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Getting to Know the Rx of the Nature Pyramid

Updated: May 22, 2023

Public Service Announcement: Getting to Know the Rx of the Nature Pyramid

“Millions of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home . . .” wrote John Muir in 1901, “that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”

So here we are 122 years later and with extraordinary prescience, Muir’s observation rings more true than ever. It’s hard to imagine what his observation would be now if he got a glimpse into our overstressed, overstimulated and overworked lives.

This blog is not about overwhelming you with the myriad of research studies supporting the fact that there is a very real and very unhealthy cost to our notification-addicted, always-on lifestyles. This blog is to share some compelling research done by Boston’s own Dr. Rachel Hopman, who is a neuroscientist at Northeastern University. Her cognitive research regarding the impact of time in nature on the brain supports the assertion that time in nature is good for your mental health. Research like Dr. Hopman’s has long been internalized by countries like Japan and Finland, who have national programs that leverage the very real health benefits of nature to improve quality of life for their citizens.

Dr. Hopman’s research prescribes what she has coined the 20-5-3 rule, which is depicted below in the Nature Pyramid. So, what is the 20-5-3 rule and why should you care? Dr. Hopman's rule allows you to take action in your daily life to improve and strengthen your personal relationship with nature, and in effect, your mental health. Your daily dosage of nature, like taking a walk in the park, should be 20 mins. You should spend 5 hours a month in semi-wilderness, like a state or national park. And either once or twice a year, you should spend at least 3 days, preferably more, in the wilderness.

Think of time in nature as medication for the mind, an Rx that is generally affordable and readily available. Unlike traditional Rx, which invariably deals with placating symptoms without addressing root causes, these prescribed dosages of nature have the added benefit of no side effects. Oops, I misspoke, there are actually many side-effects, which may include increased creativity, clarity of thinking, calmness, peace of mind, sense of appreciation and happiness and reduced stress, anxiety and PTSD symptoms. That sounds like a no-brainer to me. If interested, click here to review a sample of the supporting research.

Yes, I know time in nature takes time away from tending to your “to do” list, but that’s the entire point. So, what’s nature’s secret sauce? According to Dr. Hopman’s research, time in nature has an observable benefit to our neurological brain structures and waves. Time in nature changes your brain waves from more frenetic beta waves to more calming alpha and theta waves. Or said more simply, you go from “focus, always on mode” to “unfocused, chill mode”. In unfocused mode, nature provides a fascination which quiets your alert network, and allows for a more restorative state of mind, akin to mediation, but without the mantra and focused breathing.

Dr. Hopman’s research also talks about how our brains are nourished by fractals, which are defined as rough or fragmented geometric shapes that can be split into parts, each of which is a reduced-size copy of the whole, and are readily found in nature.

Sherpa of Souls retreats focus on the top of the pyramid with the intention of delivering the maximum benefit. As Dr. Hopman’s research supports, spending more than 3 days in Wilderness has the biggest benefit. If you’re interested in getting the prescribed dosage and inherent benefits of wilderness, along with some new back country travel and mindfulness skills, please take a look at our list of retreats.

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