Author of the book, Conscious Nature: The Art & Neuroscience of Meditating in Nature, Josh has mentored and trained people of all ages around the world for the past twenty years in the inner and outer arts of mindful, whole-being connection with Nature. He is frequently seen practicing Tai Chi Ch'uan or playing various random stringed instruments, sleuthing forest mysteries, and generally mucking about on a little-known fringe planet called Earth, located somewhere in the western spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Josh brings forward a depth of experience from his journeys in the realms of ancient Earth connection skills, Qi Gong, and visionary meditation. Seeking innovative vehicles for supporting transformation, Josh utilizes cutting-edge online learning formats, group coaching, and one-on-one mentoring as training pathways to help people around the world engage with the empowering practices of deep nature connection.
Josh’s vision is to help bridge the healing power of Nature into the modern experience, enlivening creativity and well-being through a conscious, primal connection with the Earth.
How does Meditating in Nature positively transform the brain and body for greater health and well-being? What’s the value of taking my meditation practice into Nature?
First, mindfully connecting with Nature helps us reset the tremendous cognitive load that we face; consider how many hundreds of details you must attend to throughout a given day - places to get to on time, traffic routes to negotiate during rush hour, bills to pay, people to call - each of these items on the daily task list demands a certain amount of space in your brain’s attention circuits. Nature helps us reset these circuits, so that we can relax and wipe the mental slate clean; then, we can be more present as a human being rather a human doing.
Numerous studies point towards the positive effects of time spent in Nature for our well-being. Time outdoors in green space reduces stress chemicals, including cortisol. Powerful immune boosters such as Immunoglobin-A are enhanced through time outdoors, and the beneficial effects stay in our systems long after we leave the woods.
On the meditation side of the equation, when we relaxedly concentrate for just 12-15 minutes, we can access a state called the Relaxation Response, first discovered by the Harvard researcher, Herbert Benson. This physiological state not only effectively reduces blood pressure and stress chemicals, but even more excitingly, changes our actual epigenetic expression. More recently, Benson found that through just 8 weeks of daily meditation, a person can switch more than 1500 genes towards a healthy, beneficial state of expression. That is to say, daily meditation not only reduces stress, but it literally changes how our genes express, leading towards greater states of health.
In terms of what’s happening in the brain itself, meditation helps us shift out of the over-excitable neural circuits that get triggered when we encounter stress and trauma. The amygdala helps us scan for potential danger in the environment, but it can override logical decision making and shade our perception of the world with overtones fear and anxiety when it runs amok. Meditation allows us to quickly reset the stress button; mindful awareness provides a space in which we can choose to respond, rather than react to events in our lives.
Meditation also changes the electrochemical activity of the brain. When you are studying for a test or working diligently on a project, your brain is creating rapid beta waves. These beta waves are localized pulses of activity that help you get various jobs done, such as solving a math problem or paying your bills. Beta is like 4th gear on a car; it’s a mode of frequent mental chatter and high focus. This state is incredibly helpful in moderation. But, if you get caught in a perpetual beta mindset habit, as many of our jobs and lifestyles impel us to do these days, it can be hard to shift out of high gear and relax.
If you’ve ever lain awake with thoughts racing, that’s a great example of beta mode refusing to tune down. Fortunately, both time spent in Nature and meditation are great ways to relax the mind. This shows up as slower alpha waves spread across the brain, allowing brain cells in vast regions to synchronize and nourish after periods of high mental performance. Alpha has been found to promote accelerated learning, relax the body and mind, and speed up healing, just to name a few benefits. Beta and alpha are just two of the five major brain states researchers have identified (some list 8 altogether) which we can learn to tap into through the art of meditation.
So, time in Nature is good for us, and meditation is also a powerful tool for supporting well-being. When we combine the two, we can reap the benefits of both for bringing more peace and presence into our lives.
What do you mean when you say that humans are adapted to attune to Nature’s patterns - if I live in the city, why does this matter today?
For most of humanity’s long history, people lived close to the land, their senses highly attuned to subtle patterns in Nature. The alarm call of a distant bird could relay early warning of a big cat approaching unseen, or the sudden shift in wind could herald a storm approaching. Our senses are adapted to cue to these kinds of rich natural patterns.
Only in the last six- to ten-thousand years have large portions of the human population shifted their lifestyles to an agrarian existence, and then later, to urbanization and industry. The last 30 years has seen the dawn of the Digital Era, and we now have entire generations who have very little contact with Nature compared to even a hundred years ago. At the same time, we have seen massive increases in mental and physical health concerns on an unprecedented level. A wave of research now points towards the essential necessity of regular contact with Nature for cognitive and physical well-being; even putting a photo of an outdoor scene on your computer’s desktop can improve your mood.
When we make space in our daily lives for intimately connecting with the natural world through full-being meditation, we enrich our lives and our health. This kind of connection can happen in the city park, in the suburban backyard, or in the deepest wilderness. It’s a matter of shifting our perspective and discovering what Nature has to offer us in the moment, wherever we happen to be.
Nature, the original mindfulness teacher... our brains are adapted to thrive in close connection with the Earth, our senses keenly attuned to Nature's subtle signals. Meditating outdoors soothes the psyche, nourishes the body, and elevates creativity to new heights. Expert outdoors mentor Josh Lane shares a pathway to exploring your own relationship with Nature for greater well-being & presence.