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3 Fun and Quirky Ways Nature Can Help Reduce Stress

Have you hugged a cow today? You should!

Sandi Schwartz

Published on: April 24, 2023

Grandpa and child lying in the grass laughing

Do you have stressed-out kids and wonder how to help them? Numerous stressors are taking a toll on our children these days — from too much screen time, to navigating social media, to schoolwork and extracurricular activity overload. One safe, effective way to address this stress is through nature.

Spending time connecting to nature has been shown to help minimize the effects of stress and anxiety. While you can try some simple nature activities, such as playing outside, going for a bike ride or gardening, check out these three fun and quirky ways nature can help reduce stress.

"Woman doing yoga with a dog sitting under her"

Animal yoga

Yoga provides many benefits to our children, including a time for inner focus and a retreat from the stresses of daily life. Practicing yoga with animals has become a trend in recent years, and people are getting quite creative about it.

In the United Kingdom, yoga classes alongside lemurs is offered. The “lemoga” classes blend nature and mindfulness outside in a wildlife park. People are also doing horse yoga, which involves great skill to balance on top of a horse in various positions. You can try some alpaca yoga on Martha’s Vineyard at Island Alpaca Farm. At the Butterfly Pavilion near Denver, there is an hour-long rainforest yoga class where you can surround yourself with exotic plants and gorgeous butterflies. What about bunny yoga? Some yoga instructors are bringing adorable rabbits into their sessions and encouraging participants to engage with them on the mat. Finally, goat yoga is becoming more popular, especially for kids. It is yoga practiced in the presence of — and in tandem with— live goats. The goal is to allow the goats to come up right beside you and even climb on you while you are in a yoga position. Because goats are used as therapy animals, they create a calming, loving environment for a peaceful yoga session.

Incorporating animals into your family’s yoga practice can help your children feel calmer. Animals often help kids slow down and better regulate their emotions, while prompting a few giggles as well. Consider looking for an animal yoga class in your area. Be sure to ask about age requirements and the safety measures taken.

"Young girl wearing a pink shirt smiling with her arms wrapped around a tree"

Tree hugging

Have you ever hugged a tree? Both spending time outdoors in nature and hugging can reduce stress, so why not try to combine these hugely beneficial activities into one?

Stone Kraushaar, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist known as The Hug Doctor and author of the book “Hug Therapy: A 21-Day Journey to Embracing Yourself, Your Life, and Everyone Around You,” recommends staying in a hug for a minimum of 21 seconds to experience the many benefits. Besides the oxytocin (the feel-good hormone) that is released into our bodies during a hug, we get lost in the moment and feel more mindful. Having a meditative hugging experience with a loved one, pet, or even a tree can help us feel happier, calmer and more connected.

When we have physical contact with a tree, our senses awaken, our heart rate and breathing slow down, and we feel better emotionally and physically. Trees are the best non-animal natural element to hug because of their size and what they represent. Without trees, we would not be alive, since they provide us with oxygen to breathe. Hugging a tree also builds appreciation and gratitude for nature. So, grab your kids and head outside for some soothing tree hugging:

  1. Choose a tree in your own backyard or at a local park.
  2. Take turns hugging the same tree or each find your own. Or hug the tree together as a group.
  3. Before you approach the tree, observe it carefully. Try to identify the type of tree and any special features.
  4. Wrap your arms around the tree and take a moment to feel it with your hands and arms. How does it make you feel?
  5. Take in some deep breaths and close your eyes to engage with the rest of your senses. How does it smell? What do you hear? Open your mouth and see if you taste anything in the air. Touch the bark and a leaf, if you can reach one.
  6. Express gratitude to the tree, such as thanking it for the time you shared together, and maybe mention all of the benefits that trees provide to us.

"Young man in a field of flowers hugging a cow as the sun sets"

Cow cuddling

Animals are commonly used for therapeutic purposes, but cow cuddling is all the rage. Originating in the Netherlands and now spreading around the world, cow cuddling is all about the healing that happens when humans and cows snuggle. It takes place at a farm in a controlled environment. The session often begins by petting the animals. Cows typically lie down in a half circle, which creates a cozy couch-like spot for someone to snuggle up in. Cow cuddlers are welcome to stroke the cow’s belly as they digest their food and chew their cud, and scratch underneath their chin. The cow will literally fold into a person, almost embracing them.

Cow cuddling is relaxing and meditative, and allows participants to engage in something unique. When cows digest their food, they like to lie down and become quiet. This is the perfect time for people to snuggle up and connect with them. Plus, cows have a slightly slower heart rate than us, so when our body is in contact with theirs, our heart rate naturally slows down as well. Their body temperature is higher than ours, which helps us feel more relaxed. Cow cuddling is also effective because is spurs mindfulness and a sense of awe. It creates an opportunity to be solely focused on touching and being around the animals in a gentle way. As a result, our stress level decreases.

There are numerous stories about stressed and antsy children being transformed by this experience. They relax and engage in the moment with the animal and all of the nature around them. If you are interested in trying some cow cuddling with your kids, just be sure to check with the farm about any age restrictions. And, of course, make sure there is a cow expert there to monitor your family’s interactions with the cows.

More articles about the healing power of nature and animals:

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