Tuning Into Nature’s Song

Open yourself to the sounds of nature and accept their soothing powers.

| December 2018

  • The silence of the natural world is in fact a constant, wondrous, never-ending symphony.
    Photo courtesy of Getty Images / CharlieFloyd
  • “Forest Bathing” explores the health benefits of spending time around trees. Dr. Qing Li shows how shinrin-yoku can help reduce stress, strengthen your immune system, boost energy, and even help you lose weight.
    Cover courtesy of Viking

Tuning into nature to relax

Often, when I do shinrin-yoku, I am accompanied by the constant sound of running water. There is the buzzing of the cicadas all summer long and the kenkenkenkenken of the pheasant in the spring. The wind blows and rustles the leaves. There may be the crash of a waterfall in the distance, or the song of a bush warbler just above my head. The silence of the natural world is in fact a constant, wondrous, never- ending symphony.

The sounds of nature are a link to the environment and to ourselves. In the forest, we can learn once again to listen to the landscape we were built to hear. When we are quiet we can tune in to the natural world. Immersed in nature, we are in a whole new dimension, a restorative sonic landscape. Being still and quiet, we can hear the sound of silence and begin to relax.

Studies have repeatedly shown that we prefer the sounds of nature to the sounds of urban noise, that the sounds of nature relieve stress and that we feel relaxed when we can hear birdsong or running water. Researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (UK) investigating the connection between the brain, the body and background noise, looked at what happened in people’s brains while they listened to a series of sounds from either natural or man-made environments.

While they listened, the participants had to perform a cognitive task. Their heart rates were monitored as well as their nervous systems, blood pressure, metabolism and digestion as they listened. The results showed that when the participants listened to artificial sounds, their attention was focused inwards. Inward-focused attention is associated with worry and brooding. When they listened to the sounds of nature, they turned their attention outwards. In addition, participants did less well on their tests when they were listening to man-made noise. The nature sounds decreased the functioning of the body’s sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’) and increased the parasympathetic system (‘rest and recover’), indicating that we are more relaxed when we listen to nature.

Another study, this time using a virtual-reality forest, found that including the sound of the forest with the projection was more restorative and stress-relieving than when the forest was shown without sound.

The sounds of nature we like most are:



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