Exciting news! There’s more and more evidence of a strong link between human health and the environment. A study by Japanese researchers published in January 2014 in the Open Journal of Soil Science reports a fascinating finding about our connection with soil.
These researchers found that interacting with soil brought about physiological and mental relaxation in their study participants. The interaction was three-part:
- Observing soil litter – looking at the twigs and leaves and other materials on the surface, then lifting the surface to explore a bit more deeply to see bugs and fungi and the activity of turning that material into soil
- Smelling the soil in their hands
- Holding the soil in their hands to feel its wetness, texture, consistency, and temperature, even shaping it a bit with their fingers
This small study found that when participants connected with the soil using their senses of sight, smell, and touch, their heart rates decreased and they reported a feeling of comfort. Their reactions were similar to reactions experienced with acupuncture, meditation, or yoga.
I love this study! It’s a great excuse to play in the dirt, isn’t it? Even if you don’t want to garden, you can try this with the soil in your flower beds or under a clump of trees in the park.
And here’s another example of connecting with nature that could result in a similar relaxation response, but doesn’t even take getting your hands dirty.
In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmer about sitting in the woods in the Pacific Northwest during a rainstorm. She discovered that the raindrops fell in different patterns, making different rhythms, depending on the leaves they fell from.
The next time there's a gentle rain, put on your raincoat, and grab a lawn chair and umbrella. Look for different kinds of leaves near trees and shrubs, then settle down. Consider:
- Do smooth leaves cause the drops to slide together, so they fall as bigger drops?
- How rough does a leaf or branch bark have to be to split a raindrop into smaller ones?
- Do bigger drops or smaller drops fall faster?
- If the raindrops fall onto moss, does the moss keep absorbing the rain? Or does it get saturated at some point and start shedding drops?
- What happens to raindrops that fall on a tree trunk or branches?