The Brain and Nature

Written by Michael Jospe Posted in The Brain and Nature

The Brain and Nature

As many of you know I am quite passionate about discovering more about the neuroscience behind our relationship to the natural word.  I am assuming that our nervous systems function the same as if it were in relationship with another human being. Maybe I should be looking at it from another angle, but needless to say, I’ve done a ton of research on what’s called “interpersonal neurobiology.”

Unfortunately, I have not been all that successful in finding too much research that shows what happens in human-nature interactions.  There is a ton, of course, on the benefits of nature: How it helps with focus and mental clarity, creativity, learning, etc.  Mostly, the research is gear towards the health and well-being of children.

I have made one interesting connection, and it has to do with brainwaves and our brain’s automatic tendency to “entrain” with it’s environment.  Daniel Goldman in his book Social Intelligence mentions something called “zeitgebers, those forces in nature that entrain our biological rhythms to their own pace.” An example of this would be (for most of us) our sleep/wake cycles being connected to night and day.

When looking a bit further, I came across an even more compelling example of a zeitgeber. We know that our brains produce brainwaves at different frequencies, and that these frequencies correlate with various mental states.  Here they are in fast to slow frequencies (of course there is a lot more involved with each frequency than what is described below):

  • Gamma is associated with high focus and concentration
  • Beta is associated with day to day concentration, focus, and alertness
  • Alpha is associated with rest, relaxation, restoration, and meditation.  (Every time you shut your eyes you produce alpha).
  • Theta is associated with early sleep and dreaming
  • Delta is associated with deep sleep

These frequencies are not associated with any particular regions of the brain, however, if there is an imbalance, for example too much or not enough theta in certain regions, ones mental state is effected.

In the 50’s a German science professor, W.O Schumman discovered that the earth produces a frequency that is the same as our slow alpha waves. These waves are called Schumann Waves or the Gaia Frequency.  This frequency is only found in natural places, and we are insulated from it in our homes, cars, and buildings.

That slow alpha frequency is therapeutic for our bodies and minds. If you’ve ever meditated or listened to brainwave entrainment music, you know how calm and regulated your nervous system feels afterwards.  Being in nature does the same thing! Since we entrain with our environments, our brains quickly match the frequency of the natural world. This, I believe, is part of why the longer you spend in nature, the more clear, grounded and alive you feel.  I also believe the more often you go to a quiet place outdoors, even for short periods of time, the better you’ll feel.  Now, combine the natural phenomenon of entrainment with nature with a meditation practice such as a sensory awareness mediation and you've got a powerful antidote for stress, depression, and overwhelm. Stay tuned for more!

Please let me know your thoughts, and I’d love to know about any research that is out there on the effects of nature on the brain.

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