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Our senses are first connected to our brain, processing information like a giant filing cabinet, making connections and drawing conclusions or assumptions. We move from there to our senses being our storehouse of memories – and from those memories, more conclusions or assumptions. Within the memories, we get the sentimentality and that propels us to creative solutions or creative ideas about daily life. The ways we stimulate our senses vary from day to day and from season to season. Research is regularly conducted by teaching hospitals, major universities and organizations such as the American Horticultural Society about the ways our senses depend on nature and how nature strengthens our sensory capacity. You can google research findings from these types of vetted sources to learn more about the groups of people researchers are working with to collect data and share facts they are finding about the importance of the natural world connecting to our senses and the physical health, emotional health and mental health those connections are increased by connections to the natural world.
Maybe more interesting, the ways even seeing a picture of something in a garden, a sunset, a bouquet, can help increase our well-being, are indicated through many research projects. Countless studies have shown that in commercial environments, people feel better when the décor includes photos of nature or serene scenes from the outdoors. With this understanding of connecting to nature, interior decorators are increasingly aware of including things which represent nature in their projects. From wooden floors, stone finishes on walls or countertops, water features, plants, and using soft textures and natural colors, we see the ways people are working to “bring the outside in” for large commercial or institutional spaces.
Besides the importance placed on visually representing nature, you can also consider ways to appeal to your other senses, like interior decorators do. Quick updates to your home could include upholstery prints including plants or flowers, (think of a throw pillow or a soft, cozy lap blanket designed with a repeating floral design). Listening to music with nature sounds, such as the many meditation or visualization apps available, with waterfalls or bird calls in the background can offer the relaxation response. That relaxation response can be helpful for reducing stress and tension in muscles as well as for healing after surgery or a muscle sprain. Another sense we strongly associate with nature is certainly “smell.” Bouquets indoors, as well as plants outdoors in full bloom, offer scents and smells that trigger either very strong, pleasing responses, or if a smell is associated with something you don’t like so much, that memory takes over and you get a negative reaction to the smell. (A teacher you didn’t resonate with so well in
junior high may have worn a rose water cologne and roses ever sense those days trigger an avoidance reaction?!) People nowadays are attracted to diffusers or aerosols to bring floral scents in to their homes. Scented candles, think “evergreen” at Christmas time, are popular in the ways we think of outdoor scents being appealing to our home environments. With some caution, by reading labels and avoiding some of the chemicals that may be in the artificial scents, you can increase your sense of smell and that connection to your brain strengthening when you choose to bring scented items in to your home.
It’s interesting to think that humans throughout their history, have lived outdoors far and away longer than they have lived in fully enclosed spaces. By doing some simple things to bring the outdoors in, you can help restore some of our deepest collective memories and thought processes. It’s also interesting to read the research that indicates just looking at photos of nature can almost “trick” our minds in to reacting in the positive ways we know being out in the natural world solicit.
With these thoughts in mind, I’m sharing some photos with each of our Newmarket Fit to Garden participants – take one home if you like, and by putting this photo on your fridge or tucking it by your computer or tv remote, or a mirror in your bathroom, you may be helping your brain reflect on time spent outdoors. Photos of flowers in your environment at home are a simple way to see if you have a quick pause, slow your breath, and consider how you might also get some time outdoors today. Don’t just rush to your car – try and take some measured steps near your car to feel the sun, or see the dramatic stormy sky. Chances are, you may just feel a little bit better!
“The five senses are the ministers of the soul.”
-Leonardo da Vinci
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