“The forest is the healer, the practice opens the doors”
– M. Amos Clifford
Life is complicated. External demands on our time and attention have never been as great as they are in today’s society. We are flooded with volumes of information at rates almost inconceivable to our ancestors only a generation ago. People are migrating towards populated urban areas in increasing numbers. We are spending more today on healthcare than ever before, yet we are collectively sicker than we have ever been. Mental Health issues are rising at alarming rates in almost every demographic category.
Yet in all of this uncertainty there is an effective way to help alleviate some of the stress associated with the hectic pace of the world today. It’s not a pill nor a procedure. It costs virtually nothing and it is accessible to anyone. It is Nature. With the right mindset, the simple act of being immersed in a natural setting can help elicit the parasympathetic nervous system, which is linked to the body’s innate ability to heal.
This is not a new phenomenon. Ancient civilizations and cultures were inexplicably linked to the natural world and required an intimate knowledge of nature’s cycles for their sustenance. Ceremonies and rituals were based on these cycles and other celestial events. Shamans and Healers used plants and herbs from the Earth as medicine. But as humans evolved, we began losing our connection to the natural world. With the rapid increase in technological advancements over the past two centuries, each generation has became a little more separated from our ancestral connection to the Earth.
While the benefits of nature as a tool for healing were known by our fore-fathers for generations, it was not until 1990 that the physiological effects began to be scientifically measured. It was in Japan that these early studies began to notice a reduction in stress hormones and lower blood pressure in participants when compared to a control group not in a nature setting. The practice of immersing yourself in nature for its health benefits has become known as ‘Shinrin-yoku’, which translates to ‘Forest Bathing’. It is well known and often recommended by Japanese physicians as an effective way to combat the effects of stress and burnout associated with the modern urban lifestyle.
But you don’t have to be an urbanite to benefit. Everyone has felt the the draw of nature, even if they are not a hiker and have never spent a night in the wilderness. Whether it be the allure of fall colors, the power of a large waterfall, a majestic view from a mountain top, or the rhythmic sound of ocean waves, nature’s tranquil effect on our spirit is undeniable.
The practice of Shinrin-yoku asks nothing new from us. It only suggests we pay attention to how we perceive the natural world. Returning to a child-like state of curiosity and exploring the elements of nature that surround you will begin to elicit the parasympathetic nervous system which has a calming affect on the body. The simple act of tuning into our five senses and becoming more present with ourselves allows the body’s innate wisdom to do what it does best … heal.
Being in nature is one of Life’s simple pleasures, yet it is one that often brings the most satisfaction to my life. It does not ask nor require anything of me. It’s a place to let go and empty my mind. A place to reflect, think and be creative. And a place where I feel most alive. All I need to do is just show up and be present. This is why I Shinrin-yoku.
Happy Hiking and Namaste!