Our world has been turned upside down these last few months.  Every nation, state, even continent is experiencing this change in differing ways.  As a Natural Biohacker, my solution for sanity, never mind health, has been going outside. Thankfully here, the well worn motto of ‘Stay at Home’ did not always mean Stay Inside.  Alas this was not understood by many, nor even possible for others.  

Recently I moved to the UK. Prior, I spent the last ten years living and working in Southern Spain practicing as a psychotherapist. It was there that I developed my practice, initially inspired by Richard Louv and his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’. I added what I called Nature Sense: a type of outdoor therapy.  I found that when I took my practice outside, my clients recovered much quicker. It was like their problems dissolved in an uncomplicated shift, each gaining new perspectives simply by being more connected to Nature.

In Spain I lived at the last point of Europe, where the mountains meet the sea, where the Atlantic spills into the Mediterranean and where the sun rises behind the mountains of Africa and sets on the beaches of Europe.  It was magical.

I’d sit with my clients on the big sand dune, looking at the snow capped mountains of Morocco and gently say that the sand dune can’t be controlled. Every grain is always moving. I’d explain that the sand blows in from Morocco and does not just land in Spain, but can also be found from the shores of Iceland across to the beaches in the Caribbean.   

When we spoke about Nature, strangely instead of their presenting issue, in time my clients would find a connection and resolve for their story.  They found metaphors everywhere we went.  For instance experiencing the dune, with no control, they could finally begin to feel safer in a world where control is difficult. Other’s found different messages and we all relate to nature in our own particular way. 

I recall one client specifically who had more money than he’d ever be able to spend. He came to me because he was so unhappy. It’s called Paradise syndrome!  I took him to a wild beach by an ancient Roman town, complete with a crumbling amphitheatre, but now only inhabited by sand voles, birds and creeping cats.  On the rocks there were some even more ancient footprints – Tumbas as referred to by the locals. They were hollows made by the Phoenicians over a thousand years ago. There, in the far past they’d leave their dead, offered to the ever circling vultures that still fly above.  Now much less foreboding, the Tumbas appear as gentle grooves surrounded by wild flowers and sunshine.   My client, however, felt compelled to lie in one. I just held the space.  We walked back in silence. There was no need for words, it was what is known in Japanese as “Yuugen”, meaning feelings too deep for words. Life for him changed after that. He traded in his Italian loafers and meticulously tailored jacket for board shorts and a campervan (albeit high end!). His grey, laptop face started to shine, well-alive and tanned. More importantly, without doubt he became much happier and it was that day where his change began.    

Nature is our connection, it is our balance and remedy to the ever modern indoor life. As a natural biohacker, I have to connect with Nature every day in order to earth myself and buffer the technology –  that is the reality of my world.  But this does not have to be on the shores at the edge of the world. I can do this in London.  We all can do this, we just have to know how to hear the call of Nature and understand its healing language. 

From the Lockdown in London I have looked to my friends in Spain and shuddered at the draconian measures put in place to curb the virus.  They locked them from life, from nature, from light. I was thankful that going outside was encouraged in the UK and other countries.  The extremely dangerous virus, the longer lasting illness, were both constant messages from the news that cheaply peddled fear to keep people inside lit up with the sickening blue light of their screens. People were dying unnecessarily, as the culture of the west is more focused on  symptom-led  treatment, not prevention.  

There was almost no mention from the governments of the world about the necessity of natural Vitamin D, of supplementing with Zinc or a host of other immunity makers, or of adaptogens. Fear was wrapping the government in one direction and its people in others.  Biohackers were not claiming solutions, only insights on how to reduce your risk, perhaps taking a potential hospital stay from 3 weeks, to a simple high temperature at home, if anything at all. An observation on how humanity has been dealing with viruses from the dawn of time seemed to be blocked! 

The shameful situation followed where people of color with foundational jobs were dying disproportionately because no one told them that the sun needs to kiss their skin each day. The fear of offence by the grey power was over riding a biohackers fundamental arsenal.  

In my world, in emotional and mental health, the reality is horrendous.  People calling up their doctors and getting antidepressants for an anxiety that’s trying to deliver a real and present message.  If some doctors could only say one thing and tell these people who are at home for weeks on end – to go outside for a walk, breath in the trees, put your face to the sun, sleep with the dark and rise with the light it would help so many to feel better. ITs also simple, free advice.

Over this time, I’ve been working on a helpline for people suffering from anxiety andI’ve found that even if I can get them to sit by an open window, it’s helped.  I was honoured to have spoken to a lady who rang, in hysterical tears, saying that she’d been inside for 6 weeks. She was just 32 and  she was healthy but because she had watched the news,  consistently, she feared for her life. She was lost in a cortisol crisis. Through her panic she told me that she’d been staring at a lampost for weeks.  So we talked about what else was out the window.  There was also a cherry blossom, so we started to talk about that. She realised that while in lockdown, she’d watched it grow leaves and then blossom. Certainly nature does not stand still. The magic of metaphor did its work.  Slowly, I got her to open her door, to step outside and walk to the tree, to touch it, to breathe it and hear the birds that could be heard with the silence of the time.  All the while I stayed on the phone. She stepped back inside – she cried – but this time with joy!  

We may need Zoom to connect and online apps to generate digits in our bank account.  But life stops making sense when we disconnect from what’s real, what nourishes our ancestral soul.

Time marches on. We are all hoping a lesson has been learned.  How do we let people know that we must go outside to heal inside?  This will be more important when we recognise that nearly two thirds of the world’s population is set to be in urban environments by 2050. Social distancing a delusion.

I propose City Hacking, some gentle ways to get Nature Sense into you, your friends and your family’s life.

1. Go somewhere blue (water) or go somewhere green (trees), or white (mountains) .  A city canal or a corner park will do as a place to start.  

2. Play 3’s. Sit quietly and hear three natural things, see three natural things and touch three natural things. Take your time.

3. Breathe. Find somewhere to sit – or even lie down. Practice deep belly breathing. Hold it and breathe out longer.  Take a big breath and hold it for 5 seconds and then releasing it  for 7 seconds. Also try to ‘box breathe’. As long as you hold and release, you’ll trigger your anatomic system to move from your stress side to your regenerative side – sympathetic to parasympathetic. 

4. Lean against a tree, or put your feet on the grass, or  sink your hands into the earth. This is grounding or earthing. It balances out your energy and aligns it with the planet. Reflect when the last time it was that your body touched the actual globe that we spin on. Do this often.

4. Make a pesto! Collect nettles (wear oven gloves!) and dump them in hot water when you get home to take out the sting. Then whizz them up with olive oil and salt and some pine nuts. Presto – you have Pesto – free food in the city!

5. Get free therapy. Tell a tree your problem. Let your child know it’s safe to tell the tree it’s biggest secret, fear or confession. It feels good. It may give them the courage to tell you. Go back to the same tree often. Tell it good stuff too. Watch how it changes in the seasons. Watch how your child grows with it.

6. Explore gardening or if that’s not cool – gorilla gardening. Find a scrubby place and secretly do it up. Buy seeds and  make your world a better place.

7. Explore circadian living. Get up with the light and sleep with the light. Introduce candles to evening meal time. Let the kids light them;doing ‘dangerous’ stuff is important.

8. Go to a farmers market. Don’t just buy but ask about the stuff you’re buying. These are people who are passionate about what they do. Buy fruit and vegetables that are weird shapes and have a little dirt on them. Support good agriculture.  

9. We know the names of brands more than we do the names of trees and flowers. Change that.

10. Hold meetings outside,  for your family, friends and business. Spread the awareness.    

Above all, play. If you don’t have children, discover the child within you. If you do this on the street, it’s not so forgiving. If you do it in nature, it’s rarely questioned. Why is that? Its because Nature is our Happy Place. We’ve just forgotten this prime truth.  It is a family feeling, a wise grandparent. It’s our baseline biohack that’s free and makes us feel better than a pill or a static bike in a basement. Love nature and it will love us back and protect us like the child of it that we are.  

Fiona Austin is a positive psychologist practicing in the UK and Spain. She takes her clients outside for walk and talk sessions, introducing individuals, families and companies to fundamental biohacking through her programme Nature Sense – Going outside to feel good inside.