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Healing Notes: Nature Soundscape

Monsoon was in its full glory, unleashing the inherent power and magnificence of nature. Stars wore the blanket of blue-grey clouds and went off to sleep. Lying down in my bed, I was listening to the symphony of raindrops. The rhythm of falling raindrops is the best lullaby for my no-reason-required anxiety-ridden mind.

The calmness rush it sends down my veins is inexplicable. When Haruki Murakami said that rain has the power to hypnotise, I think he was talking about the mindfulness that seeps in when you watch rain long enough. I also think that the same applies to all of nature’s sounds. All of a sudden, a silver-branched streak appeared in the sky; thunder rumbled, echoing through the dark sky. It didn’t break the flow of my calmness, as one would expect. It was like a blossom of delight for me and continued the bliss I was experiencing.

Why would I like the sound of a roaring thunder? Turns out I am not alone.

There is a word coined for it by John Koenig — chrysalism. He defines it perfectly, the amniotic tranquillity of being indoors during a thunderstorm, listening to waves of rain pattering against the roof like an argument upstairs, whose muffled words are unintelligible but whose crackling release of built-up tension you understand perfectly”. For some people, it’s not just relevant when they are inside their cosy cocoon, but they love thunder even outside.

I am a writer with Inspire the Mind and other magazines and nature is both therapist and muse for me. I believe there is magic interspersed in every element of nature, only if we can be still enough to experience it.

Pink Noise

Some psychologists argue that the sound of rain or a thunderstorm can appease the brain’s demands, which then calms us down. Psychologists explain the concept of "pink noise" as the frequency that engages the subconscious without distracting it. Rain, wind, and other storm noises fall into this category.

Studies indicate that pink noises help people with anxiety to have restorative sleep. Not only adults but also babies get a deeper and longer sleep. Additionally, several studies on pink noise have even shown that sleeping with it can also improve short and long-term memory.

The idea here is not to romanticise the destructive power of storms or incessant rains that are causing floods and hint at the climatic change effects scientists have been warning about for decades. The focus here is the link between physiology and psychology, and how nature carries huge potential to heal us.

Nature’s soundscape is full of such therapeutic powers. Splashing ocean waves crashing on the rocks, rustling winds through the trees and leaves, chirping birds, babbling brooks, the distant rumbling of thunderstorms, pattering rainfall on a forest canopy, woodland sounds, gurgling rivers, snow crunching underfoot, buzzing bees, rustling reeds in a marsh, fluttering wings of birds in flight; these are just a small fraction of the vast symphony sounds found in the nature. I could go on and on. Each ecosystem has its unique auditory palette which evokes moments of serenity.

Studies and Research

Science agrees. A 2016 study by researchers at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School concluded that natural sounds physically alter neural pathways in our brains, helping us to reach a calmer state of mind.

Once your mind knows that it experiences calmness from rain or snow, the effect is reinforced. According to a research review in the April 2021 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it is established that nature sounds could have profound health and well-being benefits. Water sounds, such as a gurgling brook or a steady waterfall, turned out to be the most effective at improving positive emotions, while bird sounds were best for lowering stress and enhancing mood.

No wonder those chirps are the best way to get up in the morning. Ok, not the rooster alarm call though. That’s best as a warning signal.

What about the music? It certainly works but if a comparison has to be made, nature’s sounds have an edge. We have adapted to natural soundscapes for aeons.

Many such studies prove the link between nature healing our mental state. Not only that but being deprived of nature is potentially harmful.

Why does this matter?

Dr Gould van Praag explains that understanding how our body and brain respond to natural sounds can help in creating more relaxing environments for people to live and work. It can also help with the development of new treatments for people suffering from anxiety and depression and help people in environments where sensory monotony is an issue, or where they may feel anxious, such as hospitals.

Interestingly, even thunder therapy is recommended as a complementary tool to help manage stress and anxiety.

During the Middle Ages, the hospitals in Europe were set with a garden, as nature was considered essential to support the healing process. Modern scientists have increasingly reached the same conclusion to make healthy changes within their environments. The NHS Forest Project in the UK is working with healthcare sites that have seeded a range of innovative projects to facilitate the use of green space for health and wellbeing.

But nature doesn’t work on our whims and fancies, so we tried simulating these sounds to hear them when needed. It does show promising results but unfortunately, does not work well for me. Researchers believe that apart from the effect of the evolved association between a calm state and the perception of nature, there is also a fractal component of nature that we recognise, that helps the brain to distinguish real from fake.

There is no prescription needed from the doctor to reap the benefits of Mother Nature. Step out from the boxes and walk amid the nature spaces.

I know I am more productive and happy on cloudy, windy, rainy days than the blaring sunshine ones. If only I could conjure all my nature-witch powers and make clouds of my own! Sigh!

What is your favourite nature sound?


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