Later this month, I will be guiding a group of students on a nature walk. But these are not just your average students. And its not your average walk in the woods. These students are in a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training program and in the midst of a journey of tradition, growth and self discovery. The hike will be a short reflective experience where we will allow time for a walking meditation, journaling, and building awareness of nature’s impact on our well-being.
I will be holding space for these students as a substitute for their regular YTT instructor, who is also the instructor I have been studying from the past 2.5 years. I was honored when she asked me to lead them on a hike to observe as they worked through their lesson plan for this session of their training. It’s an opportunity to combine my experiences on the trail with my own yoga training and impart a bit of my passion of both to them.
It is also an opportunity to explore the world of Ecotherapy a bit deeper. I am well aware of the positive effects hiking and being in nature have on me personally and have briefly described it on my Why Hiking page. But it goes far beyond just my personal experience. Nature’s effects on mental wellness has been clinically studied since 1990. Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University first conducted a small study in the forests of Yakushima, Japan and noted lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in participants who did the forest walks as compared to the control group who did walks of equal duration in a laboratory setting. This phenomenon is known as Shinrin-Yoku, or ‘Forest bathing’, and has been slowly gaining popularity and credibility in the West ever since.
But it doesn’t require a clinical study or a research scientist to get results. All you need is an openness to receive and awareness of yourself; the same qualities that yoga cultivates. Nature has a way of cultivating those same qualities, if we allow it. As the famed environmentalist John Muir stated: “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” John Muir was a smart man, indeed.
Don’t believe me? Try this as a challenge. Make the time to spend one hour in nature, whether it be in a park, on a greenway, or in the mountains. Notice your surroundings. Observe the mental chatter before you begin and after you finish. You may be surprised at the results!
Happy Hiking and Namaste!