Using Nature for a Healthy Mind and Body
"[The beauty of the park] should be the beauty of the fields, the meadow, the prairie, of the green pastures, and the still waters. What we want to gain is tranquility and rest to the mind." -Frederick Law Olmsted, 1870, on the purpose of the creation of Central Park in New York City.
The idea that time spent in natural environments is good for us is something we tend to know intuitively. After all, we are part of nature. For many years, science has been proving this intuition to be correct. Among other benefits, time spent in forests has been shown to:
- Boost the immune system,
- Lower blood pressure,
- Reduce stress,
- Improve mood,
- Increase ability to focus, even in children with ADHD,
- Accelerate recovery from surgery or illness,
- Increase energy level, and
- Improve sleep.
The Japanese have developed a practice called shinrin-yoku, or "forest bathing," to maximize the health benefits of nature. The aim of forest bathing is to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment. It helps to tune in to the smells, textures, tastes, sounds, and sights of the forest. You are encouraged to have a "here and now" orientation-more like a meditation than a hike.
The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs is a great resource if you would like to learn more or sign up to experience a guided forest therapy walk.
GIVE IT A TRY:
Try forest bathing in any outdoor space. Take your time, open your senses, feel the breeze on your skin and the sun on your face, notice the scent in the air, feel the bark of a tree on your fingers, and examine the shapes of the leaves. Let nature elicit your own healing response.
This 2014 article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reviews 20 years of research on the health benefits of natural environments: Green Perspectives For Public Health: A Narrative Review on the Physiological Effects of Experiencing Outdoor Nature (website-files.com)