantly feeding information to our brain via spinal cord, about what they come into contact with.
We have millions of receptors all over our body. In some areas such as our finger tips, face, lips, tongues, and feet we have more as we rely on the sense of touch more so for these areas than say the small of your back. These receptors/ sensors are at their greatest sensitivity at around 16 years of age before they slowly decline as we age.
There are as many as 100 pressure receptors in one cubic centimetre on our fingertips.
As little as 10 in one cubic centimetre on the small of our back.
The old adage of use it or lose it applies here. If we constantly ‘insulate’ our feet, we neglect exposing them to hard, soft, hot, cold, pain etc and using the message pathways to our brain from this part of our body.
The same as if you are right handed- try and use your left to write you name. Horrible right?! This is because you haven’t had the neural traffic from your hand to your brain sending the message to utilise this route. You use your right hand more, so that strengthens that part of your brain that has been fed these messages back.
We have two very different systems of touch;
Gives us the information to relay to the brain as facts. This is a stick, leaf, hot water, icy winds or the warmth of sun on our face. These receptors feedback temperature, pain, pressure so on.
This is slower processing system that sends information to your brain about how you are feeling. How does the sun feel on your skin? Does it fill your body with warmth and anticipation for spring summer? Are you connected to someone through a loving hug or touch? Were you held by your mother when a child and needed reassurance? It is the emotional reaction to the sensory information.
There is significant research that shows physical touch strengthens bonds between people, reduces emotional and mental distress and promotes well -being.
When we walk in Nature, the invitation lies in the touch of the overhanging leaves, the trunk of a great tree, the tall grass that tickles the legs. Walk barefoot and absorb the nutrients from the soil, feel the sense of “grounding” emotionally to an anxious mind.
With a leaf or a feather softly stroke on the back of your hand, face, then your leg (if you’re wearing pants, try hitch up your top and stroke your belly or lower back). Can you feel the difference?
Slowing down, bringing awareness to our sense of touch in the natural world offers the tools to reconnect with nature for well-being and happiness.
Next week, learn why our sense of sight has been blinded by technology and how to reawaken!
“The disconnection from nature also alienates us from ourselves. When our lives are insulated from the elements and from the natural cycles, we become anesthetized, deadened to our senses and finding it increasingly difficult to connect to the sensual processes that allow us to feel joy, delight and surprise. Our life force is diminished”.
-M Amos Clifford