Outdoors RX with Holly

Humans + Their Relationship with the Outdoors

by Holly Mandarich

Just as I do every morning, I wake up, get dressed, and take my dogs out for a walk. What’s different now is that on each walk I feel a deep sense of gratitude. I listen to the birds, feel the sun shine on my face, smell the fresh air, and take in the simplicity of the fact that I get to be outside. Do I always walk my dogs in the morning—generally yes, but it feels different now… Now it feels like a privilege instead of a chore. I think that is what is happening here, at least for me, but for others as well. On a collective conscious level we are all realizing that our relationship with the outdoors holds so much more value than we ever gave it credit for. Before all of this happened, the outdoors were a fun place to recreate, or a fun way to spend time. And for us outdoor enthusiasts they have always held great meaning.
But right now I’m talking about the non-outdoor enthusiasts, I’m talking about those who maybe don’t spend time outside unless they come across a national park on their travels, or make the intention to see something that they know will make them feel excited. I’m talking about those who don’t currently have an ongoing relationship with the outdoors.
For me it’s crazy to think about the fact that humans as a collective do not live and breathe the outdoors, because for me it’s a must, it's a necessity. In fact it’s said that 90% of our time as humans is spent indoors. We’ve replaced our jobs working outside for desks, and our time exercising outside for lavish gyms. We do what we can or what we must to embody a healthy lifestyle, but shouldn't a healthy lifestyle include the outdoors, the very place we evolved from, originated from, and will return to?
All this has got me thinking, what would happen if we could simply prescribe the outdoors to the people who need it most. The idea of Outdoors Rx is not a new one, however it is one that should be talked about now more than ever. What happens to our bodies physically when we’re outside, what happens to our mental state? Could something like this even make a difference? This pandemic has certainly shed some light on the fact that when we are faced with collective turmoil, and faced to sit with ourselves and look at our lives and the impermanence of it all, we turn to the outdoors, taking walks, sitting in our backyards, flocking to trailheads. Why do we turn to the outdoors, what sense of comfort resides in them?
For me the outdoors mean a whole lot. Especially when I'm in the high alpine. When I'm outside I can feel my body physically and mentally shift almost instantly. Colors seem brighter, I begin to notice smells, I hear birds or the wind whip across an open valley. I feel myself in ways I don’t when I'm inside. It’s almost like I ignore myself when I’m inside, I shove my emotions deep down, and away from others, I hide and run from things I don’t want to confront, but when I play outside I can openly air my grievances to the Earth, and she listens—and then absorbs, so that I can move on with my day and embrace my motive to be happy, to be in a pure state of joy! This especially reigns true when I get to stare at those big Rocky Mountains. I can’t even put into words how aligned it feels to be near rocky peaks. It just feels like my calling, in a way.

Credit: Matt Dirolf
I decided to ask a few people who were in tune with the outdoors to advise us on the benefits they receive from being outside. I asked each of them about their relationship with nature, and how it has impacted their physical state, mental state, and to share any experiences they might have had that helped them adapt to life and grow into themselves. The most common thread among each person I talked to was the fact that when they step outside, they just feel better. They all feel a sense of belonging, or support, and the word for word description was a “sense of coming home.” There is nothing fake about the outdoors, they are simply just what they are.