How Vision Can Change Our Stress Levels
I’ve recently returned from a one week trip in the mountains. It was long overdue and spontaneous.
I hadn’t realized how much my body and mind were aching for a change, release and perspective.
It is the second summer that I haven’t been able to return to Thailand for a month’s advanced yoga teacher training and the first summer that I haven’t left Switzerland.
How is summer holding and sustaining you this year?
I feel my best when I can move, breathe intentionally and am surrounded by nature.
I went offline and practised yoga twice a day, hiked for hours exploring what I could of the 200km routes available, alongside and up mountains, above the treeline, discovering emerald lakes, deep valleys, dense forests and everything in between, rounding off with relaxing yin yoga in the early evening, a swim, sauna and meditation before bed.
When it comes to hiking, I’m usually a follower, happily letting the more experienced Swiss family members take the lead. This time, I figured I’d learn a new skill.
I let go of time. I didn’t wear a watch or earpods, simply wanting to be fully present to tune into the senses, to notice what I hear, see and feel around me.
Trying to be as diverse as possible, covering ground to the north, south, east and west. I got caught by spectacular rainfalls, sunny intervals, breezy stretches and fresh, fresh air.
It was rarely quiet, the cowbells, birds, babbling brooks and gentle breezes kept me company. Only after one particularly steep foggy climb, deep in the forest, drenched with rain, did I experience true, almost eerie silence. I came across a small lake (on a drier day, perhaps perfect for a cold water swim) with a fireplace and a large axe in an old tree trunk for chopping wood 😉
I paused at a small mountain restaurant, with traditional red and white patchwork tablecloths, handmade heart decorations hanging from the windows, where mountain bikers and hikers were cheerfully welcomed and offered hearty, home-cooked food and refreshments.
I walked alongside cows making their way to new pastures – they have mastered the art of taking their time! I watched squirrels eat out of young children’s hands, found delicate forget-me-knots remembering how a friend had recently mentioned they were her favourite flower and tried to capture colourful alpine flowers on camera.
It was peaceful, exhilarating and I sensed total freedom.
My body began to feel physically stronger, more energised and alive. My mind relaxed and clear.
How vision can change our stress levels
What you see and how you view the world, literally, has an incredible impact on your state of mind.
If you’re unable to take a holiday right now or your family break is more about taking care of others, you may like to try this.
One simple tool I’ve offered private clients when they’re experiencing stress or overwhelm is to look outside and find the horizon.
It can be like an instant reset.
For the more science-minded who’d like some context, Dr Andrew Huberman PhD neuroscientist and professor at Stanford University, awarded for his discoveries in the study of vision, has some interesting information that I’d like to share with you.
- Our vision state is one of the fastest ways to control our stress levels and internal state. Like the breath, we can manipulate how our mind and body function.
- Notice what happens when you look at the horizon: Your eyes naturally relax as you look forward. You won’t look at one thing for very long but still looking ahead, will begin to widen your peripheral view taking in more of your environment and yourself within that space.
- Viewing the horizon automatically engages relaxing, panoramic vision.
- By contrast, looking at a device, a screen, a document or focusing on a challenging task, conversation or problem automatically reduces our visual awareness. Our whole attention and visual field narrows to that one thing, triggering an internal stress response.
- However, you have the ability to regulate your own nervous system through breathing (which I often talk about and integrate into almost all my teachings) and peripheral vision awareness. These are skills you can easily and regularly integrate into your daily life.
- To illustrate this, imagine how we perceive time. When under stress or experiencing shock, such as an accident, people often sense it happening in slow motion. Our internal stress response speeds up to the point where we dissect events into much finer slices. When we’re relaxed, on the other hand, we’re able to step back, take in more perspectives, trust that things will work out and the difficulty will pass. We are literally able to ‘see the bigger picture.’
Tell me, where is your favourite horizon?
I hope this will help you find a new level of appreciation for tuning in and connecting to nature, opening up a deeper level of awareness and truth for what matters and thrives within us all.
And if you feel like practising with me, I’d love for you to join us in Tuscany.
We have space, we have time, we have natural beauty – it may be just what you need.
P.S. If you’d like to read more. Here’s an article from the Scientific American.
For those who prefer listening. Here is an interview #521 from “The Tim Ferriss Show”.