This summer we took festival goers at Shambala on a voyage into how nature affects their minds. Holly, our assistant producer, delves into the science behind Meditate on Nature.

Is tree hugging – an activity once associated with wizard-length beards and tie-dyed hemp clothing – something we should all embrace? Well, maybe! It is widely known that spending time in natural environments has positive effects on the health of our bodies, but did you know this is also true of our minds? Spending time in nature has been shown to have a host of psychological benefits, such as reducing symptoms of depression, increasing self-esteem and improving body image.

But how does nature illicit these psychological sweeteners? One theory is that time spent in natural environments promotes an emotional connection to the natural world – a psychological construct known as ‘nature connectedness’.  To explore this concept, we teamed up with psychologist Viren, who researches how nature can improve body image, clinical psychologist Ros, who is looking at the potential of psychedelic mushrooms as a treatment for depression, and Lulu Rose May England, a yoga teacher and gong therapist from Samyama Yoga in Market Harborough.

Ros opened the session with a short breathing exercise, allowing everyone a chance to get comfortable and wind down. She then asked us to close our eyes as she read out a beautiful script she had written for a guided nature visualisation, which took us deep into the forest of our minds to contemplate our own connection to nature.

Now in a calmer state, we lay down as Lulu serenaded us with the most majestic gong bath! A gong is a powerful instrument that enhances deep relaxation, and particular this sound therapy was designed to ground us down into the earth and close the nature visualisation.

Once the experience had finished, Viren led a short talk on the positive effects of nature and connectedness to it.  He suggested the best way to think about this is to imagine two circles – one circle as yourself, and the other circle as nature. If you feel divorced from nature, then these two circles will be apart. However, for most people, they overlap to a varying degree.  The more these two circles overlap, the more connected you will feel to nature, and the more likely you are to feel a sense of belonging to, and connection with, the wider ecosystem.

This feeling of nature connectedness is associated with a more positive psychological wellbeing, which Ros has observed in her research into psychedelic talking therapy as a treatment for depression. She found that the psychedelic therapy not only helped depressed patients to reconnect to the natural world around them, but also to others and themselves, and this was significant in reducing their symptoms of depression.

Relaxed, calm and with a newfound appreciation of the natural environment around us, we closed with an interactive discussion between the audience, Viren, Ros and Lulu, drawing on their different scientific, creative and spiritual expertise. It was exactly this feeling of interconnectedness with nature, and each other, that we wanted to bring to Shambala!