There is a common and unfortunate belief amongst human beings that we are different from the animals of the forest and that our wellnbeing is not determined by how we relate and interact with our own nature and that of our fellow beings (flora and fauna). We believe that it is our role to conquer nature, to control it, to exploit the Earth’s myriad resources and to play in it as if we are somehow separate. As if we are somehow immune to our own fool hardiness.
There are now only 3200 Tigers left in the wild and by some estimates in twenty years we will have no tigers left. In itself this is a sad reflection on humanities treatment of the non-human world, but it is also a reflection of what is happening to our planet in other areas. For example, on land we destroy about 25 acres of rain forest every 10 seconds, in the oceans we are on the brink of massive fish annihilation. A study published in 2006 in the journal Science calculated that if fishing rates continue as they are, fisheries around the world will have failed by 2048, all in the name of progress. Modern humanity is defined by its cognitive abilities and progressive nature, but at what cost? We will build fish farms to feed the world, Tigers will survive in captivity, and we will replant deciduous forests to replace the old trees. So why should we care? What is in it for us? Is there more to this story than the preservation of aesthetically pleasing wild life?
Research into extreme sports helps us answer these questions. One the one hand we should care because we have the capacity to think beyond our own selfish needs. However, even from a selfish perspective we should care because we are connected to the natural world in the same way that the Tiger is connected to the natural world. When it comes to the quality of our water, air or food we can see tangible connections to the state of the planet. However, our connection it seems goes far deeper. For thousands of years the wisdom traditions have recognised that we are connected to the natural-world in a deep psychological and spiritual way. For centuries, philosophers and psychologists like Henry Thoreau, Carl Jung and William James have spoken and theorised on this connection. But modern humanity seems to have forgotten this link. Extreme sports participants report that their experiences provide an opportunity to reconnect with nature in powerful ways. Ways that transform and change their perceptions on life and our relationship with nature (Brymer, 2009; Brymer, Downey, & Gray, 2009; Brymer & Gray, 2010a, 2010b)
Some argue that the industrial revolution started the development of a lifestyle lived predominantly indoors which has resulted in less contact with nature. Research over the last twenty years has gradually been identifying the human health benefits attributed to re-connecting with the natural environment (Brymer, Cuddihy, & Sharma-Brymer, 2010). The significance of feeling connected to natural environments are described as a foundational requirement for human health and wellbeing (Maller et al., 2008). Also, the early findings of Schultz’s (2002) work indicated that by feeling connected to the natural world a person is more likely to be committed to positively interact with and protect the natural world and research on extreme sports supports this (Brymer, et al., 2009). Research on young people has indicated that young people are even more disconnected from the natural world. Leading some writers to call this disconnection a crisis termed “Nature Deficit Disorder” and draw links between our disconnection to nature and other health issues such as ADHD, obesity, and anxiety to name just a few. A growing body of research is finding that beyond this fundamental relationship exposure to the non-human natural world can also positively enhance perceptions of physiological, emotional, psychological and spiritual health in ways that cannot be satisfied by alternate means. Theoretical explanations for this have posited that non-human nature might 1) overturn mental fatigue; 2) trigger deep reflections; 3) provide an opportunity for nurturing; 4) rekindle innate connections and 5) nature might be unique in its ability to provide opportunities to develop a range of psychological and emotional skills. Human wellness is strongly connected to our relationship with the natural world. So even from a selfish perspective non-human nature is essential for human health and wellness.
Research has found that time in nature increases self-esteem, attention and memory, and reduces depression, anxiety and stress. It doesn’t take much to reap the rewards either, a walk in the park, some time on the beach, eat your lunch outside, grow some plants or vegetables, bring plants into the office and remove the ear phones are just some simple ways of making the best of your time in nature. What seems to be most important though is to ensure that our children spend time in nature where they can explore their boundaries, experiment in an environment that does not judge or compete. Where they can get dirty and creative and where they can learn to discover the best in themselves and those around them. We should all get out and live the adventure ….. and we should allow our children to do the same.
Brymer, E. (2009). Extreme sports as a facilitator of ecocentricity and positive life changes. World Leisure Journal 51(1), 47-53.
Brymer, E., Cuddihy, T., & Sharma-Brymer, V. (2010). The role of nature-based experiences in the development and maintenance of wellness. Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education, 1(2), 21-27.
Brymer, E., Downey, G., & Gray, T. (2009). Extreme sports as a precursor to environmental sustainability. Journal of Sport & Tourism, 14(2-3), 193-204.
Brymer, E., & Gray, T. (2010a). Dancing with nature: Rhythm and harmony in extreme sport participation. Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning, 9(2), 135-149.
Brymer, E., & Gray, T. (2010b). Developing an intimate “relationship” with nature through extreme sports participation. Loisir, 34(4), 361-374.
Maller, C., Townsend, M., St.Ledger, L., Henderson-Wilson, C., Pryor, A., Prosser, L., & Moore, M. (2008). Healthy parks healthy people: The health benefits of contact with nature in a park context: a review of current literature (2nd ed.) Social and Mental Health Priority Area, Occasional Paper Series. Melbourne, Australia: Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences.
Schultz, P. W. (2002). Inclusion with nature: The psychology of human-nature relations. In P. Schmuck & P. W. Schultz (Eds.), Psychology of sustainable development (pp. 61-78). Boston: Kluwer Academic.
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