Do You Need a Nature Fix?

5 Min. Read
A couple sitting on a rock near a river gazing off at a towering red rock canyon wall
Gates of Lodore offers rafters a breathtaking backdrop for reflection and mindfulness | Photo by John Webster

Author Florence Williams Talks Awe, River Trips & the Transformative Power of Nature

Florence Williams is the best-selling author of The Nature Fix: Why Being in Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, and Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey. She also wrote and hosted the 6-part Audible Original podcast series, The 3-Day Effect, about the magical benefits of being outside for at least three days. As part of her investigation into how nature impacts humans, Florence and a group of researchers joined an OARS-outfitted Green River rafting trip with a group of veterans and scanned their brains at various intervals during the trip. What they discovered was that excursions into the wild can be a “miracle cure for an array of serious and everyday ailments.”

With the long belief, and data to back it, that extended time in nature can be transformational,  Florence is headed back to the river this summer to lead a Gates of Lodore Nature Fix Retreat in partnership with OARS. Combining the thrill of a rafting trip with the rare opportunity to slow down in nature, she’ll share simple, but science-backed practices for embodiment, mindfulness, and creativity that can lead to transformational personal changes. This unique on-river retreat is one of several enlivening getaways she’s leading this year.

From her work as an environmental author, her many years as a contributing editor for Outside Magazine, and practice as a certified teacher of nature and forest therapy, Florence has much wisdom to share about the science and research behind the human connection to nature. 

We asked Florence a few questions to find out more about the three-day effect, her path to becoming a forest therapy guide, and what people can expect if they join her on a nature-immersive retreat.

Nature Fix author Florence Williams smiles for the camera in a desert canyon
“Nature Fix” author, Florence Williams, will lead an on-river retreat in the Gates of Lodore with OARS

What is “A Nature Fix?” 

A nature fix is the science-backed idea that full-sensory immersion in the natural world helps to ground us emotionally, lift us spiritually and restore our mental energy for creative thinking. These days we could all use a renewed sense of purpose, energy, clarity, and hope. We may come to nature seeking different things, but as writers of the Romantic era famously opined, “Nature gives us what we need.” But it shouldn’t be a one-way flow. A true awe-filled nature fix is also about a reciprocal connection, a feeling of unity, a feeling of being at home in the world. 

You often talk about the 3-Day Effect. What is that?

This is a term popularized by cognitive neuroscientist Dave Strayer at the University of Utah. He found he got his best ideas after three days in nature. He validated the concept in studies showing a 47 percent improvement on measures of creativity. Why does this happen? As our sensory brains slowly come to life outside over three days, we start to see and hear things we didn’t notice before. We become entranced by a state of “soft fascination” while also reducing activation in our cognitive, executive-functioning brain. Like a rested muscle, it comes back fresher, speculates Strayer. But it’s also after three days that we can meaningfully reset our circadian rhythms so we sleep and digest better. We start to show more empathy, more vitality, and perhaps even re-imagine ourselves and our place in the world. 

A yellow raft floats next to giant rock formation knowns at Steamboat Rock on the Green River
Steamboat Rock dominates the view in Echo Park, along the Green River | Photo: Josh Miller

What about a river trip makes it the perfect setting for experiencing awe and the 3-Day Effect?  

There’s nothing like entering a canyon on a one-way river to help us feel we have left the known world behind. The boats launch into the dancing current, and off you go into the roadless wilderness. It’s like crossing a threshold into another state of mind, one awakened by the calls of the canyon wren, the ribbon of starry skies overhead, and the magical light on the canyon walls. Our sensory bodies come to life as the modern world recedes for a few days. In this state, we feel our egos and our problems diminished. We feel small in the universe, and more connected to each other. Science has shown these feelings of awe are wonderful for our mental health, giving us fresh perspective and a sense of hope.

You are a certified nature and forest therapy guide. What is that, and what is forest bathing? 

Based on the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, forest bathing is a (fully clothed!) immersive, slow-nature experience of opening our senses and reconnecting on a deeper level to the non-human world. It’s an opportunity to tune into the world around us in a way we rarely do. At the same time, it enables us to tune into our own bodily and spiritual awareness. Many people find it deeply restorative and even profoundly insightful. The practices are deceptively simple, transportable, and easy to adapt to different locations and routines. A river is a magical place to experience the metaphors and realities of the dynamic natural world around us. 

A woman stands beneath a creekside waterfall
Florence Williams stands beneath Ely Creek Falls, reached from a side hike along the Green River

What led you down the path to becoming a forest therapy guide?

After years spent researching the science behind why we feel good in nature, I longed to do more than just talk about it. Now when I give lectures before groups, I often add on a half-day of forest bathing so people can see for themselves how it feels to enjoy a guided experience of sense-awakening. What I’ve witnessed during these sessions has been profound, as people forge a deeper connection to the elements of nature around us, often receiving new insights into problems or worries they may be carrying. Many of us don’t get to slow down like this very often. 

You offer several different nature-immersive retreats. Why should someone consider an experience like this?

These retreats are a rare and wonderful opportunity to dip out of everyday life for a few days and experience a truly profound shift in perspective, co-mingled with sheer fun and a safe adventure. Whether you’re going through a big life transition or just need some time to reflect and re-set, three or four days on a river will help you feel more alive, more embodied, and deeply refreshed for whatever comes next. 

Cari Morgan heashot

Cari Morgan

Cari Morgan is the Content Marketing Manager for OARS. Since 2014, she has managed the company’s blog, The Eddy, and has been the primary “voice” behind the brand’s social media sphere.

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