Stimulating Your Senses (and Health) with Nature

  • April


    When you hear a baby giggle you can’t help but… smile (at least on the inside);

    When you see a sad love story your heart strings are pulled and there’s a tightness in your throat and chest;

    And when we are surrounded by violence, rage and negativity we build a tough skin, become more rigid and angry.

    There are certain traits which are expressed due to our genetic make-up (ie. eye color) while other traits develop from our surrounding environment (ie. how we treat others). This is the “nature vs nurture” phenomenon.

    If you are surrounded by stressful co-workers, upset family members, noise pollution, poor quality air and water, and lack of sleep, guess what? You will be influenced by these negative qualities and they often take a cyclical pattern of self-destructive behaviours.

    It takes a lot of conscious awareness to be mindful and grateful during these cycles. (To learn more about limiting your daily toxic exposures click here)

    For example,

    The wheel of negativity leads to self-destructive patterns unless you stop the cycle.

    The wheel of negativity leads to self-destructive patterns unless you stop the cycle.

    Now, if you are constantly surrounded by these stressors, you may not even recognize the effects they are taking on your body, mental capacity, emotional stability, productivity and ability to manage stress. So take a break.

    Disrupt the cycle and physically remove yourself from your stressors.

    Every day (or at least once a week) make an effort to get out of this negative pattern that feeds a bad mood and poor life decisions. There are endless ways to maintain a Healthy State of Mind (read the full article HERE):

    I’ve traveled the world seeking answers, optimal health and to find peace of mind.

    Whether it was bioenergetic healing sessions from my Naturopathic doctor, meditating in India, a 10-day silent retreat in Thailand, or an Ayahuasca ceremony in Peru, there is always one thing that I am drawn back to.

    And best of all, it is accessible and affordable for all… Nature.

    How to Nurture with Nature.

    Nature contributes to your health and stimulates all of your senses. This article will cover the important reasons to get outdoors and break that wheel of negativity. Click on the links below to read more about each topic:

    Natural Rhythms.
    Nature has a rhythm. Whether it is the wind blowing through trees, the crashing of waves or the sound of birds chirping, that steady rhythm calms your nervous system down almost immediately.

    Just stop and listen.

    Your Nervous System

    The body is capable of enduring great amounts of stress for short periods of time if it has a chance to rest and recover. Unfortunately, the current Western lifestyle consists of persistent low-level stressors with little chance to nourish our bodies and mind.

    Your autonomic nervous system (the one you don’t consciously control) is divided into 2 systems:

    1. Sympathetic (fight or flight)
    2. Parasympathetic (rest and digest)

    Your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is the one responsible for reacting to stressful situations. It’s when you are running away from a bear or have a work deadline due tomorrow and you’ve just started it.

    STRESS. Can you feel your heart start beating a bit faster and your palms getting sweaty just thinking about it?

    But your SNS is also engaged for smaller day-to-day concerns like: being late for work, thoughts of exercising and making dinner after a long day at work, dealing with your screaming children, and so on. All these seemingly small issues accumulate over time and with constant repetition. Your SNS needs a break. It needs to recover. And it does so by turning on your parasympathetic nervous system.

    Your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is responsible for allowing you to have a deep restful sleep, digest and absorb the nutrients from your foods and beverages, and heal your body. Your PNS not only allows healing of physical injuries (ie. sore feet/back from standing/sitting all day), but also mental, hormonal, neurological, cardiovascular and adrenal imbalances.

    With all the stress that people encounter on a daily basis, no wonder so many people suffer from:

    Your PNS and SNS cannot be on at the same time. They oppose each other. Therefore, by turning on your PNS (ie. deep breathing or walking in nature) you will calm down your stress signals and allow your body to heal and be nurtured.

    Noise Pollution

    Noise pollution affects us all, whether you are aware of it or not. Stop reading for a moment, close your eyes. What do you hear?

    Maybe it’s the buzz of your computer, someone gossiping outside your room, the clicking of a keyboard, or outdoor sounds of traffic horns and sirens.

    But, do you hear any nature? Are you listening?

    Most offices and urban homes have constant unnatural sounds entering a person’s subconscious, even while you sleep. This can cause nervous system distress and interruptions in your sleep cycles.

    Listen to The Rhythms of Nature

    Natures sounds can heal a person. Julian Treasure is the man when it comes to how sound affects the body. He’s not only researched nature, but also the music played in shopping centers to entice a browser to become a buyer and how to increase workplace productivity with sounds.

    Sounds are powerful. They can affect our mood, buying decisions, and behavioral, cognitive and physical state.

    I’ll let Julian take it away:

    The 8 Sounds of Health

    Benefits of Bird Sounds– when birds sing they are in a relaxed state. If they were to stop singing it could mean danger is around the corner. So when we hear birds chirping away, it induces the same response of relaxation and stimulates creativity and productivity.

    Ocean waves create ideal relaxation because of its rhythmic cycles. Waves crash at approximately 12 cycles per min, which is similar to the same rhythm as a sleeping human being. So if you have trouble sleeping or disturbed sleep due to noise pollution get some Soundscape waves to play while you fall asleep [12].

    Waves crash at a frequency of 12 cycles per minute, which stimulates relaxation and is ideal for troubled sleepers

    Waves crash at a frequency of 12 cycles per minute, which stimulates relaxation and is ideal for troubled sleepers

    Music and sounds of nature have also been successfully used with post-operative patients to help with anxiety, pain and healing [13].

    If you enjoyed these videos, check out Julian’s other videos and sites:

    Let it Shine.

    Sunlight is so important for your mood and physiological state.

    If you ask someone from Seattle (see the 101 lowest sunshine cities), they will confirm that the overcast and rainy weather has a huge impact on stress. But it’s not only Seattle.

    Vitamin D insufficiency is a global problem. Vitamin D is not only helpful for your mood, but also bone health, blood sugar and immune support.

    Not enough people are getting outdoors and exposing their skin to 20 minutes of “unprotected” sunlight. I know skin cancer is a scary thought. I’m not telling you to bake in the sun for a week in Mexico once a year (that’s way more harmful than smaller amounts of less intense sun on a daily basis).

    Everyday, you should be exposing your arms and legs to the sun for 20 minutes before slathering on the sunscreen (click here to find out the best way to choose your sunscreen).

    Meditating with the morning sun rise. Uruguay, South America -- 2015

    Meditating with the morning sun rise. Uruguay, South America — 2015

    Supplementing your vitamin D

    If you live North of San Francisco, California or Richmond, Virginia you should be taking at least 1000 IU of supplemental vitamin D per day within the months of October until March. Read more about supplementing with vitamin D here.

    If you notice you get SAD (seasonal affective disorder) in the winter months, likely you need a lot more than 1000 IU per day.

    Criteria for a diagnosis of SAD include:

    1. Previous depressive episode
    2. Fall–winter depression alternating with non-depressed periods during spring–summer
    3. No other variables accounting for mood changes

    Typical depressive characteristics are experienced along with increased sleep and appetite. What’s most interesting is that SAD symptoms tend to remit with exposure to daylight or bright light therapy.

    Don't let low levels of vitamin D get you down

    Don’t let low levels of vitamin D get you down

    How does it work?

    When UV B light from the sun or artificial light hits skin cells, a molecule called 7-dehydrocholesterol is converted into a preliminary form of vitamin D, cholecalciferol.

    Cholecalciferol is transferred into the bloodstream to liver cells to produce 25-hydroxycholecalciferol or 25(OH)D, which is the measurement blood tests look for. Finally, 25(OH)D goes back into the bloodstream to kidney cells, where 25(OH)D is converted into the active form of vitamin D, 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol, or 1,25(OH)D.

    The best way to know if you need to start taking vitamin D and how much is to get tested. Optimal levels of plasma (or serum) 25(OH)D concentration is above 75nmol/L.

    Follow Your Nose.

    Smells are one of the most influential senses when it comes to affecting a person’s mood, behaviour and physical state. It is our “emotional sense”. The brain’s perception of smells are linked to systems for learning, memory, emotion and language [14].

    Why do you think there’s always the smell of cinnamon buns when you are most hungry in the subway systems?

    Olfactory pathway from

    Olfactory pathway from

    But odors can have a negative effect on the body, especially with repetitive long-term exposures. For example, persons living near swine operations (pork factories) are exposed to odorant chemicals including ammonia, hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and volatile organic compounds [17].

    Those who experienced the harsh odors reported more tension, depression, anger, fatigue, confusion, and less vigor than people of the same demographic [16]. Also, malodors may be associated with acute blood pressure increases that could contribute to development of chronic hypertension [17].

    However, even in situations of stress, odors can facilitate relaxation.

    Take this study of a dental office, which found patients who were exposed to an orange essential oil odor in the waiting room had a lower state of anxiety, a more positive mood, and a higher level of calmness [15].

    Odors can also subconsciously affect your behaviors.

    Researches have found that showing participant images smelling an odor (vanillin) increases brain activation and retrieval when revisiting these images 2 weeks later, without any odor present! [18].

    And did you know people are more helpful when around pleasant smells!

    Studies have shown spontaneous help is offered more in areas with pleasant ambient smells (ie. bakeries, pastries) versus neutral odors (ie. clothing stores) [19].

    However, many clothing and retail stores have caught on to the effects of odor and have been able to influence their buying power.

    Do you remember the last time you walked into Abercrombie and Finch (A&F)?

    You probably noticed the visual experience first: dim lighting, really good looking sales people, tropical night club feel, expensive price tags at the front with the sales items deep in the back. But did you clue in with the smell?

    You most likely did because the strong men’s cologne that is unique to A&F: Fierce. It is sprayed in-stores in healthy doses to give off what A&F describes as a “lifestyle…packed with confidence and a bold, masculine attitude.”

    And although many female shoppers are turned off from masculine fragrances, A&F still use it (and a lot of it). Why?

    Well, A&F knows its target demographic: male teenagers who are “classic, good-looking and cool.” By associating its fragrance with its clothing it targets the buyers who want to be like the models and sales staff in the store.

    Fierce by Abercrombie & Finch

    Fierce by Abercrombie & Finch

    Stop and smell the roses

    By getting outdoors more often you not only improve the oxygen content of the air you breath, but also flood your olfactory system (sense of smell) with the natural fragrances of trees, moss, grass, dirt, flowers, fresh or salt water, and clean air.

    Seeing a photo from a family camping trip or even remembering positive outdoor experiences will automatically stimulate your olfactory centers to recreate the sensations of being relaxed, calm, grounded and full of energy.

    Hiking through a small local village North of Delhi, India -- 2009

    Hiking through a small local village North of Delhi, India — 2009

    Breathing in Nature.

    How’s Your Air Quality

    In many areas, the concentrations of air pollutants exceed levels associated with increased risk of acute and chronic health problems, most notably in urban areas [3].

    Ozone and particulate matter are the most widespread outdoor pollutants. They pose a particular concern for the exercising population with chronic exposure leading to new-onset asthma and exercise-induced bronchoconstriction [1].

    Athletes training in urban centers should try to train during low traffic hours and in low traffic areas [1].

    Even exercising in a chlorinated pool or on an ice rink will have increased risk of asthma due to the chemical exposures [1].

    To minimize personal exposure to ambient air pollution try to [3]:

    1. Reduced on high air pollution days by staying indoors
    2. Reducing outdoor air infiltration to indoors
    3. Cleaning indoor air with air filters
    4. Limiting physical exertion, especially outdoors and near air pollution sources

    Read more about limiting everyday toxins HERE.

    BUT it’s not good enough to just stay indoors if you live in a highly polluted area.

    Many low-income homes are exposed to significant indoor air pollution from the use of solid fuels for cooking and heating [4]. The resulting smoke from these fuels contains high concentrations of particulate matter, carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides, and other hazardous compounds [4].

    Current epidemiological reports suggests that global indoor air pollution from the use of solid fuel accounts for about 1.6 million of the 59 million deaths annually [4].

    Sick building syndrome (SBS) is also a major concern for indoor air quality. Symptoms and the performance of students were investigated as a function of the levels of indoor air pollutants and ventilation. Students’ learning performance were affected by the ventilation rates and carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations while certain health symptoms were correlated to the levels of particulate matter and CO2 [2]

    In addition to health-damaging effects, solid fuel use has been identified as an important contributor to greenhouse gases (GHGs), ambient air pollution, deforestation, and environmental degradation [4].

    How do I Get Fresh Healthy Air?

    1. Go outside.

    I mean beyond the city limits. Find a nature path, forest, lake or go hiking up a mountain.

    The leaves of plants and tree emit fresh oxygen (O2), which improves the quality of air. Animals (including humans) have a symbiotic relationship to plants and trees. We breath in O2, which attaches to our red blood cells (RBC) and gets carried to all parts of our bodies in exchange for waste products, such as carbon dioxide (CO2). Our lungs then exhale the CO2 into the atmosphere and the leaves use it as their nutrients. A perfect relationship.

    Focus on deep breathing and start to get your heart rate up. Hiking, biking, running or doing open water activities will increase the gas exchange in your lungs and get your heart to pump stronger. Each heart beat circulates blood around your body through blood vessels. It not only circulates RBC but also white blood cells (immune cells), anti- and pro-inflammatory molecules, nutrients that your body needs to grow, heal and regenerate, helps to move lymph (garbage disposal system) out of the body, and so much more.

    An unforgettable experience at Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta -- 2014

    An unforgettable experience at Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta — 2014

    Get as much fresh air as you can to nourish your lungs, blood, brain, and every cell in your body. Read more about the anatomy and importance of breathing HERE.

    Be active

    It has been well documented that physical activity has several short- and long-term health benefits. Short-term benefits include reductions in anxiety, depression and stress, while long-term benefits include reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and diabetes [5].

    Despite the overwhelming evidence supporting regular physical activity, less than 50% of the population fails to reach recommended levels of weekly activity (30 minutes of moderate activity 5 times a week) [5].

    Breath deeply

    Deep breathing, meditation, and mind-body awareness allows your mind and body to rest while strengthening your immune’s defense system.

    Psychological stress and depression impairs your ability to fight viruses and triggers inflammation, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis [6].

    Taking full deep breaths of fresh air not only clears your lungs of CO2 residues, but also puts you in a parasympathetic (PNS) state to defend against potentially harmful microorganisms [6].

    Worried about allergies?

    If you are like many people living in developed countries outdoor allergies like pollen, grass, and ragweed may cause your eyes to water, nose to run and head to feel like it may explode.

    Lucky for you, I’ve got some great tips to get you managing your allergies with or without using anti-histamines. Read my 8 Healthy Tips to Spring into A New You- With Ease.

    2. Build an outdoor or indoor garden.

    Gardens can improve the air quality of your neighborhood and home but it can also be a wonderful meditative tools.

    Building a garden can be a huge undertaking that takes lots of space, time and effort, OR it can be a few potted plants and herbs on your window sill that slowly grows with time and love.

    My mom’s indoor garden started with 4 potted African Violets and 1 potted Orchid and now has blossomed into over 30 potted plants and is a sanctuary of peace.

    There are many companies that will build you a boxed outdoor or indoor garden for even the smallest spaces, like EarthBox. Or you can try your hand at building your own raised garden bed.

    I found a great site that tells you all about different plants, their growing seasons and how to care for them. Visit to help get your garden started.

    A raised plant bed from

    An example of a raised garden bed from

    3. Use an air filtration system.

    The best air filtration systems are currently high-efficiency particle air (HEPA) filters. HEPA filters can lower the amount of indoor fine particulate matter (PM2.5), many viruses and smoke from woodstoves, potentially reducing residents’ risk of cardiovascular disease [9].

    HEPA filters have close to 100% collection efficiency in the nanoparticle size range, which collects the most harmful particulate matter <100 nm in size [8]. It can even protect against Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) [10].

    However, due to their relatively high cost and lack of clean ability, researchers and companies may be tempted to use less sophisticated filters for factories, offices and homes [8]. Some studies compared the following:

    • UV light germicidal irradiation vs furnace filtration systems
    • Thermodynamic sterilization vs activated carbon
    • Mechanical vs natural ventilation
    • Woven and non-woven fabrics (needled single fiber)
    • Glass vs quartz fiber filter
    • Coated (Teflon, Gortex) vs non-coated

    The collection efficiency of PM can be influenced by many filtration factors including filtration velocity, filter thickness, membrane coating, fiber diameter, pore size, pore volume, and porosity.

    So if you are interested in up-grading your home or office air filtration system, I’d make sure to research the outdoor air quality first before dishing out a lot of cash for a system you may not need. Click here for the Consumer Report for best air purifiers.

    4. Replace your carpets.

    New carpets are laden with chemicals that can slowly release when the fibers are stepped on. These potentially harmful chemicals can remain in the carpet for many years.

    Samples of carpets were studied and found high levels of organotins, brominated flame retardant chemical, pesticide used against dust mites, formaldehyde and phthalates [11].

    Many of these chemicals are used to protect against dust mites, bacteria, moulds, fungi and fires for our safety. However, these chemicals also pose a danger to our health, especially infants and toddlers who are often crawling and laying on new carpets [11].

    Carpets are also an ideal place for dirt, pet dander and spills to be trapped beneath the many layers, where vacuuming often can’t reach.

    What’s the solution?

    • Replace your carpets with hard wood, laminate, tiles or other non-fabric materials
    • Ventilate your indoor areas for 48-72 hours after a new carpet fitting
    • Use rugs that can be washed instead
    • Steam clean your carpets every few months

    5. Don’t smoke.

    Smoke from cigarettes, fireplaces, BBQs, indoor woodstoves, idling cars all produce hazardous effects on your air quality and body. Always use proper ventilation techniques and if needed use outdoors:

    • Avoid smoking cigarettes and cigars completely, but if you do smoke, go outside.
    • Ventilate your fireplaces. Make sure to open chimney flute and don’t sit too close to the flames.
    • Keep charcoal BBQs and bonfires away from windows and doors so that it doesn’t leak back in.
    • Avoid using woodstoves indoors.
    • Don’t idle your car in your garage or on the streets, rather take public transit.
    • Get a carbon monoxide (CO) detector. CO is an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas that is poisonous to humans. It’s important to install in your home and at the office.

    6. Use a facemask/ facepiece if necessary.

    Some regions where car and air pollution is especially harmful, you will see people wearing facemasks or facepieces. However, most facepieces are not correctly worn or made of standardized quality to filter out small particles [3].

    Patrons should be fit-tested to ensure the respirators reduce the concentration of the air contaminant inside the facepiece to ≤10% of the concentration outside the facepiece. The National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which certifies respirators in the US, assigns a “protection factor” of 10 to the filtering-facepiece respirators [3].

This website is NOT to be used as a diagnostic or treatment tool. Always consult with your Conventional Medical Doctor or Naturopathic Doctor for specific concerns. In cases of medical emergencies visit your nearest hospital or call 9-1-1.