Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Nature and the Brain: Creativity

To quote directly from the book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv,
"Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses. Given a chance, a child will bring the confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of that confusion."
I agree, and I think it goes a lot further than just children.

Going off and spending time away from the structured, fast paced rigidity of the city can make a person feel more alive. 

As you look through the trees ahead of you, the imagination takes over.

Sometimes that can be scary.  You begin to realize how small you are.  You see that the world is so much bigger than you dreamed, and you know nothing about what you'll find if you go farther inside that forest.  You realize that if you get lost you may never again be found.

At other times, that same group of trees makes you feel stronger than ever before.  You recognize that you're part of something bigger than yourself:  Something that shrugs off your mistakes, allowing you to try again and again, until you succeed. 

No judgement.

Indeed, Dr. Paula Stewart, guest speaker at Let's GOGO! (Get Out into the Great Outdoors) on March 22nd, in Ontario talked about this very same subject, agreeing with Louv, calling him incredibly inspiring.
" According to Louv, nature enhances the senses and increases awareness of the body in time and space.

"Our brains are hard wired to pick up everything in nature," said Stewart, "and this actually makes our senses (hearing, touch, sight, smell and taste) come more alive."

When in nature, there is a feeling of being connected to something, and moreover, the environment directly affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This region has been associated in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision-making and moderating social behavior.

"Our prefrontal cortex is designed to understand that being in nature is a safe thing," said Stewart.

Nature also affects the limbic system, which is the feeling part of the brain, controlling our emotions.

Stewart explained the earth's trees and plants release chemical compounds into the air that people breathe. These compounds have a profound affect on the human body.

"The Boreal Forest of Canada releases prostaglandins, which decrease your blood pressure and enhance your immune system," she said, "and a pine forest releases pinene, which acts like an anesthetic."

For young people with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), the pinene helps anesthetize and calm the brain. Therefore, children learn better and are not as anxious and hyperactive." (source)
That goes for adults, too.  No, Dr. Stewart didn't say that. That's totally me.


Because I made a sudden, surprise trip up North to visit my mom for Mother's Day.  I got back yesterday.  My sisters and I all went up there, so we had to find something to do together, of course. 

This particular area has no cell signal.  They can't even get cable internet.  It's dial-up (gasp!) or satellite for them!

So we went outside to play.

And we created an entire game, loosely based on baseball.

It began with my sisters finding a gigantic, heavy branch that had been slightly carved at one end to resemble a bat.  They picked up some pine cones and used them as balls.

We got more.

And more.

We needed a basket to hold them all.

We now had an ample supply of pine cones to throw to the batter, whose bat was much heavier than anything you'd ever see at the World Series. This was great!

That is, it was great until we realized that throwing one pine cone at a time was just way too easy.  We elected to have two pitchers... at the same time.

But then... we got used to that, too.  We had to make this game even better.

So we added a hula hoop.

One you managed to hit a pine cone, you had to run to first base...

...with that hula hoop around your ankle.

To get to second base, you had to run backwards.

And for third base... 

...well, I actually don't remember what we were supposed to do to get to third base... but I think that's probably because nobody actually got that far.

We had a great time, grabbing anybody else that managed to get too close to our game, and making them take a swing at the pine cones, as well (with three pitchers, instead of two, because as we all know, more is better!). 

Age range?  Mid-twenties to late fifties. Every adult played!

Stress melted away, we came up with even more grand ideas to add to future games, we laughed throughout the majority of the time we spent outdoors, and by the end we all knew we would sleep well.

We made a great team.

Take a chance.  Go off into nature with a few people and just let yourselves come up with fun ways to spend your time.  Use what you find, quit worrying about maturity, and have fun.

Let nature help your brain ease into creativity!

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