The mental and physiological benefits of spending time outdoors are now well established. Yet, most of us spend about 90% of our lives indoors. And as you might imagine, a good portion of that time is spent sedentary and in front of a screen.
If you live in a concrete jungle (NYC for us!), or the cuffs chaining you to your desk are in need of more than WD-40 to unshackle, you may be wondering how to reap the benefits of ‘forest bathing’ when we are surrounded by wailing sirens? Two words: MindTravel Elemental.
Last week, I discovered a way to escape the screen and connect with nature through an immersive journey into a living composition experience guided by real-time composer and global sensation, Murray Hidary.
Entering SONY Hall, I was greeted by its 360° Reality Audio nature sounds coming from every part of the room, grassy fields with Walden meditation cushions placed under cherry blossom trees, and Kelley Anderson’s gorgeous moss art adorning the centerpiece, the electric baby grand piano.
Hidary guided the packed Hall on an extemporaneous and intuitive adventure through a lush aural world of grass, rainforest, thunderstorms and cherry blossoms. But it was more than just a listening experience. He simultaneously guided and entrained our brains with his seductive and soothing melodies, lulling every overstimulated New Yorker’s brain into a delightful theta state.
Scientifically, I know that adopting a meditation practice or being exposed to sound therapy creates a neuroplastic quality in both our brain and Autonomic Nervous System. But I was intrigued to learn if the nature sounds had some supplementary effect.
We now know that stepping away from our screens and into the wild outdoors, for even just an hour, can have a myriad of positive health benefits, including decreased blood pressure, increased NK cell activity, decreased adrenaline and epinephrine levels (providing clear indications of stress-reduction), and reduced cortisol production.
But will merely hearing the sounds of Mother Nature impact our grey matter?
Apparently so. According to a 2017 study published in Nature, scientists at Brighton and Sussex Medical School hooked up participants to an fMRI machine to monitor the effects of nature sounds on the brain and found that nature does have healing effects on our grey matter.
The researchers had a group of 17 adults listen to a collection of 5-minute audio clippings – both sounds of nature and of man-made environments. As they listened to each short clip, the fMRI machines, which scan and show brain activity, showed that the natural sounds created a blissful, relaxation-rich, task-free state of wakefulness known as the Default Mode Network. In short, the study revealed that in only 5 minutes, the nature sounds reduced the physiological effects of sympathetic nervous system activity and increased feelings of relaxation.
And folks, after spending an hour at SONY Hall with Hidary, my brain and body definitely knew this finding to be true. If you are looking for a unique way to feel a bit more relaxed without the stress of a traditional sit practice, check out one of Murray Hidary’s live or in-person events! Your mind won’t be disappointed.