Andersen: Exploring your brain on nature |

Andersen: Exploring your brain on nature

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

“While it may seem obvious that a good hike through a forest or up a mountain can cleanse your mind, body and soul, science is now discovering that hiking can actually change your brain — for the better!”

This recent article goes a step further: “Hiking in nature can stop negative, obsessive thoughts.” Can there be a better reason to get out and stretch your legs?

One quoted study found that “creative problem-solving can be drastically improved by both disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature.”

Most backcountry hikers sense this intuitively while celebrating the summer season as hiking trails invite walking toward health, fitness, beauty and a sense of well-being.

If you like to walk, the benefits are measurable, just as Kierkegaard noted long ago: “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being, and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”

Starting June 27, a five-part discussion series sponsored by the Pitkin County Library will explore the beneficial effects of nature on the human organism. The discussions will focus on a revolutionary book, “Your Brain on Nature,” a guide for nature-based health.

“Your Brain on Nature,” by Eva Selhub and Alan C. Logan, explores with science the way we envision our relationship with the natural world. The authors question the traditional acceptance of technology as “progress” and reinforce the physical, psychological and emotional needs of our ancient selves as our species evolved over 2 million years in the natural world.

“The mortality of individuals, nations and even the planet itself is dependent on the recognition and acceptance that nature is part of us,” states the premise. “Our perception of stress, our mental state, our immunity, our happiness and our resiliency are all chemically influenced by the nervous system and its response to the natural environment.”

Citing medical and naturopathic evidence of the necessary influences of nature on the human organism, “Your Brain on Nature” reveals startling conclusions about stress, hypertension, medications, diet and nature healing.

The book questions the cumulative impacts of screen time, urban living, overstimulation, processed foods and the strains of contemporary life as they combine to undermine health, vitality and psycho-emotional wellness.

“Your Brain on Nature” explains that our deepest memories as a species are filtered through the evolutionary continuum that formed us. The vast majority of formative influences took place in natural wilderness settings. That’s why wilderness can provide the same sense of peace as going home. Wilderness is our collective origin.

These fundamental, elemental connections, “Your Brain on Nature” states, are critical to our holistic equilibrium today. Segregating ourselves from our true source in nature jeopardizes sustainable human health. It’s no wonder that the traditional medical-industrial approach today is not working toward the realization of holistic health.

This five-part conversation is free once you buy the book at the library for $10, which is a sound investment. Discussions will begin with a brief interview with a local naturalist or alternative health practitioner. One program will detail the methodology at Huts for Vets, the local nonprofit that achieves positive results by taking combat veterans into wilderness for healing opportunities.

Such nature-based methodologies are becoming mainstream, as reported a few months ago by a cover story in National Geographic. The article described shinrin-yoku, a Japanese medicinal prescription that literally translates to “forest bathing.”

The discussion series on “Your Brain on Nature” will trace our collective origins to the present day, review evidence of nature-based wellness and examine how contemporary lifestyle trends may be eroding our natural health in body, mind and spirit.

Participants are expected to commit to all sessions, or as many as possible, in order to achieve a continuum of dialogue. And the only homework assignment, other than reading the text, is to get out on a good long walk in nature and report back to the group.

Attendance is limited, so contact the Pitkin County Library to sign up, buy the book and return to our true home in nature.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays when he’s not hiking himself to nirvana. He may be reached at

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